Last week, it was a European fairy tale. This week, Legion channeled The 1001 Nights via David Lynch as David traveled back to a fracturing present. The cracks aren’t just metaphorical; time itself is breaking apart. David’s refusal to acknowledge the fractures in his mind (“Nothing that hurts me is real. No one who hates me is real!”) is breaking the world.
The penultimate chapter of Legion revisits the onscreen and offscreen events of Chapter 22. Charles and David’s plots converge at Farouk’s palace in a plot about the lies men tell each other, and perhaps themselves. One woman, Switch, is a token presence who brought them together before falling out of the picture. And one girl, Habiba, is the innocent suffering under the weight of another’s choice. Elsewhere, Gabrielle and Syd’s plots converge at the Haller-Xavier home in a meditation on safety and salvation, about women facing the truth about their men. Here, Cary is a token presence, the concussed key to their arrival. And baby David is the child everyone is trying to protect from others’ choices.
To create fear, hold up a mirror.
It begins with a vision, or a dream. Charles Xavier sits alone in a scarlet-curtained theater. A matador is onstage, and a stylized bull. The matador pierces the bull with banderillas and draws a sword for the killing blow. When the “bull” falls lifeless to the stage, the matador removes its mask to reveal the lifeless face of Charles Xavier. Two seats over, the Devil with Yellow Eyes materializes to leer at Charles. “You should never have come.”
The dream fractures, and a flight attendant welcomes Charles Xavier to Morocco. Only after the passengers and crew have dispersed does he realize he hasn’t made any transportation arrangements. Fortunately, someone has. A chauffeur holding a portrait of Charles tells him the king is very excited to meet him. He conveys the wide-eyed young man to a shining desert palace.
Elsewhen, David and Switch stutter down the time corridor. Time flickers, and Switch hands David another tooth. Her body isn’t strong enough to sustain the use of her power. Time is so destabilized that the doorways blink as though they don’t know what they open to anymore: 50 years, 74 hours, 23 days. A Time Eater cackles and several doors close around David, who screams and flashes back to one of his Season 2 meetings with Farouk. The latter is reminding him that David’s will makes reality. Backstage to the passage of time, David screams and ignites.
Memories aside, Farouk picks his way through “a never ending now.” In another corner of the Time Before Time, an egg shivers as though ready to hatch. He seems indifferent to the Time Eaters that surround him. Step by flickering step, Farouk makes his way down the road.
Back in Morocco—now neither flashback nor relived past, but mere present—Charles treads a broad hallway in a marble palace. This has happened before, offscreen, and yet he is experiencing it for the first time. And unlike Oliver and Melanie, he seems ignorant of the tropes that will govern this journey. Charles is adrift in the unfamiliar. Only when Farouk greets him will Charles glimpse the distances between what he knows and where he is. Like Switch seeking David on the radio dial, Charles is desperate to connect with another mutant, but unprepared for how much Farouk knows about him. And what should we think of Farouk’s effusions? Was he prying, or was Charles so desperate to connect that he broadcast all this without realizing it?
That night Charles and Farouk break bread at the high table, surrounded by orphans Farouk welcomed into his palace when he became king. It was, Farouk says, the decent thing to do. But they are not here to talk about children. Farouk snaps his fingers, and they’re alone at an empty table. Farouk seems startled to be the one to introduce Charles to the astral plane: with such powers, how could he be ignorant of it? Amazed, Charles manifests a willow tree, and then his family, marveling at how real they seem. He reaches out to hold baby David, and—
Farouk snaps them back to waking life and confesses that he has been lonely. His wording is uncannily similar to Charles’ speech to Gabrielle in Chapter 22. Perhaps it is this that puts Charles on guard, or perhaps he is simply too British to admit to the feelings motivating an unplanned trip to Morocco. He abruptly changes the subject: “How did you come to be what you are now?”
In answer, Farouk snaps everyone—Charles and all the children—to a familiar red theater. Instead of a bullfight, tonight’s show is a shadow pay. While the children snack on (eerily black) popcorn, Farouk narrates a tyrant’s overthrow by an unexpected hero. The hero is armed with a magic phrase: Here Farouk locks eyes with Charles, drops his voice, and says, “You should never have come.” Again, an apparition appears beside Charles—but this time it’s an orange flicker. David’s voice says, “Lies! Behold, the king of lies.” Before Charles can register everything, he’s waking in a sumptuous guest room. Farouk’s portrait of him stares through thunderous darkness. He goes for a walk.
