This Legion review contains spoilers.
Legion Season 2 Episode 6
I deserve this. Legion is making me eat my words and I deserve it. After tepidly admiring the last few episodes while harping about a lack of narrative momentum, Noah Hawley proves definitively that when this show is at the height of its powers, narrative momentum is often nowhere to be found. Easily the standout episode of Legion Season 2, “Chapter 14” eschews the story almost entirely to explore alternative realities or timelines of what David’s life could have been had he never gotten mixed up with Division 3. Delivered in multiple inter-woven vignettes, these alternate realities are often dark and downright heartbreaking. “You decide what is real and what is not, your will” the Shadow King reminds David, but perhaps this reality is the kindest one David could know.
Most poignantly, a large majority of this episode highlighted fates that many victims of mental illness meet. David is seen resorting to drugs and suicide, having his mental faculties zapped by medication, misunderstood in public and by the police, left homeless and destitute, treated as a child or forced to live as a patient with a loved one. Only one timeline doesn’t resort in David being made a victim, and in that we find David embracing his inner Amahl Farouk as a mindreading billionaire, monologuing about being “the great unifier” like a supervillain. Legion has always been an allegory for mental illness, but this is perhaps its most explicit and bleak portraits.
“Chapter 14” mainly seems to serve as a bookend to last week’s underwhelming ending. Last week’s reintroduction of Amy Haller and subsequent horrific sacrifice didn’t quite land because it had been so long since we’d seen Amy on screen. The audience hadn’t emotionally invested in her and David’s relationship as much as the writers had estimated.
This episode tries to retroactively reinforce Amy’s importance to David by having her feature prominently in almost all of David’s alternate timelines. In each, even in the Rich David timeline where she’s asking for a house, she appears to respect her brother and his condition, a kind figure in David’s life that may have rather seen him be docile and medicated, but truly cared about her brother’s well-being. Katie Aselton is fantastic as the various Amys but it still isn’t able to make a timeline where, last Tuesday, Amy’s death packed a punch. I have to wonder if this and last week’s episodes would have been better served had they been swapped.
Without an Aubrey Plaza or Jemaine Clement around to steal scenes, and with fun prosthetics, wigs, makeup, costumes, and a full runtime at his disposal, Dan Stevens absolutely crushes it in “Chapter 14.” Stevens could use this episode as his new acting reel. The only thing we didn’t get to see is Rational David speaking in Stevens’ native accent. Whether portraying the twitchy, fast-talking David from the premiere, more guttural and haggard or tweaking and drugged-up variations, or zonked out and fragile versions, Stevens proves he knows David intimately. Most striking are the beforementioned cold, calculating billionaire David and a briefly glimpsed family man version because they seem the most realistic to the David we’ve come to know.
And what would an episode of Legion be without a little strangeness? Season 2 has showcased a stellar soundtrack comprised mainly of Jeff Russo and Noah Hawley’s whacked-out pop covers, but what musical moment is going to beat that mouse singing Bryan Ferry’s “Slave to Love?” Hawley creates his most overt Clockwork Orange reference to date and director John Cameron effortlessly intertwines the timelines and puts together a nifty series recap montage at the end that brings us right where “Chapter 13” left off. There’s something about the episode that suggests that, maybe even on just a subconscious level, David has felt or seen all of these “branches.” I especially loved when the cinematography would become more cinematic, and Legion’s timeless set décor and costumes would fade into something more explicitly modern looking, which on this show would somehow make things feel even more surreal. I suppose we’ve been trained well.
So even though “Chapter 14” decided not to move forward, it looked backward, sideways, adjacent, and down another track in spectacular fashion. I may get upset when Legion decides to kill time, but this episode, which felt more like a short film, only killed the complacency I was starting to feel from the show. Exploring the chaos theory is fun. Now show me a timeline where this show leads to a satisfying conclusion at the end of this season.