Legion of Spoilers: Chapter 23

Holy cow. That was an amazing hour of television—riveting, immersive, and just a little bit terrifying. Chapter 23 captured the dread of a menace that gnaws on reality just outside the field of vision.

It happens to D3 first. Kerry dares Mainframe-as-Ptonomy to remember fun. She wants to reconcile the friend she remembers with the entity now wearing his face, but he/it can only report on jet landings and lunar colonies. Kerry resigns herself. “Everyone’s different. It’s like we’re all… grown-ups.” Suddenly, as though someone flicked to the next slide on a View-Master, Kerry, Ptonomy, and Vermilion are down, thrown on the floor by an event no one witnessed or remembers. Kerry goes to Syd, or rather finds that she has gone to Syd. (When time is collapsing, there’s nothing for it but some Restaurant at the End of the World verb tense jujitsu.) Syd experiences the conversation normally, and only Kerry’s timeline appears to be out of joint—until the apple on Syd’s desk shrivels. They exchange glances as a sinister inhuman giggle punctures the air.

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

On the airship bridge, everyone crowds around the surveillance footage for Syd’s quarters. The feed shows a humanoid gaze with unblinking blue eyes, its flesh as gray as its rictus grin. Syd doesn’t need to know what it is to know what it means: These things are linked to David’s time travel, and their presence causes time streams to decouple. These creatures are how David breaks the world. The accuracy of her observation draws the creature’s attention. While time loops on the bridge, the thing on the screen jumps closer and closer. Tick tock, little birds. Farouk breaks the spell before the entire creature can clamber through the screen. This scene channels Dr. Who and The Ring so effectively that it’s hard to feel any relief when that severed arm thuds to the floor.

It happens at the Commune next. Watching the “children” play as they await “Daddy’s” return, Lenny floats the possibility of leaving the cult to a very pregnant Salmon. Although shocked by the suggestion, Salmon (“not a fish, a color!”) is also infatuated enough with Lenny to consider it. Their escape plans (and baby-naming) are interrupted when a time gate vomits David and Switch into the yard. It happens again, and then again, each rewind punctuated by that stuttering giggle. David is flailing, but Switch interrupts him: They’ve done this before. Something is wrong.

In a predictably stunning display of leadership, David retreats to his cave to lick his wounds until “Daddy” time. David’s cult prayers are even creepier than I imagined. He basks in his followers’ “love” before pivoting into publicly humiliating Switch for not warning him about the time demons (raise your hand if you think David just ignored her previous warnings). But now the commune is scared, so David quells them with a telepathic wave. Everyone submits to blissful unconsciousness—except Lenny, who challenges David to do his damn job: to protect them, and to protect her family, from the creatures his carelessness has unleashed.

Fearless and remorseless, David retorts, “This is my time.” Then he rouses Switch to demand more time travel. David’s problem has always been that he simply does not know when to stop, and Chapter 22’s toll has pushed Switch too far. She lost another(!) tooth on that trip and can feel the rest loosening. David threatens to force her cooperation, but before he can register her incredulity at his presumption, a blue glimmer flickers across the room. The demons are in the house.

While Lenny and Switch run, David leers back at the uncanny creatures. He gets cocky and they get the jump on him. David comes to in a cramped, dismal cell. In the adjoining cell, a familiar voice hums a familiar lullaby. It’s Gabrielle. They’re both in the camp.

Back on the airship, Farouk ostensibly debriefs D3 on the creature on the surveillance feed. He calls them Time Eaters. If time is a house, these things are termites. They live in the time outside of time, in what we would call gravity wells or black holes. That is where they must go if they are to have a chance against them. Farouk takes Clark and Kerry’s hands, and as Farouk spirits them away, only Kerry registers that Syd is gone.

Elsewhere, or perhaps else-when, Farouk, Kerry, and Clark jitter and stutter across a pale landscape. The light has a fixed quality, simultaneously overexposed and dim: light that travels through space, but not time. They set off for the Time Eaters’ nest.

And I thought they smelled bad on the outside!

Syd is tracking a shadow of movement to her own quarters. A teenager stands at her window, fascinated to find herself airborne. When she turns around, Syd is facing her younger self. She starts to pour herself a drink. Young Syd asks for one too, and who can refuse their teenage self a drink in the face of certain doom? Girl asks woman the question that has burned in every iteration of Syd since Season 1: Who teaches you to be normal when you’re one of a kind? They still have no answer.

