Legion recap: 'Chapter 9'
Dan Stevens returns as a freshly confused David Haller.
Legion’s season 2 premiere, Chapter 9, is a thorough refresher course on the series. The episode doesn’t summarize plot or reintroduce characters quite the way the sophomore opener of a less psychedelic series would, but it reiterates, on a conceptual level, the intricately choreographed dance party of the mind that is watching the show. Season 1’s lingering threads — who will David (Dan Stevens) be without Farouk occupying his mind? Why did a weird orb beam David away from Summerland? — are wound up in a net of new questions to re-tangle a narrative knot that had nearly been untied.
It may be disappointing, at first, that David has taken a few steps backward on his journey of self-realization, but Legion is a series that thrives on questions and craves the confusion born of an unreliable mind. The more David can hold himself together, the less the show’s premise can do the same, and Noah Hawley and Nathaniel Halpern, the writers of Chapter 9, seem to know it. Even as they establish new mysteries by destabilizing David, Hawley and Halpern take a few metafictional pokes at the amnesia and time travel hocus pocus they have to use to do it.
Before catching up with David, the episode opens on a shot of Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) and Oliver (Jemaine Clement) floating lazily in the center of a pool. Lenny poses what would normally be a simple question to Oliver: “Is it Tuesday?”
But there are no simple questions on Legion. “This is a conversation about time,” Oliver responds. “I try never to have conversations about time.” That rule could be a reference back to Oliver’s lengthy stint of timelessness in the Astral Plane, or it could be a way to ease the audience into the potential time-travel reveal that comes later in the episode from Syd (Rachel Keller).
Whenever it is for the two of them, Lenny and Oliver are trapped. As the camera zooms out, it’s revealed that the pool is inside the eye of Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban), who is seated in front of the Eiffel Tower. Zooming out more still, the shot reveals the Parisian scene to be inside the eye of yet another Oliver, who is sitting at the bar in a club. Cue an appropriately timed narration on the nature of madness as a mental maze. (Recap continues on next page)
Later, possibly in the same club where that Oliver-Containing-Oliver found himself, Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) and Clark (Hamish Linklater) find David surrounded by what appear to be the clothes of a few disintegrated people. Nearby is a room full of victims of a teeth-chattering psychological infection.
When David comes to, he’s informed that his team of Summerland mutants have been folded into Division 3, the government organization that was hunting them throughout the first season. According to Ptonomy, Melanie (Jean Smart) and Syd convinced Division 3 leadership that most mutants are harmless, and the two groups joined forces to hunt dangerous enemies like Farouk.
David thinks he’s only been away for a few hours, but by Syd’s count he’s really been gone for 362 days, so there’s a lot about Division 3 that he needs to have explained. Ptonomy first gives David a quick breakdown of the three divisions (Division 1 is global command, Division 2 is science, and Division 3 is boots-on-the-ground operations), as well as the subdivisions of D3.
Coming to grips with the basic organizational structure, David has a few more specific questions, such as, “Was there a guy with, like, a basket on his head?” and, “Why are [the armed guards] children?”
The answer to the second question is that children are immune to the Catalyst, that teeth-chattering infection that seems to follow in Oliver and the Shadow King’s wake.
For the first question, the answer is sort of yes, but he’s not really just a guy. The basket-headed figure and a host of neatly mustached cyborg women make up Admiral Fukuyama, the hivemind boss of Division 3 that refers to itself as “the machine that bleeds.” But before David is sent to get his orders from Fukuyama, he has to check in with an incredulous Syd.
As the only eyewitness to David’s orb abduction, Syd is justifiably eager for some answers. She tells David that she thought he was dead despite holding her breath for his return, figuratively and often literally, for months. When David isn’t able to explain where he’s been, Syd settles for a quick makeout session instead.
There’s a seed of distrust sprouting between David and Syd, which probably isn’t helped by Ptonomy’s theory that the Shadow King still has a hold over David, and certainly isn’t helped by a Melanie who seems to have reached the end of her rope.
Melanie, whose telepathic significant other also tends to disappear, is well beyond holding her breath for Oliver’s return. She, in fact, has taken to a different sort of breathing exercise — getting high — to cope with her situation. In the face of that level of negative thinking, even the locator compass David gives Syd so she can always find her way back to him probably won’t be enough to correct the divide that’s developing between them. (Recap continues on next page)
Syd and Ptonomy aren’t the only ones who are skeptical of David’s memory loss either. After a brief aside on the definition of delusion, ranging from a man who questions whether he is a butterfly to grisly demonstrations involving leg amputation and cannibalistic chicken monsters, Clark pays David a visit.
In another wink to the intentionally heavy-handed mystery crafting Hawley and Halpern have implemented in season 2, Clark compares David’s amnesia claims to the soap operas he watched with his bedridden mom as a kid. To get to the bottom of what happened, Clark tells David that the organization will soon carbon date him “like you would a fossil.” He also fills David in on some of the intel D3 has gathered on Farouk. From what they understand, the Shadow King “came to be” in the 1800s in Morocco, but that’s all they currently know, which makes the task at hand especially difficult.
That task, as outlined to David by Fukuyama, is to find Amahl Farouk’s true body before Farouk does. Since the mutation that gives Farouk his power is genetic, Fukuyama explains, reuniting his mental presence with his physical form would allow the Shadow King to become unstoppably powerful.
David’s first attempt to recover his memories and locate Farouk leads to what is without a doubt the most Legion scene of a very Legion-y episode of Legion. While floating in a pool of strawberry-flavored poison in a sort of proto-Cerebro of Cary’s (Bill Irwin) design, David has an extended flashback to an aggressive, windswept dance battle between himself, Lenny, and Oliver. All three dancers perform as soloists with individual backup crews, indicating, perhaps, some supernatural connection between Farouk’s three vessels. There really is no telling yet what this club scene could mean in the overall scheme of things, other than that the show is as bizarre as ever.
Just as bizarre is the revelation that comes after the dance scene. During his first night back with Syd, David recalls some of what happened to him in the orb. Within the orb’s endless abyss, David met a disheveled version of Syd. She appeared to have been through some tribulations, and she was already wearing the compass pendant David had given her in the previous scene. Orb Syd, unable to speak for some reason, used a light wand to draw pictures for David. From the unnecessarily vague pictographs, David discerned that the Syd in the orb was from the future, and that she wanted David to help Farouk find his body. David also suspected that it was future Syd who sent the orb to take him in the first place, but that point remains unclear.
So far, season 2 is walking a line of self-awareness that brings the artifice of the storytelling to the forefront. That’s a dangerous level of confidence in writing, but if any show has earned a little trust in delivering high-risk, high-reward plot structure, it’s this one. As season 2 progresses and it becomes clearer which mysteries are solvable and which are merely David’s delusions, Hawley could invert all the soapy, pulpy clichés to deliver something awe-inspiring to an audience that thinks it knows what’s coming.