Legion‘s latest chapter is a halfway mark in every sense: Chapter 4 falls midway through the season’s eight episode run, and its handful of revelations, capped with that painful ending, promise to be the fulcrum of the remainder of the season. And viewers as well as David stand halfway through a looking glass, struggling to ascertain what is real, and what is reflected.
This episode is also riddled with self-conscious artifice, as though going out of its way to feel like a TV show. Hawley frames this opening with Masterpiece-esque commentary AND a noir-ish voiceover from Syd. Colors and lighting are even more hyper-saturated than usual; shots betray their camera work, and every scene is composed with painterly precision. The artifice is occasionally distracting, which is unfortunate for an episode peppered with so many intriguing hints and reveals.
Oliver Bird plays us in with two introductory monologues, the first attempt abandoned while his drink freezes solid. The theme of tonight’s presentation will be the conflict between empathy and fear, the struggle between mirror images as a man goes to war with himself. And indeed, this chapter is full of unsettling symmetries and incongruities: Lenny (at least Mind Lenny) turns out to be a kind of cover identity for the parts of David’s mind he’d rather not face. Amy and Dr. Kissinger exchange confidences through the wall that divides their mirrored prison cells. Cary and Kerry fight in tandem, riding a psychic link that spans the distance between them. David’s memories of others collide with their memories of him, as Amy reveals David never had a dog, Philly describes David’s actual drug buddy, and Syd deduces that David’s true motive for breaking into Dr. Poole’s office was to destroy records his mind could not overwrite.
This ability to overwrite itself is what makes David’s memory a hall of mirrors. From childhood on, any time he was confronted with something frightening, David clapped his hands over his eyes, again and again, until his mind learned to do it automatically. Now he unconsciously deploys his powers in a fractally complex cycle: React, obfuscate, forget. David’s memory glitches are this protective mechanism at work, the childlike conviction that something can’t hurt him if he doesn’t look straight at it. If you stand still, The Angriest Boy will catch you. The voices will overwhelm you. The yellow-eyed monster will flower into malevolent being. So David runs.
This served him well enough until D3 and Summerland found him. Summerland wants to teach David how to stand still, but his mind is so used to folding realities that it refuses the concept. David’s new friends mean well but they can’t understand what it means to be marooned in a self whose instability is its security. Confronted with empathy, his mind, conditioned to fear, abandons the conscious realm entirely.
While David lies inert in Cary’s lab, Dr. Bird dispatches Syd, Ptonomy, and Kerry to uncover what precipitated David’s admission to Clockworks. The trio dutifully make their way to the site of the memory that went haywire in Chapter 3: Dr. Poole’s deserted but preserved office. Ptonomy and Syd piece together David’s memory work vignettes with “object memories” magicked from a demolished tape recorder.
The trio then set up camp in the woods, where Syd’s reverie is broken by the appearance of The World’s Angriest Boy in the World, who brandishes his fixed scowl and his knife before vanishing. Syd keeps the sighting to herself as Kerry announces she has a lead on David’s ex-girlfriend Philly. Then, in a speech that is all but captioned EPIC FORESHADOWING, Kerry explains her relationship with Cary. They share his body, and she emerges at will – mostly when there’s fighting to be done – while Cary takes care of “all the boring stuff.”
Elsewhere, Amy’s ordeal continues. Tortured and interrogated, then caged and starved, she scrabbles at a foul meal before hurling it against the wall. Hearing this, the adjoining cell’s inmate hollers a strange introduction: “I exist!” It’s the disappeared Dr. Kissinger. Amy admits that David was a sweet but strange child who moved inexplicably between rooms, knew the substance of unspoken thoughts, and conversed with people who weren’t there. Most chillingly, she tells the good doctor that they never had a dog, and that she never saw the King to whom David spoke. Dr. Kissinger flashes back to the day David walled up the inmates of Clockworks. In contrast to previous iterations of that memory the series has shown us, he’s unaccompanied by Syd and there’s no sign of Lenny. At least Amy has some company now.
Back at Summerland, Dr. Bird finds herself before an apparition in an antique diving suit. She grabs Cary and they descend to a hidden sub-basement, speaking gently and obliquely about missing pieces. Cary admits to missing Kerry when she’s away, and since she only ages when she’s outside, he wonders (EPIC FORESHADOWING) what will become of her when he dies. Melanie floats the obviously well-worn hope that this will be the time her husband returns. Oliver is sprawled on a table in a kind of cryo-chamber, diving suit peppered with rime and air hose trailing out of the frame. Neither alive nor dead, he’s stuck somewhere in between. As Melanie and Cary enter, a buzzer goes off, warning lights flash, and an automated voice calls out “Unannounced Visitor.” The system, linked somehow to the astral plane, has registered David’s arrival.
