S1, E2: ‘Chapter 2’
Do the work
***THIS RECAP CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR LEGION: CHAPTER 2***
Legion announced itself with its extended arpeggio of a pilot: a beautiful, stylish riff on a superhero origin story, throwing rich visuals and sumptuous, detailed comic book panels at the screen with seeming nonchalance. I could write it all off as mere precocity except for one thing: its hero may really be gifted, but he is also really mentally ill.
In its second episode, Legion entrenches itself more firmly into the blasted landscape of David Haller’s mind. It doesn’t do anything especially new with the territory, but I’m happy to let it all wash over me for a while.
David is being introduced to his own mind by the enigmatic Melanie Bird. All his life, she says, David has been told that his visions weren’t real, that he was sick. Now he has to unlearn all of that. It is no coincidence that the episode mirrors David’s pre-institution therapy sessions with his ‘memory-work’ and ‘talk-work’ in his new surroundings. No coincidence, either, that Melanie uses the therapist-speak of ‘work’, insistently parroted by Syd and ‘memory artist’ Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris). Since the age of ten, David has been sat opposite people explaining him to himself and telling him to mistrust himself. No wonder he doesn’t know whom to trust. No wonder he hides his own memories from himself through a ‘glitch’ in the playback of his memories (in a nice, unsettling homage to – at least – the Matrix).
Of course, there might be other reasons that David’s repressing his memories. One of the more effective themes in the episode is the bedtime story that David’s father reads out to Young David: a violent, black-and-white-and-red fantasy in which ‘The Angriest Boy In The World’ goes on a killing spree. A Grimm tale without a moral. An Anti-Struwwelpeter. When Ptonomy and Bird try to figure out why David’s memory is glitching, they’re whisked to his bedside and shown the story again. And indeed appropriately – and Freudianly – enough, a lot of David’s pathologies seem to be linked to primal childhood fears: monsters in closets, faceless adults and terrifying stories. David himself is often shown sitting cross-legged on floors and benches or lying prone staring up into someone else’s face, infantilised and passive, usually terrified. Even his ‘romance of the mind’ with Syd is shown through the lens of a very specific pre-adolescent love. Look at the two of them swaying idly on swings, leaning their cheeks against the rope, looking out at a Jungle Gym. Is that real, or is David projecting? Is he drawn to Syd precisely because she too experiences other people as a near-intolerable pressure on the senses? In the case of David, it’s voices. In Syd’s case, as ants crawling under her skin. Is Syd even real? I can’t recall any scenes with her and anyone else, without David present in some form – either in the same room, or when she’s telling him something.
The only person David can feel remotely sure of – if he can of anything – is his sister Amy (Katie Aselton). So when he has a vision of her seized by the sinister ‘Division Three’ agents who captured and interrogated him in the pilot, of course he wants to go to her rescue. Syd talks him into staying and ‘doing the work’ so that they can rescue her. And says – softly but chillingly – that Amy won’t die because ‘she’s bait’. But when we see the gnarled henchman with his one functioning eye walk into an abandoned room and place electric eels in a tank before Amy, you remember that many bad things can happen to you before you die. Hurry up and ‘do the work’, David.
- Syd is very reminiscent of Rogue, isn’t she? Apart from her power, which is a sort of photographic negative of Rogue’s, check out her gloves and that lock of hair escaping from her headband.
- Why don’t we ever see David’s father? I have a guess as to his identity, of course….
Odds and sods
- The visual metaphor of David turning down the dial on background noise so he can latch on to specific voices is….a bit goofy. Yes, the show leans into it with the Giant Dial and David’s rapt expression, but still.
- I think – I think – that Lenny is real? In the pilot, she is described as having died, and apparently Syd-in-David’s-body killed her. But when I think of the gym/stage/pool/who even knows where David was apparently being held, I am reminded that David’s mind is a strange and treacherous place.
- When is this show set? Check out Amy’s Sixties-inspired wardrobe and hair, and the Cold-War-era recording device that David remembers (?) in his therapist’s office. Contrast that with the nineties-ish outfits David and Lenny wear. Think too of David’s sumptuously Gothic digs. Check out the pale wintry light streaming through the window, and the leather chair with its ornately-carved wooden arms. Somewhere, Miss Havisham is seized with envy and she doesn’t know why.
- That scene where David comes to and there’s a giant goat looming impassively over him for no good goddamn reason: anyone else reminded of Pan’s Labyrinth or Tale of Tales?