This Legion review contains spoilers.
Legion Season 2 Episode 1
I wonder if Noah Hawley keeps looking over his shoulder to see if David Lynch is going to appear out of nowhere. It feels like the first season of FX’s Legion, with all of its aggressive strangeness, stylistic wonder, and batshit story ambition sort of had its thunder stolen by Twin Peaks: The Return. Until David Lynch decided to one-up Hawley’s bizarro foray into the superhero genre by way of psychedelic, psychological horror, Legion was by far the weirdest, and quite possibly the most brilliant, series on TV. However, by year’s end, the show didn’t quite receive the accolades that it deserved. It’s as if critics could only keep one dissonant series in mind.
Or maybe it was because Legion left some TV writers underwhelmed. Though its first season was frequently gorgeous, featuring bold performances and thrilling detours into nightmarish set-pieces, some complained that the show’s characters were paper thin and that Legion was all style over substance. The dance parties in the astral plane were fun, but what did it all add up to?
Let’s get it out of the way: if you fell into the camp of thinking that season one was just odd for odd’s sake, then the premiere of season two, “Chapter 9,” will only reaffirm your stance. If season one couldn’t impress you with its film school-obsessive references, unreliable point of view, and noticeably great sound design, then a guy with a basket on his head and some computer women with mustaches are unlikely to change your mind. If anything, Legion is even harder to submerse yourself in during the season premiere, with a time jump and soapy amnesia used to disorient David and the audience all over again. But If you can handle the flourishes and muddy narrative, Legion is a delightfully confounding and visually stimulating trip that can feel downright subversive to watch.
Though “Chapter 9” can feel a bit like a slog, it dutifully must do the table setting for the rest of the season. We rejoin the Summerland gang one year after “Chapter 8,” with David finally discovered after disappearing in that mysterious orb. The Summerland gang are now fully integrated with Division 3, working alongside Clark (Hamish Linklater) and their new boss Admiral Fukuyama as the “spear” in the government’s war against unruly mutants. The Shadow King, Amahl Farouk, is still on the loose in Oliver’s body, with Oliver and Lenny wasting away, trapped inside of his mind. A new threat, The Catalyst, which turns regular folks into teeth-chattering statues, is also a problem, as it appears to be following The Shadow King on his globetrotting journey to locate his original body.
It’s fairly straightforward superhero stuff dressed up with idiosyncratic production design and cinematography, except now the novelty has worn off a bit. Legion can’t surprise with an impromptu dance number or spaced-out sex scene anymore, which means Hawley must try to up the ante with new oddities that don’t always work. I love the sound of Jon Hamm’s voice as much as the next red-blooded American, but his cutaway speeches about mazes and delusions complete with Chinese fables and self-amputations feel like the work of a writer getting high on his own supply.
That being said, the second season already seems more interested in its characters’ development. Syd is reasonably upset about David’s absence and worries about when she might lose him again. She can also tell that David may know more about his time away then he is letting on. Cary and Kerry appear to be at odds and out of synch, Ptonomy is more suspicious of David than ever and his allegiance can no longer be assumed, and Melanie is completely checked out after losing her husband yet again. The most intriguing member of the Division 3 ensemble is Clark, who’s still seemingly holding a grudge against David despite the fact that they find themselves on the same side. Their scene together is the episode’s highlight and gives us more information about Clark’s backstory. After seeing his home life last season and his road to recovery, we know more about this uneasy ally than any of our other supporting characters, and his and David’s dynamic is one I’m excited to explore further.
If there’s something to be gleaned from the premiere that feels encouraging, or perhaps maddening if you’re already struggling to keep things straight, is that what we think we know about David and his relationships to his friends and adversaries feels like it will be upended. For instance, a revealing flashback from David’s time in the orb reveals he was visited by a future, older and one-armed, version of Syd that implores David to help the Shadow King locate his body. It’s advice that goes against everything we know so far about the series, but if it reunites Dan Stevens’ David and Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny, then bring it on.
If Legion can keep an emotional throughline up amongst all of the topsy-turvy trippiness, it has potential to be one of the most memorable comic book adaptations ever attempted and proof of concept that these stories can continue to feel fresh. The show just needs to avoid getting too enamored with its own inventiveness but based on David’s witty observations about the regular insanity that he encounters, there’s a healthy amount of self-awareness in there somewhere. Hopefully that’s one of the many voices in David and Noah Hawley’s heads that they listen to.