Apocalypse has lurched from distant threat to looming inevitability as Legion hurtles to its conclusion. David Haller will stop at nothing to get what he wants. “I am a good person; I deserve love” is the delusion that will break the world.
This episode was quieter than last week’s, with less action but more foreboding. Lenny simmers in anxiety over the majordomo spot after David sends her to collect Switch for another one-on-one meeting. David sits alone with his thoughts; but with his illness still untreated, that is not very alone at all. And David chips away at everyone’s agency, from Lenny to Switch to Cary, using all the manipulative tools at his command.
How does Switch’s power work? She tells David about her hallway, with its doors to future and past, and rises to demonstrate. But when David tries to follow, the gate repels him. Too embarrassed and apologetic to consider that the timestream might recognize David as an infectious pathogen, Switch nervously rejoins David on the porch swing, in ordinary time. He announces (having amassed power without awareness, David talks at people, never with them) that he needs to go back in time to save the world “to stop the house from being haunted.”
David has suffered, but instead of trying to grow past what happened to him, he will risk breaking the timestream to prevent it. It’s a tidy coincidence that this mode of problem-solving won’t address his illness (which is most likely inherited) or his unsavory choices. And unlike the author of Lessons in Time Travel, David will not consider the likely outcomes of meddling in the past. He’s got his eye on his prize, and if we’ve learned anything from the golden age of television, it’s that the single-minded, unexamined pursuit of gratification always ends well.
Syd understands David well enough to worry. Even if she hasn’t ironed out what he wants, she knows he’ll stop at nothing to get it. Meditating over the crater that had been David’s commune, cradling the tooth in gloved hands, Syd broadcasts a telepathic question: David, what did you do? This is the opening David has been waiting for, and he sends an astral projection to explain and to defend himself.
Except that Syd is having none of his bullshit. Not his claims that the commune wasn’t bothering anyone (if last week’s flyers and raid are any indication, members are programmed to hate D3), nor his hollow apology for violating her (pro-tip: abusers’ remorse is an atavistic reaction to keep the victim on hand for the next cycle of abuse), nor his cloying faux-guru spiel about self-love. Syd cuts him off. “I, I, I. You don’t see me. You never really did.” Insulated by narcissism and telepathy against real empathy, David lives exclusively in the first person. What he calls love is actually the expectation that his feelings should be rewarded. Love is not shared or given: It is owed, to David alone. In this chilling calculus, love is the unconditional use of another to gratify his own needs. And this assumption is so insidious because David will not admit it, even to himself.
So when Syd claims her personhood and David’s failure to respect it, he is unprepared for this challenge to his core delusion. I am a good person. I deserve love. David’s cognitive dissonance flickers into uncertainty, and then rage, radiating outward as a new vapor. The liquid in the pipes shifts from cool blue to lava red, his anger suffusing the commune with incarnadine contagion. The inhabitants’ dreamy swaying turns frantic and furious, the house’s sleepy hum shrilling into Maenadic howls.
Syd knows David enough to be afraid. Lenny may as well, but she likes being lieutenant and enforcer for a cult leader who supplies her Caligula-esque appetites. But Switch/Jia-Yi, in the newness of her power and her longing to be seen, to have her humanity valued, does not see the predatory glint behind David’s ostensible kindness. She sees David as he wishes to be seen, as a man who wants to use his powers to help the suffering. She only knows that she fears disappointing him, because failure will mean returning to the stifling robotic routine of her former life. But she doesn’t have to disappoint him. All they need is something to amplify Switch’s power enough for her to pull David through. Fortunately, David Knows a Guy.
And that’s how Squirrel becomes an unwitting double-agent in the next face-off between David and Division 3. He begins this episode in D3’s custody, lashed to a pressure plate in the belly of their airborne HQ. When Clark recognizes how Squirrel’s programming – and/or his addiction – limit the intel he can provide about the house’s new whereabouts, he cuts him loose. Literally. The floor swings open and Squirrel’s chair plummets earthward. Cary arrests his descent (more or less) in time for a survivable landing: D3 wouldn’t want to hurt him so badly that they couldn’t track him back to David.
Of course, the commune has its own ways of finding wayward sheep, and who should meet Squirrel at the end of the block? It’s the Breakfast Queen herself, twirling a vial of Blue, luring him into a van filled with smiling Manson girls. When the rear door slides open, several arms drop their knives for a moment, just a moment, to pull him inside. They will traverse miles of plains: along a shoreline, through a forest, crossing a scrubby field to park at last in an abandoned barn. Squirrel asks if they’re home, his brow knit against the dimly sensed truth.
Nonetheless, he traipses obediently into Wonderland. At the head of the table sits the Mad Hatter herself. Lenny stirs her tea violently, the shing! of her teaspoon a clarion call to get out. Suddenly Squirrel is cowering beneath a feral and probing gaze. Dazed and terrified, he gropes for the words to explain his absence—the dose, the doze, the hook, the pop, the crater. His intent (or lack thereof) is immaterial. Tainted by capture, he can’t return to the flock – but he will serve it one last time. Lenny dangles another vial, this one red. This is the good stuff, she tells him. The fine wine. Trembling with fear or anticipation, Squirrel pours its contents into a vaporizer.
