Television’s most ambitious and impressive genre series returns like a bolt of electricity to the brain and sets the scene for a crazy sophomore season!
“You’re inside the maze now. You cannot escape. Welcome to madness.”
Are we the butterfly that dreams that he’s actually a man, or are we the man who dreams that he’s a butterfly? Legion doesn’t want you to know the answer, but it does want you to get lost in the process and adopt a new perspective. There are a lot of ways to begin a new season of a series, but Legion most importantly wants its audience to take on this different point of view for what’s to come. This is, after all, a premiere that throws waffle boats, chaotic ink blots, interpretative dance battles, golden elephant bongs, recurring, cryptic narration, and a trio of women with mustaches at its audience. Oh, and Syd switches bodies with a cat and it’s utterly amazing.
Legion’s first season wasn’t just one of the best series to hit 2017, but it was simultaneously the best “comic book” series of all time and also one of the most challenging, unpredictable shows currently on television. This is a show that managed to give freaking Twin Peaks a run for its money in terms of avant garde filmmaking and what a television series can achieve.
Segments like Legion’s foray into silent film, an entire sequence told through chalkboard drawings, or basically any time the show decides to pair music up with its visuals are true achievements. That being said, when a show experiences such a rich, successful debut year as Legion, it can often be hard to recapture that magic or figure out a way to top it. Additionally, there’s a fractured opinion regarding the quality of the concurrent seasons of Noah Hawley’s other series, Fargo. While that show may struggle to reclaim its heights each year, Legion’s second season hits the ground running and already manages to prove that this new season will be just as bonkers as its first.
For instance, the opening scene of season two between the Shadow King (in the guise of Lenny) and Oliver Bird is gorgeous to take in and quickly establishes this show’s ever-fluid take on reality. Things are still insane over here and not as they seem. Legion is determined to present this perspective to its audience in the most creative way possible. Which in this case, involves “Lenny” and Oliver catching some serious rays at a pristine pool. But then, just like the false safety of delusion, the episode dips into unexpected territory. And goddamn, those aggressive musical stingers are still so effective and wonderful.
Legion’s first season ended on the rather tumultuous note of David Haller finally ridding himself of his villainous parasite, the Shadow King. Now David finds himself out of the frying pan and into the fire as he winds up kidnapped by some mysterious orb and the Shadow King takes up resident within Oliver Bird. Season two begins a year after all of that chaos, but it’s clear that the past twelve months have not been the most peaceful for this intrepid team of misfits.
This premiere is thematically about labyrinths and their complicated, deceptive nature. The episode introduces itself as “Part Two: The Madness of Crowds” and it feels like things are about to get much more crowded this season, both internally and externally. It’s kind of incredible how much “Chapter 9” presents to its audience and then how it strands them in this chaos while they try to fumble their way back to familiar ground. But why should we expect any less from Legion at this point?
At this point David no longer faces the same internal struggle that he did in the last season due to his current “freedom” from the Shadow King. He however seems to still have a considerable amount of bats in his belfry. On that note, David seems to be even worse off than he was in season one and he now has a serious lack of grasp on reality. Division 3 locates him after a year-long search, but that seems to be the least of their problems. Melanie is fairly certain that David’s come back different and is no longer the same—something that Syd struggles to deal with—and it continues to paint Melanie’s perspective in an interesting light.
This might be new ground for Syd, but Melanie feels oddly familiar with this situation. Melanie seems to be in an interesting place after Oliver’s possession and disappearance. Understandably she’s become a lot more jaded and she’s unclear of her purpose in Division 3 or what she even wants to be doing at this point. It looks to be an exciting new direction for the character.
The team has now officially let Hamish Linklater’s Interrogator into their fold. This isn’t exactly surprising considering his role in season one’s finale, but it’s still an exciting addition to the show. Linklater killed it during his limited time in this role last year and it’s deeply encouraging that he gets to dig in even deeper this year. The group’s former digs at Summerland are now gone and the team operates out of a brand spanking new Division-3. These guys are officially in the big leagues now and their efficiency has gone up considerably as they tackle the world’s growing mutant problems (with an emphasis on the Shadow King and what he’s searching for).
There are also plenty more members of this superpowered team that join alongside Linklater’s Interrogator, like resident basket head and new boss, Admiral Fukiyama. Mere glimpses of Fukiyama are shown in “Chapter 9,” but he/she/it/they are already one of the show’s most interesting characters. Things should heat up between Fukiyama and David in some very interesting ways this season as these two heavy hitters might be forced to oppose each other.
A lot of this premiere comes down to David trying to figure out where exactly he’s been during his disappearance and what was done to him during this time. There’s also the nagging question of whether the Shadow King still has some sort of control over David, in spite of their separation, with the evidence currently seeming to point towards “yes.”
