Legion S01E02 “Chapter 2” REVIEW
- More trees, more pastoral loveliness. David and Syd on a boat, fleeing from the Department. We see David sleep, remembering Miss Bird talking about evolution. David sweats, David screams, David flashes through multiple rooms. We see Bird explain that he’s a telepath, maybe also a telekinetic. We see her talk about the Divisions, designed to track and study people like David and Syd.
- We see Bird make David close his eyes and focus on a single voice calling his name. Slowly he hears it. She tells him to imagine a big volume knob being slowly turned down. He hears the voice, sees the knob and then we realise Bird is talking without her mouth moving.
- The following day, they begin “memory work”. Bird and David walk through the woods around her compound, Summerland, as she explains that she can show David the truth about his life.
- We see David, Ptonomy and Bird sitting around a table with handles in front of them. Bird tells David the idea is to go backwards in his memories, find where his powers come from and how to trigger and control them.
- We see David and Amy, his sister, playing in a meadow. We see older David, along with Bird and Ptonomy, watching this happen. Taking someone inside their own memories is Ptonomy’s gift. David is entranced, but is reminded he can’t change what he’s seeing. Or rather he can, but he really shouldn’t…
- We see David explaining that they lived in the country, away from light pollution so his dad, an astronomer could do his work. We see David tearfully recollect all this as his Dad, his face in shadow, reads a bedtime story. David tries to see his face and the story… curdles. Violent, horrible images about an Angry Boy that fragment their perceptions and it’s too much as the room shakes and David wakes up and panics… and… Ptonomy puts him under.
- We see David, floppy-haired and younger and in therapy. This is after the break-up we saw last episode and that’s intercut between the interview scenes. David makes a passing reference to the “vapour” and notices that what his therapist says is being repeated on the old tape recorder in the corner of the room…
- And then he steps outside and sees Lenny sitting on a stove.
- They walk the streets, with the stove, and then David is woken up by Ptonomy. They’re sitting in a large round room. One with a small meadow inside it. Ptonomy explains he does memory work and Bird does “talk work”, to figure out what it all means. He also explains that Bird thinks David is the key. They chat and Ptonomy cycles back round to the book about the angry boy that caused David to bang out of the session. David obfuscates and Ptonomy lets him get away with it.
- Out in the woods, Division III keeps searching.
- Later that night, Syd and David meet on the swings outside and chat. Syd explains that she didn’t think the memory work helped either but it did. Then she talks about when they swapped places. How loud the day room was, that something else was in the corner of the room. The Devil with Yellow Eyes.
- She confesses that she thinks she killed Lenny. David is… surprisingly okay with it and uses the exact same line Lenny used last week. “You don’t give a newbie a bazooka…”
- Bird and the others came having sensed David’s power and took Syd instead, thinking she was David. Division III sensed it too and that’s when the trouble started. David wants to hug her but Syd explains she can’t even stand to be touched through the gloves.
- And then we see David being scanned in an odd, distinctly ersatz-looking MRI. The scientist working on him is a charming, if slightly erratic man with a fondness for taxidermy. The scan starts, David is told to focus on something or someone he cares about and flashes back to his sister just before her husband proposed. His sister pushes a little, asking about his love life and David flashes back…
- …to Lenny and the stove. And a barking dog.
- He is not well. At all.
- Turns out they’re bartering the stove for drugs.
- They get home and Lenny preps the hit as David tries, very hard, to not let reality shift around him. The drugs are ready, they take a hit and lie down. David hallucinates the Devil with Yellow Eyes in Lenny’s place and…
- …Bird, Ptonomy and David are watching them take the hit. Bird asks what David saw when he reacted to the Devil with Yellow Eyes. Bird reiterates that David does NOT hear voices. Everything he experiences is REAL.
- Ptonomy rewinds reality back to the therapy session. Ptonomy spots a time jump, a glitch. Bird reassures David and they rewind time. David explains again and we see a flash of the kitchen coming apart.
- AND SO DO THEY.
- Ptonomy drills down on the incident, asks David to make his mind blank and they’ll transport him there. Instead he’s back in his room at night as a boy. Ptonomy tries to get them out of the room and David resists him.
- Then the door slams.
- Then the Angry Boy book throws itself off the shelf and David covers his eyes and…
- David remembers sitting on the steps of his house. Then he sees Syd. He’s an adult in the forest. It’s later in the day and Syd asks David about the memory, explaining that Bird won’t tell her what it is. David waves her off and they chat about whether or not it’s safe. She tells David she’ll protect him. Telepathically. David admits he “heard” it accidentally and Syd good-naturedly busts his chops.
- And then we’re back in the MRI.
- He’s told to think about what happens next and we’re back in the therapy session with the tape recorder. The therapist asks if he’s supplementing and mentions a new drug. That’s clearly the “vapour” then. He asks David about his childhood and what he remembers. He rattles off a list of constellations. He talks about being woken up in the middle of the night to be driven by his dad up to the countryside to explain the lights in the sky.
- The stars talked to David. His father said the same thing, but – as David explains – for his Dad this was just a metaphor. For David? It was real.
- The therapist asks what the stars said and then the door behind the therapist starts to open and David starts to panic.
- Back in the MRI, the readings spike.
- Back in the therapy session, David tries to change subject as the therapist closes the door and…
- Nothing happens.
- The therapist asks what the stars said. David hears a woman whisper “David”. David hears the voice again, thinks it’s Amy and the cacophony of voices rise and…
- David sees his sister coming to see him. Except, the hospital refuses to accept that he was ever a patient there. David astral projects into the corridor and watches them shut her down. They even ask if she has psychological issues and as David panics and his amygdala lights up like a Christmas tree he follows her down the corridor calling out to her.