Having tracked their bait to the tea party, D3 assesses the situation. If they can’t capture David, they’ll settle for Lenny. Kerry and her strike team charge into the woods for an anticlimactic takedown of the Manson girls. (D3 drops a net on them. A net which is… knifeproof?) Just as it occurs to Clark to wonder about Lenny’s whereabouts, a rabid Squirrel rushes Kerry from stage left. The diversion worked—Lenny kicks shut the van door on Cary, struts into the driver’s seat, and speeds off with her prize.
Her captive comes to in the same locked room Switch was shown into last week. When a Manson girl enters with a tray of food, Cary outmaneuvers her with cartoonish vaudevillian charm. Turning the room’s strange echo to his advantage, Cary eludes her notice, retrieves his jacket, and escapes into the house. But when he gains the cave, David and Lenny are waiting for him. Cary’s going to help David, you see. He’s going to build the amplifier that lets him walk through Switch’s time gate. Lenny pounces and gives him the gas.
The vapor sends Cary into his mind, where—who else?—Kerry is waiting for him. Psychically and physically conjoined twins, they are also very different people, and Cary’s vision unpacks the fluidity and tension of this relationship: When two people are so close and yet so different, who should lead the life they must dance together? The question hangs unanswered when David cuts in. Because now David is leading this dance and all the dances; and now all anyone can do is follow him to disaster.
This time, Cary regains consciousness in the kitchen. Switch is filling two Mondrian mugs with tea. They greet each other in Japanese, and Switch repeats the request David has primed Cary to fulfill. Switch leads him to his new makeshift lab, where Lenny capers around Cary’s equipment into her burning question: To when is David traveling? And what is he going to do? Cary can only offer the answer that is no answer, the echo of his master’s delusional conviction: David’s going back in time to save the world.
This is David’s reasoning: If he gets what he wants, the world doesn’t have to end. Conversely, if he doesn’t get what he wants, why should the rest of the world continue to exist? He started small, but villains always do. Maybe in the beginning he didn’t understand he was manipulating people’s minds, their perceptions, their memories. But once he did understand, David didn’t learn restraint; he started doing it intentionally: He changed Syd’s memories and—to use her own rather tame phrasing—took advantage of her. He founded a cult, probing his initiates’ traumas, tapping the hairline fractures of their hurts to break them open into something he can use. He is controlling Lenny, whose body still remembers being poor Amy Haller, and whose mind was already fucked by Farouk.
The Shadow King taught David not to see others as real, but it backfired. David wants others to be real enough to love him, but not so real that they have their own needs. While David refuses to accept that he was raised to be a predator, he cannot choose not to be one. Instead, even as he controls those around him, he continues to imagine himself a blameless victim.
It’s on this delusion that Farouk and Syd pin their last hope of outflanking David. As long as he believes he’s a Nice Guy, Syd might be able to get close enough to stop him before it’s too late. With the same menacing charisma we glimpsed last season, Farouk makes Syd an offer: He can teach her to lie even enough to fool David. What choice does she have? Like David’s time travel, this Faustian bargain can’t end well. But the time has come for everyone, wittingly or not, to play their part in the end of the world.
- “Not all temporal interactions go as planned.”
- “Let’s just say at this height it’s unclear whether you freeze to death before your lungs burst or the other way around.”
- “An army cannot sneak up on a man. But a lover can.”
- “Tick tock, little bird. Pull up a mushroom!”
- “Focus, asshat. I’m asking about the temperature of your nuts!”
ODDS & ENDS
- Watch David plant the thought to get rid of Lenny. There is a beat before the manipulation lands, as though Lenny is resisting; as though her conscious mind is registering that David is puppeteering her exactly like Farouk did.
- Clark’s back on interrogation duty! That was a nice callback to his demeanor in Season 1.
- When he’s interrogated, Squirrel recites the lyric’s to “Jump.” By Kris Kross. If you don’t remember either of those things you are a young whippersnapper who needs to get off my lawn.
- After he escapes the room, Cary passes a woman reading aloud from “Hickory Dickory Dock.” (Also, what’s with the big clock faces in every room?)
- I made the same face as Cary the first time I saw the vapor pig. That pig could almost be a Voight-Kampff test.
FAN THEORIES, OR WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON
- Farouk must have some kind of Thanatos gambit up his immaculate sleeves. He must have cooked up some other objective while unwinding in that gorgeous Casablanca-esque mental space.
- David repeats what Cary said to him at his trial/intervention: “Your mind can’t reconcile the person we see with the person you think you are.” And David is basically retracing the delusional stages Jon Hamm narrated in Season 2: He doesn’t know where the self begins and ends. He refuses the shared perception of reality. This tension between perception and reality has manifested as a conversion disorder, a physical manifestation of David’s rage. He brainwashes his commune to perceive the conspiracy against him, using that perception to drive a moral panic against Division 3. And all his choices originate in the delusion that other people aren’t real.