On the other side of the world, Gabrielle is alone with her infant and her mind. Time flickers here as well, the threads David tugged loose in Chapter 22 preparing to unravel. But this time, when she finds the house’s front doors out in the yard, Gabrielle is not alone. She steps outside shortly after Syd, Kerry, and Cary emerge from a time portal. Without wasting time on introductions, Gabrielle points to the doors. “You see them, yeah? I’m not crazy?”
While Kerry tends Cary downstairs, Syd follows Gabrielle upstairs. Gabrielle addresses Syd familiarly, either resigned to seeing people who aren’t there or having decided that Syd poses no threat. They speak of babies and men, in an exchange both poetic and stilted. Legion understands its men are dangerous, but its women are still somehow responsible for stopping them from burning down the world. When Gabrielle says, “It bothers you because you think you matter,” she could be describing the indifference of the universe, or her husband, or her son. Syd answers that the point of living must be to matter, and Gabrielle retorts as only the war-scarred can: has Syd ever seen a mass grave? Mass graves are full of people who mattered, just not to the people who put them there. And Syd receives another maternal lesson: “All animals fight to live, whether they want to or not.”
It’s immaterial to Gabrielle whether she wanted to live, perhaps even whether she wanted to have this child. She has borne wartime witness to the animal just beneath human skin. If her survival and her motherhood resulted from some combination of luck and animal instinct, the former cannot redeem the latter; it can only leave her questioning the value of both. If Charles is the consciousness that buoys her certainty of her own human consciousness, then without him, she is adrift in instinct. He left her alone with her own animal survival. Whatever Syd hears of this subtext dissolves when she hears Gabrielle call the baby David.
Syd explains when they are to Kerry, who is unequivocally on Team Kill Baby Hitler, erm, David. But Syd won’t let her. Based on Melanie and Oliver’s lessons, Syd sees that adult David is beyond saving, although baby David isn’t. Their presence makes change possible. She offers Kerry the chance to leave, but Kerry turns it downhat choice do they have? She promised to protect Syd, and there’s nothing for her and Cary to return to but an abandoned airship full of dead bodies and hungry Time Eaters. But unbeknownst to them, there are Time Eaters here, too.
A sleepless Charles tiptoes through the palace until he finds himself staring at the monkey Farouk lets the children harass. When he peers into its mind, a horned shadow shrinks into an old man rattling a gilded cage. “Help me!” he cries. “I was the king!” At that moment, a time gate opens. David introduces himself to Charles as his once and future son before vanishing them into his mind and offering his father a slice of cake. The cake is made of David’s memories, and Charles sees, with a bite, the horror and sadness and confusion of his son’s misspent youth.
Disarmed with shock and guilt, Charles caves when his son pounces. David tells Charles the future, or at least what he understands to be his own past: Tomorrow, Charles will fight Farouk on the astral plane, and the seemingly defeated Farouk will parasitize baby David’s body. Farouk was never going to be a friend, or even a colleague. This was always a trap, and the only way out is for Charles to team up with him.
The next morning, Charles brings a surprise guest to breakfast, presenting David as an old army buddy. Noticeably discomposed, Farouk peeks inside David’s head and glimpses the Commune. Enjoying Farouk’s discomfort, David ups the ante, telling his nemesis-to-be: “You should never have come.” In the background, Charles butters his toast awkwardly, third-wheeled at his own mutant meet-cute.
A nonplussed Farouk excuses himself, so only Charles and David see Switch stumble into the dining room looking more dead than alive. Another tooth falls from her mouth. She collapses, deliriously muttering her presence to an unseen teacher. David and Charles notice the time flicker that flashes them from the dining room to Charles’s guest room. Switch is unconscious on Charles’s bed. Even in his mind, David refuses to give her name, describing her as “…no one. She’s a means of getting here.” Taken aback, Charles chides his son. “Everyone is someone, David.”
There is pounding behind the doors in David’s mind. Desperate, he insists on killing Farouk. Charles takes the surprisingly reasonable tack of suggesting that they try to reason with Farouk instead, but the mere suggestion of anything less than killing his archenemy sends David into catatonia. While father fails to rouse son, a door swings open, and then another. Two other Davids emerge to accuse him of abandonment and betrayal. Soon surrounded, Charles flees his son’s mind.
While splitting firewood, Syd asks Gabrielle what kind of baby David is. Gabrielle says he cries a lot. She thinks he senses and fears her illness. In a misguided attempt to reassure her, Syd tells Gabrielle that all baby David needs is to feel safe. The upheavals of her own childhood aside, Syd doesn’t realize what she’s asking. Gabrielle learned to fear her grandmother’s illness, and then her mother’s. When she learned to fear her own, the war came and she also learned how to fear concentration camps and massacres and mass graves. And now that Charles has left her alone with the hauntings of her house and her mind, she has learned to fear the silence and solitude and her illness all over again. How can she make her child feel safe? How can she imagine what that means?