Present Syd admits to her young self the thing she has admitted to no one else: It’s not really a vacation from her body. It’s an invasion, every time, and the lie she tells herself just barely makes it manageable. Young Syd recounts that night in the shower, the night she used her mother’s body to visit her mother’s boyfriend. She describes a disillusionment that is no less devastating for its ordinariness: she thought this man loved her mother, but he turned her over and bent her to the glass. Why? Rehearing this memory, Present Syd has begun to look as haggard as the Future Syd glimpsed in Season 2. Sex can be about love, she tells her younger self, but it can also be about power. She’ll fall in love one day, and that will make things worthwhile. But one day that man turns her around, too.

Now Young Syd asks if they’ll switch places if they hug. Are they different enough? Similar enough? They stand and embrace, the only physical contact either can stand. They don’t switch, but Present Syd starts to sense something amiss. Of course, it’s already too late. Time jerks and she’s on the floor, screaming as a Time Eater slavers over her throat.

One member of the Summerland/D3 crew is neither on the airship or in the time outside time. Cary hums in his workshop, cheerily oblivious to the lurking Time Eater. But instead of attacking, it almost helps him. It gives Cary the device he’ll need shortly, flicks a gray proboscis near Cary’s left ear, deposits a pile of blue goo on a nearby chair, and flits off. When Cary prods the goo with lab tongs, he remembers being gassed and brainwashed. For the second time in two seasons, Bill Irwin packs an entire monologue into his enunciation of “Treachery!”

Things are about to get phreaky

Cary strikes out through the main house. The first door he opens unleashes a gaggle of screaming acolytes who thought it would be a good idea to hide from the Time Eaters with the giant pig that lactates Vapor smoke. There he finds Switch brandishing a giant toothbrush (I guess… the pig’s?). He promises to take her somewhere she doesn’t have to hide. Switch agrees to go with him. The front door is frozen in time, but Switch remembers the tunnel, and she and Cary step into the kaleidoscope.

They emerge in a city alley, which houses a fortuitously placed refrigerator/phone booth. Cary phones home with the receiver piece the Time Eater materialized in his hand. The Mainframe is down again (another time code error), but one vocal override later, Cary and Switch are on the deck of the HMS D3. Cary seems pleased, but Switch pulls him up short: They arrived so quickly because they’re losing time. If the Time Eaters consume enough, hours, years, eons could be lost, until they are never born to put a stop to this. Cary asks the Mainframe whether the demons are malevolent or just hungry, but it will take over three years to calculate an answer.

David remains jailed with his bio-mom in the time before she met his bio-dad. When he calls her Mommy, she answers with the deadpan of the hopeless: “I called for my mother, too, when they got me.” She tells David she’s Roma but divulges nothing else about her family. Maybe she has no family left to divulge. Still David presses one—he can fix this. When Gabrielle retorts that he should fix the world, David responds without a trace of irony, “No, this is not about the world. This is about me.” She calls that the response of a madman, but he begs her anyway: After their son is born, don’t let her future husband go traveling. Protect baby David, at any cost. Gabrielle smiles, but the pity in her eyes hardens into a rictus, and at last David recognizes the unreality of his surroundings. He banishes the cell and turns to face two grinning camp inmates. He has enough power to throw them out of their human skins, but not enough to override the time manipulation that loops his approach, keeping them eternally out of reach. As he repeats the action, each time expecting a different result, David becomes a case study in insanity.

Lenny was supposed to watch Switch, but she’s got her priorities in order. Instead she prowls the house for Salmon. Eventually she hears the unmistakable screams of labor. One second she’s crouched with Salmon in the room where she’d been accustomed to hold court over new cultists, and the next she’s cradling a baby. Now Salmon evaporates, and now a bespectacled child is calling her mommy and handing her a drawing, a portrait all green and blue. Before she can fully see the picture, an angry teenager stalks past, and then a grown woman who resembles her is asking if she wants to hold another infant. Then that same woman, comfortably middle-aged, traces an intergenerational obstinacy, and Lenny almost smiles. But now the woman in the bed is unrecognizably old and frail, straining to thank her mother for always being there. Before it has begun, it’s over. Lenny awakes in a dim, cold room with a child’s drawing and a pile of ashes. She screams and screams and screams.

While Lenny’s future is being stolen, everyone else’s timelines are converging. Syd struggles in the grip of a demon, her past and present selves collapsing into each other. In the time outside of time, Clark, Kerry, and Farouk attack the Time Eaters. David incinerates one of the two demons that trapped him, dispatching the other with a warning: “Go tell your friends it’s not your time. It’s mine. Go, or I kill every one of you.” This survivor retrieves the demon holding Syd, then recalls its brethren from the nest. Time to retreat and regroup.

