Spoilers ahead for Legion's second episode, "Chapter 2."
The short version: David heads to a new facility, where Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) tries to help him control his telepathic gifts.
As with its carefully structured premiere, Legion wastes no time piling on the plot for its second episode. After escaping the clutches of the government organization known as Division Three, David follows Syd back to Summerland, a facility where Dr. Bird has made it her mission to not only take in people with special abilities but help them understand and harness their powers. The first order of business: "Memory work," a process in which memory artist Ptonomy projects David and Melanie back into David's own memories so they can be studied and meditated on in therapy.
Now, I thought the first episode of Legion was an excellent hour of television, and I still think that, but "Chapter 2" is even better because of the way it uses the memory work idea to its structural advantage. In the first half, we encounter memories of David's childhood, his time in therapy and a drug score he once carried out with Lenny. The way the memories are structured, combined with Ptonomy's explanations for what's happening, work to acclimate the viewer even as the show's visual gifts wow us and Dan Stevens continues to mesmerize as David. When the premise is established, little quirks from the memories grow more important as something becomes clear: David's got himself a boogeyman.
One of the recurring motifs of tonight's episode was Melanie's insistence that David stop thinking about what he's seeing and hearing in terms of mental illness and start thinking about those things in terms of abilities he does not yet have a firm grasp on. That means that all the visions he has are not delusions, but real visions. We see this proven when he hears Syd's thoughts and, more powerfully, when he projects himself into Clockworks to see his sister looking for him. At the climax of the episode, David manages to transport Cary's MRI machine right out of the building in an act that looked more like teleportation than telekinesis. These are no longer dreams he might have had or delusions he might be fighting. These are real things.
So, what's that make the Devil With Yellow Eyes, the blubbery creature who haunted this episode even more prominently than the first? Clearly David's not imagining him, and he also exerts a very real power over our hero, who reverts to a childlike state of terror when the creature's growling, chomping sounds begin to fill a room. It's a very effective way to establish a villain, and it's been the most affecting part of the show for me thus far. What this episode also establishes, though, is that this Devil also manages to pervade David's memories all the way back to childhood, which begs a terrifying question: Was he in those memories all along, or like Ptonomy, is he just putting himself there?
On another note entirely, I am absolutely loving the "romance of the mind" between David and Syd. We saw most of it in montage last episode, so it was nice to actually hear them talk about both their connection and their struggle. Syd's inability to be intimate is a classic mutant metaphor made new by the series, but her vulnerability is balanced by the fact that she seems to have a much better grasp on the reality of things than David does. He's the more powerful mutant, but she's the stronger person.
Oh, and keep an eye on Jean Smart. She was brilliant on Fargo and she's got all the makings of more brilliance here.
Well, just as I feared, I spoke too soon when I complained about the flashes of David's childhood last week, as this week those were revealed to be part of the show's careful planning. Other than that, I have no gripes this time out. Like I said, this episode was even better than the last.
- Lenny sitting atop an old stove with a giant Larry Fine mural behind her is my favorite image from the show so far.
- The intercom messages at Summerland -- "The dining hall is a levitation-free zone." -- really make it feel like some kind of alternate reality version of Xavier's School ... which I suppose it kind of is.
- David remembers his father as an astronomer who agreed that the stars also spoke to him. David thinks that was a metaphor, though, and in his memories he can't see his father's face. I don't think it's a matter of if there'll be a big reveal there, but when.
- The scene in the therapist's office with the creaky closet door started to legitimately scare me.
- I love everything about Cary (Bill Irwin) and his hodgepodge MRI control room, typewriter, stuffed mouse and all.
And that's it for this week! We'll see you next Wednesday for "Chapter 3." In the meantime, let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments.