You could be forgiven for thinking Legion’s latest episode looked—and sounded—familiar. It was about echoes, and it was full of them. Whispers, choices, and patterns rippled out across time as Legion revisited the tableaus of its premiere, reprising the disjunctive sense of time that made its beginnings so confusing and so captivating. But instead of feeling like retreads, these situate David’s experiences within an intergenerational legacy of illness, trauma, and tragedy. History is repeating itself, so we begin with an echo of Chapter 1’s opening scene: It begins with a baby. But this baby is in a different crib, beneath a different window, in a different room, because this is David before Farouk, before his adoption—before the future he thinks he can avert by changing the past.
And then we cut from the beginning to the end, to Gabrielle Haller’s dwindling moments of sanity, as she remembers the choice that set all this in motion. It is not Farouk who breaks her; it is Charles Xavier, her husband, and David, her son. Charles leaves her alone with the baby to pursue another telepath, whose existence he has discovered through a primitive version of Cerebro. He leaves her alone with sounds and images she fears are hallucinations, evidence of an impending relapse into her schizophrenia. She never imagines that she is experiencing the collapse of past into present through the sheer misguided force of David’s will.
Charles and Gabrielle met in a mental hospital, where they were both admitted as patients after the war. When first we see them, Charles is telepathic and Gabrielle is catatonic. They have been hospitalized as much for trauma as for illness, both haunted by wartime memories: We see Charles return, in dreams, to the root cellar where he survived an enemy officer’s murderous intent by making the man kill himself. And we hear the horror of Gabrielle’s memories, a conflagration of gunfire and human suffering. The ward nurse tells him only that she was freed from “the camps,” her family long gone.
Taken by her beauty and her silence, Charles conducts one-sided conversations and sketches her profile through the lingering gray afternoons. Seemingly encouraged by her unresponsiveness, he opens the box that is always on her lap. Inside, her hand rests on a doll with a familiar face. Suddenly, her eyes are upon him. Charles peers into Gabrielle’s memories again, and hears a voice—is it hers?—screaming for her baby. He is so transported by the memory that he does not hear her stand up. The sleeping beauty has awoken, and their courtship begins.
Gabrielle calls Charles out on his incursions into her mind. She appears to be the first person to do so. He explains and defends his use of his power, and neither of them discuss that their courtship began with three violations of her privacy, two mental and one material. Nevertheless, their romance grows until one night Gabrielle sneaks into Charles’ sleeping quarters to share a dream she had: They were together, and they were happy, and the stars belonged to them. Charles offers to make this dream a reality, and they stroll out of the ward together to the applause of the other patients and staff. Dressed in sharp new clothes and sparkling smiles, Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller walk arm in arm into happily ever after.
Except that happily ever after isn’t real—at least, it’s not a fixed state. A family is a series of choices made again and again against the tide of everything else that pulls at our attention. If you walk away from “happily ever after,” it may not still be there when you return. When Charles leaves to find Farouk, he is leaving Gabrielle alone with her trauma, her illness, her fear, and their baby. He is abandoning Gabrielle and Baby David to a haunted castle. Gabrielle is not a mutant, and she has even less protection than most non-mutants against the shadows stalking their home. She is defenseless against David, her beautiful baby boy.
For David, not Farouk, is the family’s first intruder. While they are still patients at the hospital, David touches his parents’ dreams, tainting them with his own memories. When they move into the house, he follows them there. Even before Charles battles Farouk, David and Switch are there, desperate to communicate what is coming for their son.
Although Switch can’t figure out how to make herself or David audible and visible, Gabrielle hears their whispers. She sees the gate they have carved into her garden. She glimpses the commune in a haze of blue light and smoky music. She keeps finding doors open; doors she knows she closed. And when he arrives, she senses The Shadow King’s movement through the house.
Gabrielle doesn’t know how to understand any of these strange happenings except as the hallucinations of her schizophrenia. She tries to tell Charles all of this by trying to write to him about the whispers and the open doors and the slithering shadows, but she can’t seem to make her thoughts connect to the page in front of her. The terror of gunfire has been displaced by the terror of unquiet silence, and by the terror that her perceptions are sliding once more beyond her control or understanding.
At last, Charles calls. The words “mistake” and “monster” are just barely audible over the garbled line, which cuts out before he can hear Gabrielle collapse into sobs, begging him to come home. Rapidly, inexorably, the shadows converge: First, Farouk seals a sleeping Gabrielle off from the nursery. She awakes into a nightmare, as Baby David is crying and she can’t reach him. Every door and window has been sealed. When the nursery doors reappear at last, the baby in the crib is still crying, but it has no face.
And now the second shadow appears: adult David, spectral and distorted, calling “Mommy!” to a woman who cannot recognize him. Literally scared out of her senses, Gabrielle collapses. She is unconscious by the time Charles reaches her. She does not see him banish David from the house. She does not wake into the awareness that the apparitions dogging her peripheral vision were real. Charles cannot reach her, not even telepathically.
Back in the timestream hall, Switch’s mouth is full of blood, and David is filled with rage. No one sees the shadow that rears up behind the crib and into baby David’s mind. Farouk dandles his new protégé on his knee, crooning over him: “My beautiful baby boy.”