Gabrielle’s sense of unreality returns, and she asks Syd, “Are you really here?” Syd turns to the woodpile to find a pile of uncut logs. She hears an inhuman giggle, grabs the axe, and runs toward the house. Upstairs, a Time Eater is closing in on baby David’s crib. Bits of the nursery fall into pre- or post- or non-existence as it approaches. Before the Time Eater can touch the infant, Syd buries her axe in its head. They have to get out of the house, but that may prove complicated. Kerry and Cary are frozen downstairs, and the basement is filling with bright blue eyes and rictus grins. The Time Outside Time is empty, and all the devils are here.
Well, not all of them. But the Time Eaters lurking in Farouk’s palace have yet to show themselves. Charles goes to see Farouk, but is interrupted by Habiba, who asks him if he can make “them” stop screaming. When Farouk imprisoned the deposed king in the monkey, he also trapped his supporters in this child. Horrified, Charles returns to David with an apology. He admits that he was naïve and asks David’s forgiveness. “I was supposed to have time to know this, how to be a father.” (Although, dude, did you not notice how your son blew off your insistence that other people are… people?) He tells David Farouk is a monster who must be stopped. Pleased that dear old Dad has come around, David promises they can take Farouk down together.
Elsewhere in the palace, a dusty Present Farouk has arrived. I guess you can reach anywhen from the Eternal Now if you approach it the right way. He finds his past self, who grins with fascination. “Interesting,” he says. The odds have been evened. Next week’s astral battle should be a banger.
- “They’re insane, you know, babies.”
- “All animals fight to live, whether they want to or not.”
- “You saw me, and I saw you. What a privilege it is to see and be seen.”
- “Because he’s a baby. It’s not his fault.”
“But it will be his fault.”
- “She’s no one. She’s a means of getting here.”
“Everyone is someone, David.”
- “I don’t feel good.”
“That’s because you have a concussion and a punctured lung.”
ODDS & ENDS
- That theater was right out Mulholland Drive, and the sound design was reminiscent of Twin Peaks.
- The banderillos the matador hooks into the “bull” are the same shade of blue as the Vapor. It’s also worth noting that the banderillos and sword belong to the latter thirds of a Spanish bullfight; the matador spends the first third sussing out the bull’s strengths and weaknesses.
- The dead “bull” bleeds pools of red satin cord—the same cord that makes this week’s title card.
- Habiba is the only child who does not enjoy the shadow play.
- The king in the monkey asks Charles for help, but with no other justification than that he was king once and should be king again.
- This episode is full of allusions to The 1001 Nights. It’s not unusual for people to be trapped in the bodies of an animal. There are palaces full of doors, some of which guests are invited to open and others of which are forbidden. And the laws of hospitality, which bind both host and guest, are sacrosanct.
- Switch calls for her father. I kind of want him to show up in the finale.
- Farouk and David adopt the same floating meditation posture: like father, like son.
- Syd, one of your second childhood’s lessons was to protect the vulnerable. You don’t ask more of them. Gabrielle is as much Cynthia as Melanie, only instead of being hounded by a predator, she’s been abandoned (however temporarily) by her husband. Maybe you could’ve waited to lecture Charles instead on the importance of not abandoning your wife with a needy baby in a big spooky house.
- In Season 2, Farouk told David that his father overthrew a peaceful and prosperous kingdom by meddling in a situation he did not understand. Past Farouk’s ambiguity is thrilling and maddening: Is the bullfight a threat, or a psychic crossed wire with David’s attempts to show his father his own perception of Farouk? Was this always a trap, or does David’s arrival force Farouk to act against his wishes? Were his original intentions wholesome or sinister? The most interesting version of Farouk is the one who deposed a truly unjust tyrant without anticipating how power transforms its holders. It is the one amoral enough to saddle a child with the screaming of the damned but still human enough to be overjoyed at finding another like him. It will be terribly disappointing for Past Farouk to be just another archvillain in search of a nemesis. I want Present Farouk to be what triggers Past Farouk’s full heel turn.
- Is Charles really on David’s side?
- Is the portrait a trophy? Does Farouk collect other telepaths like a serial killer? That pleasure seems too routine and boring for someone like him.
- Are the Time Eaters trying to possess baby David so they can use his power? Or just stop him from growing up enough to stop them? Ugh, I hate temporal mechanics.
- Can Syd switch with a Time Eater?
- Also, what’s up with Chekhov’s Time Eater Egg?