This is a review of season two, episode one (“Chapter Nine”).
Marking the return of television’s weirdest superhero show, a familiar voice that sounds a lot like Jon Hamm announces itself over a black screen. “There is a maze in the desert carved from sand and rock,” he says. “A vast labyrinth of pathways and corridors — a hundred miles long, a thousand miles wide, full of twists and dead ends. Picture it. A puzzle you walk, and at the end of this maze is a prize, just waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is find your way through.”
This is a metaphor for madness, he eventually explains. The maze is in your mind and it is inescapable and all-consuming. But it is also an apt descriptor for Legion itself — the show is its own conundrum. Taking place from the perspective of David Haller (Dan Stevens), an incredibly powerful mutant who mistook his abilities for schizophrenia, Noah Hawley’s mind-melter goes to some audaciously trippy places. When you think one of your many, many questions will be answered, the story takes a 180 and leaves you hanging with even more questions to ponder over. It has an unreliable narrator, no one is trustworthy, and you can never even be certain that what you’re seeing is real. With all of that in mind, this show shouldn’t work — but season two’s first episode builds on the brazen visual bravado of season one to create the most uniquely mesmerising show on television.
Season one left us on a frustrating cliffhanger when David was suddenly abducted by a strange floating orb. When he’s found and awakes from a comatose state, he thinks he’s been gone for hours, a day at most — in reality he’s been missing for 362 days. What has David been doing for the past year? He doesn’t remember. He just wants to eat some waffles and make out with his girlfriend Syd (Rachel Keller). Since his disappearance, the team from Summerland have joined forces with Division 3 — the organisation that was previously hunting David — to fight against the bigger bad: Amahl Farouk AKA The Shadow King AKA The Man with the Yellow Eyes had been infecting David’s brain since he was a child but has moved on to Oliver (Jemaine Clements). Like his many names suggest, The Shadow King takes many forms including Lenny, played by Aubrey Plaza in a role that brilliantly captalises on her eccentricity. Summerland and Division 3 must stop The Shadow King’s mind from reuniting with his body or else he will become unstoppable.
The plot sounds simple enough, but it’s also brimming with outrageous set-pieces and curiosities. A plague is infecting everyone in The Shadow King’s wake which causes them to freeze apart from the chattering of their teeth. (A shot early on in the episode sees a club full of people standing in darkness and silence, save for the relentless clacking of teeth, which only makes me want to go to the dentist immediately.) The head of Division 3 is Admiral Fukuyama, an elusive figure who wears a basket on his head and can only communicate through androgynous mustachioed androids. There’s also a 3-minute long dance sequence between David, Oliver and Lenny on the Astral Plane that is full of meme potential. Legion thrives on its weirdness and originality.
Legion was my favourite show because it’s like nothing else on TV — except maybe Twin Peaks. It’s an easy point of comparison to make, but it has to be made — no other non-David Lynch property embodies the term ‘Lynchian’ more than Legion. They are both shows that defy explanation; they operate on the basis of disorienting the viewer. It can take an entire season to figure out what the hell is going on, but you’re happy to go along for the ride anyway because the search for answers is downright addictive.
The main appeal of Legion is its captivating visuals. From the innovative cinematography to the dynamic production design (a cafeteria with waffle boats!), if you have no idea what’s going on at least there’s always something pretty to look at. It’s not just for the sake of vanity either, every frame feels meticulously planned and conceived. (On the second watch I noticed subtle clues in the background that foreshadowed later plot developments.)
Like all season openers, ‘Chapter Nine’ is exposition-heavy to lay the groundwork for the overall narrative arc. Director Tim Mielants does a solid job of reintroducing the audience to this surreal world while also providing the confounding visuals we either love or hate. But I’m excited to see what the rest of the season brings — the next three episodes are all directed by women (Ana Lily Amirpour, Buster’s Mal Heart director Sarah Adina Smith, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind cinematographer Ellen Kuras). Legion baits you with the promise of a superhero show, then flips it on its head, turns it inside out, and sends it to another dimension. With the monotonous storytelling of even the biggest of Marvel properties, Legion’s psychedelic acid trip provides that fruitful escape to temporary madness.