David has not quite registered David’s arrival to this strange place that looks like the aurora borealis crash-landed in the Grand Canyon. After a bewildered look around, he follows the beckoning figure in the diving suit to a ladder. Together they ascend into the ice asteroid we saw in the episode’s opening. Oliver introduces himself and asks how much has changed since he got stuck there, somewhere at the convergence of beat poetry, avant-garde jazz, leisure suits, and free love. David doesn’t seem to recognize or care that he’s having a tête-à-tête with Melanie’s long-lost spouse. As always, his impatience for an exit truncates the explanations that could help viewers piece together the story; Oliver barely gets a chance to explain the astral plane or the creature that dogs David’s memories and has followed him here. Maybe David doesn’t really want to know. He climbs back down the strange ladder and strikes out across the undulating mindscape.
In the meantime, the Summerland trio have tracked down Philly. She tells them that David’s drug buddy was a large and unpleasant man by the name of Benny, whose face and identity David has apparently overwritten. When he scans her memories, Ptonomy witnesses encounters with Benny and with Dr. Poole. She and David had him over for lunch, and later, she visited him, now blinded and scarred, at a lighthouse. Our detectives make their way to the lighthouse and convince Dr. Poole to talk to them. He admits them grudgingly before transforming into the Eye and signaling D3 to spring its trap. A SWAT-like team closes in, driving the three upstairs in a hail of bullets. Kerry leaps out the nearest window to beat back the commandos and clear an escape route while The Eye pursues Syd and Ptonomy to the attic room where they’ve taken refuge.
So begins a well-executed montage in the grand style which is also a trademark of Hawley’s TV adaptation of Fargo. To the strains of Feist’s “Undiscovered First,” Oliver dances in the ice asteroid of his mind as Melanie mourns his body, Cary vicariously follows Kerry’s hand-to-hand, and Amy paces in her cell as The Eye closes in on Ptonomy and Syd. Ptonomy’s bullets can’t seem to connect, and once the gun is out of bullets he’s subdued with a touch. Cornered, Syd slips off a glove, meets The Eye’s hand, and switches bodies just in time to receive the commandos’ confirmation of Kerry’s capture. “The Eye” orders the captives placed in the van and takes the wheel.
Back in the astral plane, Lenny confronts David in a mirror image of his childhood bedroom. Agitated and anxious to leave, she goads him – again – into using his power by showing him someone he loves in danger. Seeing “Syd” tied up by “The Eye,” he howls with rage, the Devil flickering behind his face, and teleports straight toward the path of his friends’ escaping van. After it swerves off the road, David frees “Syd,” setting in motion a foot chase that gives The Eye enough time to regain his body and shoot Kerry. Miles away, Cary collapses, clutching at an invisible wound. As David looks on in horror, a gangrenous hand curls around his shoulder, and “Lenny” smiles – but not with her eyes.
- “The past is an illusion.”
- “Who are we, if not the stories we tell ourselves?”
- “Is free love still a thing?”
- “Defeat the dragon. Unless, you know, the dragon wins.”
- “Pity. Two more and we could have had a barbershop quartet.”
- “In times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself.”
-Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
- “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
ODDS & ENDS
- That nugget from The Art of War is basically how demon-Lenny subdues David.
- Shout-out #2 to Italo Calvino: Philly works at Calvino Realty. (Shout-out #1 was the ambulance company in the pilot).
- We still don’t know what the stars say to David.
- Has Amy’s husband filed a missing persons report? Is anybody looking for her?
- If David’s story is about a conflict between fear and empathy, fear is off to a great head start: It originates in the amygdala, and in Chapter 2 Cary observed that David’s was unusually large. Interestingly, the amygdala is also involved in memory formation.
- The posters for Enceladus and Europa in David’s childhood room are two of the vintage-style solar system travel posters you can download from NASA.
- Legion continues to confound attempts to peg it to a single time period; this week’s anachronism is Ptonomy’s Luger, a pistol historically associated with Nazi-era Germany.
- The Eye’s powers are varied and as yet unexplained. First of all, either he’s wearing space-age clothing or he has the power to deflect bullets. He can’t just be a bulletproof mutant, because then his clothes would have bullet holes. He can also knock people out by touching them, doing something to one eye in the process and has sufficient psychic chops to spot David and Syd’s astral forms.
- According to the tablet on her desk, Philly’s full name is Florence Welch, also the name of the lead singer of Florence and the Machine.
- The beat poetry Oliver recites to David is a selection from Allen Ginsberg’s A Supermarket in California, which includes the line I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective, which sounds a lot like the wandering and chasing in David’s mind.
- Based on this week’s theme of smoke and mirrors, Hawley may be referencing Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. All three works deal with mirroring, mental illness, the nature and limits of the self, and shifting internal perspectives.
- This chapter’s significant music selections: The avant-garde jazz Oliver puts on for David is Sonny Simmons’ Metamorphosis. In keeping with the episode’s theme of mirrors and reversals, the cover image from that album is a reverse negative. The song that plays over the montage is Feist’s “Undiscovered First.” Mind-Lenny calls David a mountain climber just before Feist’s lyrics ask “Is this the right mountain/For us to climb?”
