Welcome back for the second season of Legion, the acclaimed FX series based on the Marvel Comics mutant of the same name. Strap in, folks. Things are about to get weird... again.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Legion Season 2 Episode 1, "Chapter 9."
When we last left Legion, things were in chaos. An attempt by Cary (Bill Irwin) and Oliver (Jemaine Clement) to drive Amahl "The Shadow King" Farouk out of David Haller's (Dan Stevens) body ultimately succeeded, but not in the way the Summerland crew hoped. The Shadow King made off with Oliver's body and headed south in a car with the consciousness of Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) still in his possession as well. Then, to make things more complicated, David was zapped into some kind of flying orb and drifted away into the night, screaming all the while, as Syd (Rachel Keller) looked on helplessly.
Cut to some time later, and our story resumes. Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) and Clark (Hamish Linklater), the interrogator who was once David's enemy, come upon David sitting alone in a seemingly deserted night club. After saying "Help them. They're in the maze," David passes out, and the two discover a room filled with catatonic people, standing upright, eyes wide, chattering their teeth so loudly it sounds like tiny hooves clomping across a floor.
David is contained and evacuated to, of all places, Division III, where Cary takes over and attempts to revive him. Then, when Cary finally does start making progress, a mysterious voice asks if David is "infected," and we see new characters: a man with a basket on his head and two women with black pageboy hair and mustaches who seem to be speaking for the basketed man. A standoff ensues when Cary refuses to follow the man's orders, in which Kerry (Amber Midthunder) gets the chance to stretch her legs and say hi, and then David's awake, asking for waffles. It's only then that we get the show's title card, and we can finally take a breath as Ptonomy both gives David the waffles he requested and breaks down what the hell is going on.
Already, this is classic Legion. It's not a play-by-play or a simple exposition-packed catch-up. It's an experience full of strange sights, sounds, and well-structured writing. Even as you're asked to hold so many new and disparate elements in your head, though, you still feel like you're in good hands.
So, what the hell is going on? Well, Ptonomy explains that, while Division III was originally created as part of a concerted effort to combat public fears of a mutant threat, Syd and Melanie (Jean Smart) have since managed to convince its leaders that mutants themselves aren't the problem. The real problem is the bad ones, like the Shadow King, and the mutants willing to help bring him to justice can actually be an asset. So the Summerland and Division III teams have joined forces under one roof (a headquarters filled with honeycombed walls and strange rooms) to find both David and the Shadow King. The former has been found, but the other remains at large, and a new wrinkle has made tracking him more complicated. Oh, and that basket-headed man? That's Admiral Fukyama, the head of Division III.
David, like the viewer, is incredulous. How could all of this have happened so quickly? He wasn't gone very long, was he? For more on that, Syd finally gets to reunite with her man and explain to him that -- though he claims he feels as if he was only gone for a day -- he was actually missing for 362 days, and even presumed dead. Syd was, of course, grief-stricken, but the hunt continued, and that's when the team discovered "the catalyst," which is what struck those chattery-teethed, catatonic people from earlier. It turns out there's a whole bunch of those people in containment at the Division III facility, and the building's intercom system constantly broadcasts warnings of the catalyst's symptoms. So, what is it? Well, Cary has dubbed it a "psychological virus" rather than a physical one, and it's been associated with sightings of Oliver around the world, which means it's directly linked to the Shadow King. And, while everyone else left in that club seemed to have it, David so far does not.
After an intimate reunion with David in their white room, Syd checks in on Melanie, who's not the level-headed fighter she once was. After years of living with her husband trapped on the astral plane, she's now lost him again to the Shadow King's schemes, and she can't handle it. It's here that one of my favorite things about the show -- its willingness to comment on the tropes of superhero stories even as it engages them -- comes into play. Melanie, like Syd, is mourning the loss of her powerful and important man, but now Syd has her back, and Melanie's more than a little bitter about that. She doesn't actually take it out on Syd, but she does muse aloud about not being allowed to be angry about her man leaving, because she and Syd would be "such bitches" if they ever complained. Then she issues a warning: "After they come back, things are never the same."
