David Haller will break the world. That much was clear by the end of Season 2. No one, not even David, knew how until Monday, when Legion’s third and final season premiered.
She grew up in the City, and she is Alone. She armors herself against loneliness with color and texture, defying the City’s anomic grays to swallow her vibrant pastels. In the world but not of it, she never goes anywhere without the portable player to loop a cassette she has almost certainly memorized: LESSONS IN TIME TRAVEL.
One gray afternoon, on her way to class, a flyer catches her eye. It invites Jia-Yi to join the forces of multiplication against the forces of division: androgynous mustachioed androids and a basket-headed panopticon. Want to know more? Find the pregnant virgin. Against the menacing geometry of the basket and the androids, the swooping curves of the virgin’s icon seem to promise something gentle. Something safe. So when Jia-Yi encounters the silhouettes again, she follows them to another flyer.
This one solicits a time traveler. Resist Division, it urges. Do Not Surrender to Regret-Only You Can Help Us-UnWrite the Past. The flyer lists a radio frequency, and when Jia-Yi tunes in we get a glimpse of her powers: first, she nips several minutes into the past to rehear Lenny Busker’s voice: “Why is it blue? It’s ALWAYS blue.” Then she dilates time to hear between and beneath the wavelengths audible to the timebound, to hear David Haller’s voice: “Follow the bus. The yellow bus.”
Thus Alice makes her way to Wonderland, through a door in a grimy alley. There she navigates a scene as stylish and impenetrable as Season 1’s Clockworks dance number, solving a riddle (the orange fish’s name is salmon) to unlock a music video, a costume change, and a trip down the rabbit hole.
Jia-Yi traverses a kaleidoscopic passageway over land and sea, crossing natural and constructed wonders until a final mirrored passage delivers her to a smoky room filled with very high hippies. She’s received by the pregnant virgin herself, welcomed with the dreamy assurance of one who has smoked the Kool-Aid that pulses and flows through the house’s labyrinth of pipes. David manufactures the vapor himself, condensing and distilling his thoughts, or his power, into a familiar intoxicant. When Jia-Yi finally identifies herself, to Squirrel (aka “The Alchemist”), he rechristens her “Switch.”
Eventually the pregnant virgin ushers Jia-Yi/Switch into a locked room to await her audience with Our Lady of the Breakfast Cereal. Jia-Yi waits, but not as long as Lenny thinks: We see her power again, as she accelerates through the hours of her imprisonment. At last, her majesty arrives, feral as ever, but Switch refuses to demonstrate her power to anyone but David. Knowing a player when she sees one, Lenny arranges the meeting.
David receives Switch in a skylit cave. He offers her tea and explains that he relieves the suffering in exchange for their company. For their love. He shows his power to create a mental space from her thoughts before offering his life story almost offhandedly – adopted, victim of a mind parasite for 33 years, but better now! How are you? Jia-Yi deflects twice before cracking: her father collects robots. Sometimes, late at night, she tries to become one herself. For what is she but a machine, an automaton being programmed for future success? What is her value but as a tool sharpened for its highest and best use? She cannot resist David’s implied promise to grant her full humanity.
Who among us could?
Now Switch asks about the forces of division. David shows her Syd Barrett, the girl who broke his heart, and Amahl Farouk, the man who broke his mind. He wants to go back, he says, because he finally understands what the real problem was. He doesn’t explain, but it doesn’t really matter. So, how far back can Switch go?
The raid interrupts them. Kerry rappels down at the head of a Division 3 SWAT team, deploying a power inhibitor that works only long enough for Kerry to slice off David’s right arm before he explodes them all into dust. Another gunshot, and arterial red blossoms across David’s saffron tunic. It’s Syd, looking uncannily like Melanie Bird. Syd tells Switch to stay down. And down she stays—down, and away.
Switch returns to the past down a hallway whose doors offer reentry to past moments. There are no wormholes or warp speed lights: to travel through time, you must go backstage relative to time; to a dimension in which time cannot be passing. As if seeking reassurance, she switches on the cassette player. The instructor warns that going back too far in the timestream can wake the demon. Seeming to lose her nerve at 4 HOURS AGO, Switch settles on 1 HOUR AGO instead. She strokes a tooth and reaches for the door, which swings open.
Now Switch warns David, who teleports them into the chaos of the raid now underway upstairs. D3 takes Lenny into custody. David takes out Kerry and Clark before Farouk corners him. While David hesitates at the time gate, Syd takes him out again. Again, Switch ducks backstage.
Something is coming. Well, coming is too linear a word. Two lights like eyes stutter and hiss along the dim corridor, its progress nonlinear, the travel of a thing that has only ever existed outside of time. Switch takes a deep breath and opens the door to 2 HOURS AGO.
This time Farouk intercepts her. For maybe the first time, we see Farouk undone by ignorance and age: He does not know Jia-Yi already recognizes him, from David’s memories and two iterations of the D3 raid. He does not know she has already watched Syd kill David twice. He does not know that the promise and terror of her first encounter with David have already secured her loyalty. After 2000 years, Farouk has forgotten the passionate idealism of youth. He cannot offer Switch anything better than the humanity David implicitly promised her.
“He is a man,” she tells Farouk. “You are a robot.” And then she vanishes. Farouk smiles. It is the smile of a predator preparing to enjoy an excellent game of cat-and-mouse.