I’ve said before that Legion is a tragedy. It’s a parable about trauma, self-awareness, and unanticipated consequences; a cautionary tale about the dangers of unexamined certainty. Chapter 22 distills these warnings into the show’s most poignant loss yet. The central tragedy of this episode is not what happens to Charles, Farouk, or even David; it’s what happened to Gabrielle. Charles pulled her from the catatonia which shielded her from reliving her wartime trauma, only to abandon her to other trauma in pursuit of a poorly thought-out meeting with another telepath. Farouk lurked in her home, stoking her darkest fears. David haunted her to distraction, desperate to protect his infant self at any cost.
Charles and David’s tragedies are tempered by how clearly you can trace their choices to what befalls them. Father and son share a penchant for collateral damage. Charles failed Gabrielle and Baby David utterly: Not only did he drive Farouk out of himself and into Baby David, but when she most needed Charles to prove her wrong, he was not there. David has written the very future he inveigled a time traveler to prevent: Charles will put him up for adoption now to protect him from the apparition over his crib, thereby separating David from the people who might have recognized his illness, his possession, and his powers before any or all of them got out of control.
Causality is tricky. In hindsight, it can seem easy to identify the moment when everything changed. We need to feel some control over our lives, so we tell ourselves there was a moment when we could have said no. But as Lessons in Time Travel cautioned Switch, it’s impossible to know what other variables contributed to the current moment, or what variables our actions will introduce to the past. Once again, David Haller has trusted the scope of his power to override the limits of his knowledge. He charged into the past, convinced he could “stop the house from being haunted.” He never stopped to consider that he might be the haunting, or that his interference might have other consequences: Baby David got infected anyway. Switch is injured. Charles must live with the guilt of failing his wife, possibly never knowing how he also failed his child. And Gabrielle disappeared into the event horizon of someone else’s obsession.
- “I found someone out there like me. I’m not alone.”
“You were alone before?”
- “Every man is born as many men, and dies as a single one.”
This quote is misattributed to Heidegger based on (of all things) its appearance in an NCIS episode. However, the reference to Heidegger in an episode about causality cannot be an accident.
- “David, my beautiful boy, who will you become? What will you do?”
- “I’m not well, you know.”
“Neither am I.”
“I’ve seen blood on fire.”
- “Do me a favor. When the time comes, prove me wrong.”
ODDS & ENDS
- Only five episodes remain. I bet adult David’s face is seared into Charles’ memory, which should make their inevitable father-son reunion… memorable.
- There are so many callbacks to Season 1 in this episode, even to the premiere. Like David and Syd, Charles and Gabrielle enjoy a sweet, chaste courtship at the mental hospital, walking hand-in-hand. Syd also sketched David at Clockworks, and David, like his biological father, enjoys cherry pie. Both romantic montages play out to the same song, The Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow.” Both David and his mother dream of stars: She dreamed they belonged to her and Charles, and David reported that they said something to him, something he nearly killed his therapist to conceal.
- Chapter 22 also has a callback to the Season 3 premiere: The man on Gabrielle’s TV could be Switch’s father, and his statement—“Bedtime is here”—appears on the test pattern on Switch’s television.
- After David sees Gabrielle reading Harold and the Purple Crayon to Baby David, he reads it to his own followers.
- Charles has the decency to look a little troubled after he makes a man commit suicide, which is an interesting contrast to David’s ease with manipulating people. A person shouldn’t get comfortable with being able to do that, and it’s creepy that David has.
- Speaking of David’s self-absorption, can we stop for a moment to appreciate that after Charles blasted them out of his house, just before she passed out with a mouth full of blood, Switch had the decency to ask David if he was okay?!
- Gabrielle wanted to teach her son that the world is an ugly place to prepare him for what that would mean. By depriving himself of her guidance, David grew into someone determined to remake the world into something that’s not ugly to him, no matter how ugly that makes things for others.
- Charles, you’re a goddamned telepath. Did you consider other modes of establishing contact before leaving your wife and baby for an indefinite jaunt to Morocco?
- Monahan is played by Time Winters, who also played occultist Wilfred Talbot Smith in Carnivàle and the homeless dude in Sneakers. Charles Xavier is played by Harry Lloyd, best known as the sneering, hyper-blond Viserys Targaryen. He definitely looks better as a brunette. And Gabrielle is played by Stephanie Corneliussen, best known as Joanna Wellick on Mr. Robot.
FAN THEORIES, OR WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON
- I’m beginning to think The Devil with Yellow Eyes is actually not Farouk, but a projection David uses to blame Farouk for the things he won’t admit he did himself. If Charles sees The Devil With Yellow Eyes via Cerebro, it’s because David has interpolated his own image of Farouk as part of his warning.
- There’s a red window behind Gabrielle when she goes on her first “date” with Charles. As the hauntings destabilize her, the red touches in the house become more pronounced until the red window returns just behind where David will materialize.
- Baby David wears a lot of blue, which has been the color of “peace and love.” Baby David also wears stripes; adult David wears stripes when he’s getting high in Season 1. Gabrielle wears a lot of green, a color shared by later maternal figures in David’s life: Amy Haller wore a lot of green, even in the multiverse episodes, as did his ex-girlfriend Philly.
- The World’s Angriest Boy in the World is the face David assumed before he wiped out his adoptive parents. You heard it here first.