Syd, somewhat shaken by how far Melanie's fallen since they first met, leaves, and Melanie drifts even deeper into self-destruction and hopelessness by inhaling some kind of drug from a vaporizer in the form of a jeweled elephant (David and Lenny, you may recall, used to do the same thing with a ceramic frog). As she drifts away, a horned figure creeps across her room, and the door slams. Last season, Melanie was the calm voice in a world gone mad. This season, madness seems to be getting to her too, and that's shaping up to be one of the prevailing themes of Season 2. Season 1 was about understanding David's madness. In Season 2 the madness is spreading, finding new places to take root.
Back in the Division III restaurant, still searching his memories for what happened after the orb took him, David meets up with Clark, where he hears precious few details about the Shadow King, who's apparently impossibly old. We've already heard, in his talk with Ptonomy, David's mind worrying with itself over whether Ptonomy "knows." What he does or doesn't know isn't clear, but Clark is as suspicious of David as David is of Clark, using a clever story about ice cream to illustrate that he thinks David's hiding something. The two men are nominally on the same side at this point, but as with the guards storming Cary's observation room earlier, there's a clear tension between the Summerland people and the Division III originals. Clark, without pressing David further, directs him to Fukyama for a meeting, and that's when the season really gets a trajectory.
That trajectory, according to this basket-headed figure who speaks through his strange acolytes and refers to himself (or themselves, as it's always plural with Fukyama) as "The Machine That Bleeds" and "The Organizing Principle," is what David terms "a race." Apparently the Shadow King's immense psychic mutant powers aren't anchored to just his consciousness, even though his consciousness has been floating from body to body ever since his long-ago battle on the astral plane with David's still-unseen father. No, his powers are still anchored to his original physical form, which was hidden away somewhere to keep him from re-inhabiting it. The Shadow King, in Oliver's body, is on the hunt for his original form, and Fukyama believes that if he finds it he will be "unstoppable," so it's imperative that David recover whatever information he can from his own mind to aid in the hunt.
To that end, Cary has built "the tank," a sensory deprivation device that's supposed to reconnect David with the year he's lost through both his powers and Cary's weird science. Once in the tank, David re-enters the nightclub where he was found, and we get our first glimpse of a bald man draped in a scarf with a marking on his head (keep him in your mind, Dear Viewer). David tracks the man through the club until he spots both Oliver and Lenny. Then they do what any three minds who've all been corrupted at one point or another by the same evil psychic mutant monster do: They have a dance-off.
Aided by various dancers from the club, the three characters (and by extension the actors who play them) dance frantically while staring each other down in what can only be a glorious visual metaphor for some kind of psychic battle. You can see it in the posture, the aggressive moves as they throw their hands and arms around, locking their forearms together as if to direct and block blows. It's a tremendous sequence, and one that's both riveting and perfect for this kind of show. We don't get to see exactly how it ends, but we know that David was the only one found at the club by Ptonomy and Clark, so we can perhaps guess. Meanwhile, back in the present at Division III, David was so shaken by the experience that he either broke through the floor of the tank or teleported out of it. Either way, he's left naked in a hallway.
After a shower and a change of clothes, Syd asks David if he saw anything in the tank, and that's when the already skittish David begins to seem downright deceptive. He tells her he saw nothing, and he doesn't say it like someone who has no memory of what went on in the tank. He's lying to her, and Syd -- still shaken from Melanie's words -- is determined to banish all secrets from their relationship. She's been inside David's head. She knows what they went through last year. She's not about to do it again, and she's also not about to let everything change the way Melanie warned it would. David promises her no more secrets, and even offers up a gift: a kind of psychic compass that will allow her to find him no matter where he is. It's a nice gesture, but after Syd falls asleep, David's mind continues to turn on its own. That's when we find out what the orb was, and at least part of what happened inside.
