This Legion review contains spoilers.
Legion Episode 3
The best superhero stories experiment with genre. The Dark Knight is a crime drama, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a classic espionage tale, Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera, and Deadpool is a satire. By using the conventions of other genres, these films told heroic tales that felt fresh in the face of superhero fatigue. Instead of Jessica Jones playing like a superhero show with noir elements, it stands apart as a detective series that just so happens to feature a super strong protagonist.
Legion has had a chance to try on a couple different hats in its early episodes, indulging in psychedelic surrealism, Trainspotting-like black comedy, and Wes Anderson-inspired whimsical romance. So far, it bounces between all of these styles successfully, but perhaps no genre is mined more effectively than horror. Especially in tonight’s chapter, directed by frequent American Horror Story director Michael Uppendahl, Legion is at its most captivating when it’s dialing up the suspense with unsettling stays in David’s psyche.
The back half of the episode plays like a riff on A Nightmare on Elm Street, with Ptonomy, Melanie, and Syd trapped in David’s memories with only David represented as a child to guide them. As David’s memories are distorted and changed, a creeping sense of dread seeps in and apparitions like the Devil with the Yellow Eyes and The World’s Angriest Boy start to cause havoc. Staged like classic scary movies, these scenes have an exciting energy, largely because the mash-up of the two genres feels new, even if it isn’t. Though I’m a bit tired of these memory explorations continually revealing new rules as they go along like an Inception parody, if they continue to spawn anxiety-inducing material this compelling, keep them coming. The Beast with the Yellow eyes clearly has power in David’s mind and is far more than just a memory; I hope his origins are revealed in a sinister fashion.
The episode also succeeds at developing Syd and her relationship with David further. Going into this episode, I was pretty convinced that Syd wasn’t real, but a personality in David’s head. Though I wasn’t always intently watching, I couldn’t remember Syd actually being acknowledged by anyone other than Lenny and the doctors at Clockworks, and I’m pretty convinced that all of David’s Clockwork memories are hallucinations (though Amy, who I am pretty sure is real, visiting the hospital throws sort of a wrench in that). But tonight, we see her talk to Melanie, Ptonomy, and Cary, so she must be real, unless there’s a whole Fight Club thing happening here.
Anyway, David and Syd’s relationship; I really like the way that the couple’s intimate moments are shot. Without being able to make physical contact, we see them cozy up around wall corners, close enough to hear the other person’s heart beat through the dry wall. Obviously David would love the comfort of even holding Syd’s hand, so hearing him describe the sensation of being in her body and able to touch her skin for himself comes across as deeply romantic (even though I’m making it sound creepy). Dan Stevens lights up like a firework talking about what it felt like to be Syd. It’s also insightful to hear Syd discuss her powers. She says that her body doesn’t feel like her own, which could be read with many metaphorical meanings, but it’s allowed her to realize her soul. Science fiction rarely sounds this poetic.
Lastly, we’re given a couple more glimpses of the villains from Division III, who are using leeches on Amy as a means of interrogation. We learn from Melanie that the Tom Waits-looking baddie with the perm’s name is Walter and he, along with Cary and Melanie’s husband Oliver (who is trapped in a coffee machine?) started Summerland together before Walter gave in to violent, evil impulses. Walter clearly has powers, as he’s able to see David and Syd while they’re observing Amy in what looks like the Astral Plane from Doctor Strange. What his actual mutant abilities are remain a mystery.
At this point in the game, Legion has established that David is exceptionally powerful but that there is something excessively dangerous clouding his mind. Now firmly comfortable with the show’s language, it’s time viewers be rewarded with real answers about where exactly this is heading. David learning to control his powers isn’t enough; we need to know the risk of what happens if he fails. Legion has proven adept at being eye-catching and has drawn me in, now keep me here.