On this week's Legion, we take yet another detour to examine various things that could have been... and maybe still are.
SPOILERS AHEAD for "Chapter 14" of Legion
We've spent a lot of time going on little narrative detours this season with Legion, and that's a big gamble because while some viewers may find those detours fascinating, others may find them frustrating. Two episodes ago we got a very fascinating one indeed, as David took a trip through Syd's mind to better understand what makes her tick and what drives her particular view of the world. Then, we got last week's harrowing episode in which we not only found out how Lenny came back to us, but found out that David's exiled sister, Amy, was the price the Shadow King was willing to pay to give Lenny a body again. Now, David and Farouk are once again at odds, and we last left David with anger in his eyes as he silently promised "I'm coming for you" to his enemy-turned-ally-turned-enemy again. So, naturally, this week we pick up somewhere completely different, with a vagrant camped out in an alley.
The vagrant, it turns out, is David. It's a much older David, and he's silent and resigned to his life on the streets, but he's not the only David. David is also a powerful wealthy man, standing on the balcony of a futuristic house surveying the empire he's built over decades. David is also a bald, silent, barely coherent old man, struggling even to feed himself and receiving almost all of his daily care from an elderly Amy. The David we know, the David plotting revenge against The Shadow King within the walls of Division III, is nowhere to be found as the episode kicks off. What follows is 40 minutes of Legion weirdness that some viewers will be baffled by, not because it's hard to understand, but because it pulls us yet again away from the main thread of this season's plot.
It takes a few minutes, but a version of David -- younger, covered in sores and clearly strung out on drugs as he sits across from a friend at a diner -- explains in his own twisted way what we're seeing. We're seeing what might have been, several versions of it, in fact. Junkie David explains that there's a theory of multiversal existence in which every choice a person makes creates a branching effect in time, and two alternate timelines are then produced, and then each of those timelines produce their own alternate timelines. He even lays out a helpful "diagram" made up of soggy fries meant to represent a kind of decision tree: Branches make branches make branches make branches. So, what we're seeing in this episode are some of those branches, and we frequently leap back and forth between them until we can piece together parts of the path each one charts for the different versions of David.
One branch shows us a younger David as a coffee boy in a corporate office. He can still hear voices, but he's trying his best to live a normal life and climb the corporate ladder, until one day during a meeting he reads the mind of the men sitting across from his boss Laura (Molly Hagan). A deal is about to be signed, but as David overhears, these men are trying to swindle Laura and pawn off a hazardous and legally dubious product on her. David calls her aside, she thinks he's crazy, but then she brings up what he told her and the men across the table eventually give it all up. David was right, Laura's impressed, and they're off to the races. At the end of that branch, David is the wealthiest man in the world, but he's not necessarily benevolent about it. Laura works for him in her old age, and he likes to push her around. He also likes to push around Amy, who comes to him asking for a new house and gets a nosebleed from his psychic powers for her trouble. This David believes his own hype, brands himself "the great uniter" for his power to read the minds of everyone in the world, and sits among his wealth like a conqueror, like something Farouk has always told him he could be.
In another branch, David is very heavily medicated to the point that he can barely think, let alone use his powers or notice that something's wrong with him. Amy, a realtor, is his caretaker, and he goes to work every day moving boxes at a dairy warehouse, where Amy calls him to remind him to take his pills. At home, he sits and listens to nature sounds on noise-cancelling headphones and waits for meals to come, all the while complaining that the pills are robbing him of any sense of concentration or enthusiasm. Amy hints that this level of medication came about because David was once harmful to others, including her, and so he goes along with it, until one night when she's running late to pick him up for work. Apparently it's been a while between pills, and David starts to see our old friend The Devil with Yellow Eyes (The Shadow King's nightmarish Season 1 manifestation) on the streets, following him as he nervously paces. When two police officers stop to check on him, David panics, one thing leads to another, and he ends up obliterating several cops and their cars from the street, leaving just himself and Amy. So, we're led to believe, this branch ends with David crippled in some way by a gunshot to the spine, bald, half-catatonic, and requiring Amy's constant care well into his twilight years.