Farouk breaks the news to D3: David Haller has a time traveler. How can you surprise someone who can go back in time and warn himself? Clark Debussy and his husband exchange glances. They’ll just have to kill the time traveler, too.
Elsewhere on the airship, Cary is preparing to upload the D3 mainframe into a new body (technically, a fully synthetic bipedal quantum computer) with a familiar face. Ptonomy is gone, the biped asserts, but clearly not gone enough to ask the question on everyone’s mind: Why does he have a mustache?
Next, Farouk tries to dissuade Syd from joining the raid. It’s still too personal. She loved him too much. Her features as fixed as the reminder now tattooed on her wrists (“Me First”), Syd rejects Farouk’s “wisdom.” She will go. We—and Farouk—already know what she’s resolved to do.
This time, the raid unfolds from Division 3’s perspective. We see them move into position, see as the mainframe-in-Ptonomy sees, and then, a blinding thunderclap. The house has vanished, leaving only a crater, The Alchemist, and a tooth. The cat and mouse game has begun. Farouk is not smiling anymore.
In David’s mind, Farouk is the only kind of villain: powerful, predatory, and amoral. Although he takes what he wants, he understands that some things—like love—can only be given. But David’s refusal to accept the consequences of his choices or the autonomy of others make him a different, more dangerous kind of bad guy: one armored against accountability by the conviction that wanting something is the same as deserving it.
David will stop at nothing to bask in a love that validates his self-perception as a Good Guy. He betrayed his team. He violated his ex. He inveigled the loneliest and most vulnerable citizens of the City into his lair, intoxicating them with his power to conceal himself from D3. And now he has enlisted the services of a time traveler whose incursions into the time stream could wake a demon and start the apocalypse. He is petulant and ill, a sentient, recalcitrant weapon of mass destruction. Whatever crimes Farouk may commit, he understands his powers—and himself—well enough that he would never unmake the world accidentally. David may not be trying to break the world, but that lack of intent will not avert the apocalypse or absolve him. Causality is a bastard, and David’s choices are about to bite a lot of people in the ass.
As for the series itself, Legion is as stylish and addictive as ever. As absorbing, menacing, and charismatic as David, Legion could be a metaphor for television, seducing us with its meticulous set pieces and saturated colors, contracting and dilating time until we are addicted to the feeling of being out of ourselves.
Strap in, y’all. The next seven weeks are gonna be a hell of a ride.
- THERE IS NO PERFECT FUTURE
- TIME IS NOT A RIVER. TIME IS A JUNGLE FILLED WITH MONSTERS.
- “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“For everyone. But especially you.”
- “I like your vibe. Very…two days from now.”
- “Are you really a virgin?”
“Penis-free! 25 years.”
- “Do you swing?”
“I like boys.”
- “You read my mind?”
“No secrets. That’s one of our rules.”
“What about trust?”
“I tried that. It’s better to read people’s minds.”
- “Why don’t we have a time traveler?”
ODDS & ENDS:
- Switch steps on a squeaky blue flower when she finds the first flyer. Unnatural vegetation accompanies David throughout Legion, from the vines in his childhood bedroom to the sprawling vines that cradle his sleepers. (Also, from my notes: OK, CREEPY, THE BLUE FLOWERS ACTUALLY HAVE MOUTHS, WTF)
- Switch’s time travel book—and the episode—opens at Chapter 13. The last side-sequence of Season 2 was “Chapter 12: The Trial of the Shadow King”.
- “Something For Your Mind” is by a group called Superorganism, and the video seems to have informed this episode’s aesthetic. David still calls himself “The Magic Man.”
- In timekeeping terms, the Virgin’s pregnancy indicates less than nine months have passed since the events of Season 2. But I have so many other questions about this… baby.
- David’s vapor commune/cult resembles his childhood home, and has taken so much inspiration from the Manson Family that IMDb lists the extras as Manson Girls #1, #2, and #3.
- When Switch first returns to the cave, she overhears David arguing with British David over what to do with her. “What, give her a nip of the blue stuff and throw her in with all the others?”
- Farouk seems to think time travelers are always women, because apparently only women regret roads not taken?
- Clark and Daniel are still together! When we didn’t see Daniel for most of Season 2, I started to worry. But if they’re both on D3 airship duty, who’s watching their kid?
- Kerry has developed enough of a taste for eating to get hangry.
- Some notes about colors: Pink is Jia-Yi’s color, and also the color of time travel in Season 2. David is back in orange: the color of a religious leader, of warning, of institutionalization and imprisonment. He’s visible but he’s hiding. When Jia-Yi becomes Switch, her outfit goes from bright and ordered colorblock to a jumble of patterns (floral blouse, striped sweater, plaid skirt), all superimposed on or mingled with black. Lenny is wearing all blue, the Enforcer in the House of the Blue Vapor. Syd is back in black, the last orange flourishes gone, dressed head to toe in anticipatory mourning: for the love she lost and the world she might still lose.
FAN THEORIES, OR WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON:
- When Switch introduces herself as a time traveler, Lenny looks almost afraid. She still has the uncanny eyes of Amy-that-was, and I think Amy’s psyche might still be kicking around in there asking Lenny uncomfortable questions about her moral fiber.
- David’s followers are filling thermoses with blue liquid and packing them into Guru David-branded lunchboxes. I think David is starting a movement, or an army, to defend him against D3.
- Some of these lunchboxes may introduce Vapor into Season 1, and the link between the Blue and his power is what really awakened him to the Shadow King’s presence in his mind.