David returns home to find Lenny sprawled in the street. “Let me help you,” he says, laying his hands on her temples.

“No.” Lenny clutches Violet’s drawing, vivid and green with life. “I need to feel it.”

So David goes into the house, where a panicked susurrus greets him: “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” But David has no time for adoration or comfort. Where’s Switch? One of his children has to confess. She left with Cary. David’s face clouds. So it’s war.

Megalomania is a hell of a drug. The Vapor David gives his followers is nothing compared to the wave of self-involved omnipotence he’s been riding since Season 2. And this week, we heard just how far David has detached from reality. It’s one thing to be indifferent to hate. It’s another to declare that any hate must be unreal. Time travel aside, everyone else on Legion is growing: Kerry is learning to talk about her feelings. Syd is threading the needle between isolation and solitude. Switch has learned to draw some boundaries around the uses of her power. Even Lenny has grown past her need to muffle her feelings. David alone refuses to relinquish his toddler-esque petulance; and four episodes into an eight-episode season, we’re halfway to the moment when he shatters reality in a fit of pique.

Legion continues to play with visuals, sound, and genre like nothing else on television. This episode was as full of plot as place-setting, and it’s a testament to Noah Hawley’s execution that both contribute to an inexorable sense of momentum. The question is less whether the world will end, than whether we should be more afraid of inhuman monsters or human ones. The forces tugging at the loose threads of reality are multiplying, and humanity’s survivors will have to choose which ones to oppose.

QUOTES

  • “It’s like we’re all… grown-ups. I don’t like it.”
  • “Leave? But you’re the breakfast queen.”
    “Well, maybe it’s lunchtime.”
  • “Violet Lollipop Busker. It has a ring to it.”
  • “Hello, my Snoopies, my Sigmunds, my Howdy Doodies. I hope you’re happy.”
    “Happy, Daddy.”
  • “Dude, enough with the ego jerk, okay?”
  • “I want you to save our asses, okay? So, chop chop, momma’s boy! Get to work!”
  • “Do I have to force you to-”
    “What did you just say to me?”
  • “I am the alpha and the omega. I eat monsters for breakfast.”
  • “It doesn’t matter now. We’re all going to be erased.”
  • “Hey, it’s okay, I’m crazy too.”
  • “I just want to be left alone.”
    “I know. People die of loneliness too.”
  • “Nothing that hurts me is real. No one who hates me is real!”

ODDS & ENDS

  • So… We’re just gonna gloss over the fact that D3 surveils everyone’s private quarters all the time and everyone is okay with that? At least last season it wasn’t clear that the Summerland folks knew Fukuyama was watching.
  • Did the Time Eater in Cary’s workshop eat that memory and then poop it out?
  • The Time Eaters seem able to access everyone’s memories, or everyone’s time streams, so this might be immaterial, but: By warning Gabrielle, David tipped his hand to the Time Eaters on the moment that’s most important to him.
  • We think of heroes as people who want to save the world and villains as those who want to destroy it. But David’s not trying to inscribe his name on the moon or drain the oceans for real estate or even exploit humanity as a living battery. He’s a grown-ass man who will destroy the world because he wants his mommy.
  • This was probably a character choice, but it bugged me: “Tranquilo” is pronounced with an “L” sound, not a “Y.” The word David used was “tranquillo,” which actually means “knack” in Spanish, as in “David has a knack for bastardizing Spanish words.”
  • David and Gabrielle in adjoining cells calls back to Amy and Dr. Kissinger sharing a cell wall in Season 1.
  • The sound and monster design this week were definitely channeling Season 3 of Twin Peaks.

FAN THEORIES, OR WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON

  • Either we’re watching the apocalypse unfold in real time, or it already happened and we’re just watching everyone relive it through David’s memories.
  • I’d previously complained that Legion’s characters felt underdeveloped, but I’m beginning to think that was just because we saw them from David’s perspective. If other people aren’t real to him, David’s perception of others is naturally two-dimensional.
  • Green is the color of motherhood, and the color of young Violet’s drawing.
  • This is less a theory than a question, but what is Farouk’s agenda? Did he ally himself with D3 because it would be inconvenient if David ended the world, or is he pursuing another goal entirely? Also, will we ever see if Syd took him up on the infiltration training?
  • Speaking of agendas, we haven’t heard much more about D3. They’ve gone from being shadowy villains to necessary allies, but it’s not clear they have mutantkind’s best interests at heart.

Trish Reyes

The cake is a lie, but I haven't let that stop me yet.

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