All of this subterfuge and confusion essentially boils down to a race between Division 3 finding Amahl Farouk’s real physical body before possessed Oliver does. If Oliver/Shadow King reaches his body, his powers will reach Godly, unprecedented levels so clearly it’s important that David and company find Farouk first and eliminate his mortal shell. Cary is also confident that he can boost David’s psychic “signal,” which will allow them to gain the advantage in this chase. That’s a solid enough direction for the first chunk of this season and “Chapter 9” immediately makes the urgency of this race felt. The situation becomes even more gripping when David finds himself lost in his mind and unsure as to whether he’s actually supposed to help the Shadow King locate Farouk’s body or to soldier on with Division 3’s extermination plan. This internal conflict is clearly going to drive much of this season and it’s a strong direction to take David down this year.
Hawley has spoken about wanting to mix Legion up by rotating its antagonists across seasons. So while Amahl Farouk might eventually take a backseat in the villainy department to an even greater threat, at this point the guy is still stronger than ever. The biggest example of this is the growing occurrences of “The Catalyst,” and it’s appropriately chilling stuff. Seriously, you’d never expect the sound of chattering teeth to be so damn debilitating and terrifying. The Shadow King’s presence appears to “infect” people and instill a paralysis in them where they’re just broken, teeth-chattering husks. It’s a great depiction of how the Shadow King’s powers are growing and what a pressing concern he is. Furthermore, the episode toys with the frightening theory that David might also be part of the cause of these catalysts. This mass paralysis could even be a byproduct of David and the Shadow King’s energy coming in contact with one another. Things are getting worse here.
It’s also very encouraging to see Legion’s focus shift from off of David to look at its many other complicated, compelling characters. It’s only one episode in, but this season already feels like it’s much more of an ensemble year. It should be a lot of fun to watch the show peel back the layers of everyone that’s in David’s orbit. There’s a nice glimpse of this with Syd’s coping tactics during David’s disappearance. They make up a minor moment from the episode, but they’re such great character beats for her. This also acts as a strong reminder that everyone here has been struggling and grieving in David’s absence. Sure, Division 3’s operation might have improved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in “better” shape.
Moments in the premiere might get a little exposition heavy at times, but it makes sense since David also needs to get caught up to all of these changes (not to mention that David also thinks that he’s only been gone for a day rather than a full year—well, 362 days, but who’s counting?). For the most part, the show finds exciting ways to display these info dumps, which at least make the wordy moments feel different.
A lot of the episode also spends time on David as he catches up and reunites with the rest of his team. It’s great to watch all of this go down, but it does fall into a little more of a pattern than is usual for this show. It’s worth mentioning that all of this is also a much smarter direction for this premiere than if the entire installment—or even half of it—was spent on trying to find the missing David. His arrival at the start of the episode helps the season have an energized start that easily could have lost momentum with a diferent direction here.
Legion also continues to use lighting in brilliant, unconventional ways. The sequence where Syd runs LED football plays with David’s subconscious is such a creative way of parsing out information and playing charades with both the characters and the audience. The trippy sex scene between the two of them earlier on in the episode is also great stuff that continues to find creative new ways to display their love (as well as the inverse, like with that disgusting oil offspring).
As much as this might feel like a “normal” episode of Legion, as soon as the installment shifts into “Chapter 3: Delusions,” things get particularly insane and the premiere gets to indulge in some especially insane sequences and ideas. The “parable about” Albert A and how delusions are born just like any other idea immediately becomes one of the series’ standout sequences. It’s a brutal lesson about a man who viciously removes his own leg because he’s certain that it doesn’t belong to him and the powerful sequence resonates on numerous levels.
“Chapter 9” establishes that delusions can only form when rational ideas are rejected and this idea manifests throughout the episode. Most of the show’s cast are shown rejecting sensible ideas out of fear or other insecurities, but it’s a feeling that’s most present in David’s fractured mind. It’s this rejection of logic that sees him barrel ahead towards darkness in a highly unsettling manner.
This is a premiere that throws so much at the audience. Legion remains faithful to its more insane compulsions, but it also succeeds in upping the game and making this intricate puzzle even more complex. “Chapter 9” does everything that peak Legion is expected to do, but it also pushes the show into a challenging new direction. There are a number of unbelievable sequences that rank up there with the best from the show’s run. It’s a busy, packed finale that somehow manages to feel like it’s two hours long. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s the perfect re-entry into this world and sets the scene for what appears to be an amazing season of television.
Legion’s premiere talks about the joys of reaching a prize when the end of a labyrinth is found. This is a show that’s all about continually moving forward to reach that prize, only in this case it’s good to get lost in the maze. Getting lost in this maze of a series and having no idea what’s about to come next is just as satisfying as the alleged prize at the end of it all. Here’s hoping that this is a labyrinth that Noah Hawley and company never lets us escape from.