- And sees her.
- And she sees him.
- And so do Division III as they arrive.
- Cary, the scientist, tells him to remain still in the MRI and leaves saying he’ll be right back.
- Outside the monitors spike and spike as David hears children laugh and begins to panic. He hears MR snorting and demonic laughter, the lights come up and he sees the Devil with Yellow Eyes reach into the MRI. He panics and…
- …he’s lying on the ground. The MRI is nowhere in sight.
- Upstairs, Bird is disturbed by her patients running outside. She looks out of the window to see the MRI has been teleported wholesale into the garden.
- David’s lying in bed flashing back on the therapy session, the vapour, a woman’s voice saying, “You can’t help her.”
- The next day he packs to leave, and Syd goes with him. Syd asks if it was because of her and bargains with him. He tells her he saw Amy. He explains that he can’t leave his sister. Syd tries to get him to stay and do the work. Coldly, but not unkindly, she persuades him to stay.
- Out in the world, Amy is incarcerated by Division III. The Eye, the only survivor of David’s rescue last episode, arrives. There’s a tank of leeches in the room. They are about to begin…
Bands dread their second album. Once you’ve made your statement you either have to make it again or do something different. As a result, second albums are a problem. Second episodes too, but for different reasons.
The big issue Legion seems to have is format. This thing is DENSE. Do not check your phone during this episode as the tiniest details are revisited later and really matter. That’s both a function of the show’s extraordinary sense of unease and the way it’s formatted. These episodes are called chapters for a reason. This is one long-form story.
And it’s not on a streaming service.
And that’s the problem.
This is a serial. Each episode is designed to build on what came before it and watched in quick succession that’s going to be incredibly satisfying. Here, it feels just a little like running in place. We get a crumb of context for the kitchen explosion, a tiny moment of exploring the body swap from episode one and an awful lot of people in slightly 1970s-ish clothing asking David questions he won’t or can’t answer. There’s a ton of great stuff with Ptonomy and the overall format of the show is still a delight but in isolation this isn’t an especially satisfying hour of TV.
The mysteries it resolves (they really did swap bodies) we’ve already figured out. The ones it hints at (David is incredibly powerful; something odd with his dad; he can astrally project) again aren’t new. Even the visual ticks are designed to reward binge-watching and punish serial watching. The moment when David, Ptonomy and Bird revisit an earlier investigation scene and the way it’s directed gives them clues is AMAZING. It makes you want to watch the first episode again and then jump ahead. And you can’t. So you wait. And the show takes the cards it showed you away and gives nothing back.
That’s not to say this episode is bad. It’s not. It’s really good. But as a stand alone hour of entertainment? It isn’t. And that’s how we’re being fed Legion. So, for now, the show’s format is like David’s powers; its greatest asset and its greatest weakness.
- Dan Stevens. Holy crap Dan Stevens. Downton Stabbey is just effortlessly great and he continues to avoid every single “crazy guy” stereotype. We defy you to watch the memory of his dad without bawling like you’re watching the end of the Quantum Leap pilot episode.
- Jeremie Harris as Ptonomy. The exact balance of compassion and distance needed is right there and Harris nails every shot he’s in. Right now, he’s the second most interesting character in the show.
- The tone and structure. Nothing on TV is built like Legion. As we’ve said, that may not be a good thing in a few weeks but right now it’s amazing.
- The shot of the scan running down David’s body and folding Amy into existence as it passes is gorgeous.
- “How do I know they won’t kill her?”
“Because she’s bait.” STONE COLD and brilliant writing.
- A full season of the “OR IS IT?!’”approach we’ve had for two episodes could be hard work. We admire the sheer chutzpah of the thing but there’s a slight sense of the show running in place. This episode: David finds out inconclusive things about his powers, discovers he can astrally project and learns that his sister is in trouble and… that’s it. It’s still great, and moves like nothing else in its field, but we’d like some development, or answers, fairly soon.
And The Random:
- BILL IRWIN?! Bill Irwin is one of those character actors who makes everything better. He’s Cary Loudermilk (actual name), the scientist who puts David in the MRI. He’s a qualified circus clown, a student of clown history and has written and performed several stage plays about clown culture. He’s appeared with Steve Martin and Robin Williams in the off Broadway production of Waiting for Godot in 1986 and has been a delightful and odd fixture of numerous TV shows and movies including Hot Shots, Lady In The Water and Across The Universe. For us though he’ll always be both Enrico Ballati, the world’s politest superhuman in Northern Exposure. Or the voice of TARS in Interstellar. We’d join his robot empire any day.
- Take a look at the room Bird is in when David teleports the MRI outside. That’s a martial arts kickbag, a dummy dressed in military uniform strung from a punchbag frame and a lot of military scale models. She’s training these people for war.
- Mutant Music: pretty definite pullback on the music budget this episode but what we get is lovely.
• We don’t know what that deconstructed, sinister version of “Road To Nowhere” by Talking Heads on the front of the episode is but we’d love to find out.
• “Hyperactive” by Thomas Dolby over the end credits is just perfect.
Just A Few Questions
- So is David Professor X’s son, as he is in the comics? If they aren’t concealing David’s father’s face because he’s Professor X they’re doing a really good impersonation of that.
- Notice the idealised, tiny world that he and Dad are watching the stars on? How the horizon curves so close to them? We’re willing to bet David has some mental blocks and false memories to work through.
- When is this happening? We’ve seen lots of high tech stuff but some of the characters still dress very…’70s? Plus Ptonomy’s line about his dad being deafened by an artillery shell is… odd. It might just be the polyester in Hell aesthetic that makes Fargo so much fun but it does seem oddly disconnected.
Review by Alasdair Stuart