The orb is from the future, or at least what David sees inside of it is. In a dark room, David is confronted by a wearied-looking Syd, the golden David compass he gave her long since rubbed away to silver. She informs him through sign language that she can't use sound to communicate, but she can use images with the help of some kind of light-painting wand. Thus begins one of the most riveting games of Pictionary ever attempted, and the message Syd conveys is this: She is from the future, while David is still in his present. The Shadow King is on the hunt for his body (whether she means this is still happening in her future or not isn't clear), and just as David is absorbing this information, Syd writes a message out for him: "HELP HIM." Help the Shadow King find his body, something Fukyama warned (warned David in the future, but warned us viewers in the present) would be a very bad thing indeed. Syd doesn't elaborate. She tells David she loves him and then disappears.
So... Legion just went all Days of Future Past on us, y'all.
Before we can even fully absorb this information, David flashes back to another moment, this time once again at the club where he was found at the beginning of the episode. We see the dancing crowds, the bald man, and Lenny and Oliver, but this time a dance battle does not ensue. This time Lenny and David kiss, and we're left wondering what exactly that means as the shot dissolves into an image of David standing in his bathroom doorway, looking at a sleeping Syd.
Wow, that was a hell of a premiere. The show maintained its incredible knack for visual invention, heightened the stakes, progressed the characters, and introduced freaking time travel into the mix, all in an hour. Season 2 is going to be a hell of a ride. So, is David already helping the Shadow King find his body? Is that why he went to the club? Was the psychic dance battle more about helping than hurting? Did it happen at all? Where is the Shadow King now, and what happened during the rest of David's lost year? We'll learn more next week.
- We may not know where the Shadow King's body is, but we do know what it looks like. We caught a glimpse of him sitting in an ornate room in Paris, in his own mind in Oliver's body, at the beginning of the episode. He's played by Navid Negahban.
- Another meta-textual device has entered the fray this season in the form of a narrator explaining mental illness to the viewer in the form of elaborate visual metaphors, some of which have begun to bleed over into David's own mind, suggesting he's not as well as he seems. Keep a close eye on these as the season unfolds, as we might eventually even meet the narrator (Jon Hamm) himself. Plus, it delights me that Legion is following in Westworld's footsteps with its own complex "maze" metaphor.
- There is no corresponding comic book character to Admiral Fukyama, at least not by name, but it seems likely we'll learn more about this mysterious character in the coming weeks, so start your speculation engines.
- We should all be so lucky to work in a place that delivers waffles to you by boat. Waffle boats are the way of the future.
- As with last season, the intercom system is already playing a major role in ratcheting up the tension and paranoia in various scenes. This time around, it's constantly broadcasting warnings to Division III personnel about the catalyst, naming symptoms, and telling everyone to beware of this spreading madness. Among the best moments: The phrase "repetitive sounds" is repeated twice while Syd walks down the hall to Melanie's room, and "a sudden urge to confess" is said just before Clark begins explaining his little ice cream story to David.
- "I like cherry pie now."
- Syd is "practicing" her body switching ability with a cat, which freaks Kerry out but definitely shows that she's making progress with her own abilities. Plus, her trademark gloves are showing more of her skin now.
- "So I'm supposed to find the Shadow King from inside a daiquiri?"
- When Ptonomy reveals to Syd that he's seen little flashes of memory in David that reveal David isn't being entirely truthful, he also asks Syd if she still trusts David. Her response: "He's my man." She, of course, doesn't fully trust him, or at least she should know by now that it's not a good idea. What we know by the end of the episode, though, is that David isn't necessarily keeping things from Syd because he's malicious. He could be hiding things because he's not sure. "You came back from the future and told me I should actually be helping the bad guy instead of fighting him" is a very convincing argument. Whatever the case, the dance of deception between these two has begun anew. We know that at some point Syd will get wise to something, because we've seen her future self. What we don't know is when, or how.
- Kerry and Cary remain delightful. Also Cary apparently didn't wear pants on Wednesday.
And that's it for this week. Join us next Tuesday for "Chapter 10" of Legion!