FAN THEORIES, or WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON
- My theory is that this episode was written and shot to feel like TV to telegraph that most or all of it is one of David’s invented realities, maybe a TV-show-esque reality (or pocket universe!) his mind created to cope with something traumatic. The strongest piece of evidence for the unreality of what we’ve seen so far, aside from the outlandishness of that lighthouse, is the sign the van hits in the final act. It reads: Slow Down: Uncertainty Ahead.
- As in The Wizard of Oz (also name-checked in the intro), at least some of the characters must be real people superimposed on this parallel reality. My guesses: Amy, Philly, Melanie, Oliver, Brubaker, and The Eye are real. I’m on the fence about Kerry, Cary, and Ptonomy. The case for Lenny in any reality is now mighty thin (although if Clockworks was a real place, it remains possible that she was a fellow patient David later wrote into his memories of Benny), and even thinner for Syd, who should have appeared alongside Dr. Kissinger in his flashback. In the first episode, when Syd visits David in his room at Clockworks, his door opens and closes no one actually steps over the threshold. Syd has also begun to see The Angriest Boy in her waking life, which would make sense if some other parts of David’s consciousness are encroaching on that personality.
- Speaking of The Wizard of Oz, we don’t currently know what’s real, but the mirror theme pervading this episode makes me think most of what we’ve seen so far is just a reflection of a reality yet unseen.
- There’s an internal logic to David’s primary coping mechanism being the creation of new worlds, people, and memories. Some small quantity of self-delusion is part of the human condition; we are, as Syd observes, the stories we tell ourselves. Stories mediate between the self and the reality outside it, allowing us to develop and contextualize what we think of as our selves. David can’t tell himself any coherent stories about himself, let alone the people around him, because his telepathy eroded his ability to establish boundaries between self and other.
- This being a delusion or pocket reality would explain why real people (that is, people who exist outside of David’s mind) see and interact with latent personalities and imagined characters.
- Legion’s shots change aspect ratio, seemingly based on whether they are showing us present time, memories, and (possibly) delusions. The deeper into the unconscious a shot takes us, the more black space appears in the upper and lower thirds of the screen. For example, when Kerry references her childhood and the scene cuts to Cary/Kerry’s shared memory, the screen narrows slightly. It narrowed significantly during David’s botched memory work in Chapter 3. Based on aspect ratios I’d say there’s a strong likelihood D3 (or something like it) exists and Amy really is in their custody.
- This episode gave us the longest shot yet of a fluorescent-lit corridor that has previously appeared only in brief flashes. One glimpse of the corridor shows a hooded figure slumped against a damaged observation window, whose crack pattern resembles the damage Cary’s lab window suffered while David was astrally projecting in Chapter 3. Also, the circle of light in which David lays is very similar to the stark blue-gray fluorescent lighting of the corridor and Amy’s cell. Could this world be a retreat from D3’s custody?
- Recurring motifs: Stacks of circles appear in the astral plane ladder, a sequence of shapes echoed in Philly’s headband (lunch with Dr. Poole) and earrings (meeting with Syd and Ptonomy), Kerry’s belt, and the portholes that run up the sides of Dr. Poole’s lighthouse. The way The Eye’s victims’ eyes crystallize looks suspiciously similar to Oliver’s ice asteroid. Maybe he temporarily banishes his victims’ consciousnesses to the astral plane. The recurrence of particular motifs in unrelated contexts would seem to suggest mental shortcuts as David’s brain reuses certain shapes and images, maybe borrowing them from waking life.
- Colorwatch: Oliver’s leisure suit is in the same neutral color family as Melanie and Brubaker’s clothing, if you don’t count the mustard shirt beneath his jacket, which echoes the floor of the common room at Clockworks. Neutrals seems to be worn by people with an interest in mutants, or possibly by those whose allegiance or intent is not yet clear. Lenny wears a vivid blue jumpsuit beneath a beige trench; I still have no theories about blue’s significance. The Vapor is also blue, and may scenes in this episode bear a bluish tint. Philly wears Kelly green edged with black piping, Amy wears the same mint-green clothes in which she was captured, and The Eye wears pale olive green. My original theory was that green is only worn or carried by people free to move in the real world; David carries green only once, when he leaves Clockworks. But the astral plane is a ghostly, insubstantial yellow-green. Maybe the astral plane is a real place, insofar as it’s a realm that exists outside of David and that can be visited by other people with similar powers. It’s probably closer to reality than the world of Summerland. The door to the lighthouse is red, and the lighthouse itself is candy-striped red and white. Red always seems to accompany David’s moments of profound anxiety, reverie or dislocation, especially his great demonstrations of power. And I’m back to speculating that David’s personalities wear black – in this episode only Syd and Lenny wear black.