Yet another branch shows us David as a homeless man. Like the David we got to know in Season 1, this David is a junkie at first, and he constantly hears voices. Over time, his paranoia and untreated illness turn him into a bag man. One night, four young men decide to torture him in an eerie mirror of a classic scene from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. David may be mentally ill and homeless, but he's still an extremely powerful mutant, and he goes supernova on the kids, obliterating them. Later, while sitting on a park bench (If Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" just entered your head, you're not alone there) he's set upon by Division III soldiers, because they also still exist in this timeline. They're not here to apprehend or question David, though. They're just here to eliminate him. He tries to run, but they manage to subdue him long enough for Kerry (yes, that's Kerry) to cleave his head in two with a katana, putting an end to that particular branch of David.
Even as all of this is happening, though, we see glimpses of the same David we got to know in Season 1: the mentally ill drug addict who's struggling to make sense of what's wrong with him. As another branch of David explained early in the episode, the timeline we're on is determined by our choices, and this David (call him David Prime, if you like) chooses to let Amy put him in a mental healthcare facility, the same Clockworks institution we grew to know in Season 1. A moving scene shows the two of them sitting in a car in the rain, as Amy promises he'll just be in Clockworks for a few weeks, and then David is off to be committed, hang out with Lenny, meet Syd, go to Summerland, get the Shadow King out of his head, move to Division III, and then end up where he was last week, with Lenny cradling him as he discovers what Farouk did to his sister. As David sits there, still in shock over last week's revelation, he remembers something Farouk told him: "You decide what is real and what is not."
That little moment, at the end of the episode, is all the time we spend in what's currently happening in Legion this week (or at least, so we're led to believe). We don't see David unfurl his new plan to stop Farouk, if he has one, nor do we get to see anyone else in Division III (save for Kerry and Syd, in brief alternate timeline glimpses). That could be frustrating, and sometimes it is, because even with all of its diversions and whimsical presentations, Legion is at its best when it's like it was last week, with the plot driving forward amid all of the playful structure. Nothing seemed to really drive forward this week, but then you get to that final moment, when David is recalling Farouk's words.
If you're a big Legion fan, as I am, you tend to indulge episodes like this one, to let creator Noah Hawley and his writers go off on little side quests as long as it ends up being worthwhile. I must confess to not being sure if this was worthwhile for much of the runtime of the episode, but by the end I started thinking about Farouk's words as well, and I started to wonder: Was junkie David's theory really at work? Are all of these divergent Davids actually real somewhere out there? The multiverse is a time-honored part of Marvel Comics tradition, and we have the X-Men comics that Legion grew out of to thank for a lot of that. It is very possible that what we saw this week is all real, that each of these Davids is living in their own branch of time, and that they each have their own worlds that have grown up around them. There could also be a simpler explanation, though.
Several times this season, Farouk has lectured David on the power of his own will. Farouk doesn't look at the world the same way David does. He views himself not as an evil man, but as a superior one, and therefore it's only right that he gets to do as he pleases and shape the world around him to suit his needs. Rather than fight David, he tries to teach him to live the same way, to rule rather than relate, to subjugate rather than sympathize. He tries to teach David to live like a god, and indeed there is at least one timeline where David ended up doing that. None of this is to say that David's now going to use his anger to cast aside everyone and bend the entire world to his will, but if Farouk is right, and he really can determine reality with his powers, can David somehow bring Amy back? Can he travel back in time and prevent her from ever being lost? Can he pull whatever may be left of her out of Lenny and give her a new body? Can he even move sideways into an alternate timeline and bring that version of Amy into his world? None of this is clear, but even if it felt like a sidetrack, Legion wouldn't have shown us all of this without a purpose. This show has always had a plan, and now that plan includes David contemplating what could have been and what might yet be, and then acting on it. Hopefully, next week will give us more answers, because although the show still carries enough goodwill with me to go on these little tangents with a purpose, I spent much of this week drumming my fingers on the arm of the couch, waiting for something to move forward rather than sideways.
- Could David actually pull Amy out of Lenny? We know Lenny shares some of Amy's memories in a broken sort of way. What else of her might still be in there?
- When he's rich, David looks like Magneto. When he's infirm and bald, he looks like Charles Xavier. These are not coincidences.
- I know this wasn't really the point of the episode, but I now want an entire spinoff series that's just about Kerry running around the world and killing rogue mutants with a sword.
- "She resents me. I like that."
- We all deserve a mouse that will jump up on our desks and sing "Slave To Love" for us.
And that's it for this week! Join us next Tuesday for "Chapter 16" of Legion!