The first episode of Legion was one of the most impressive television pilots I’ve ever seen, a bold and unique free-fall into a fresh corner of a familiar world. The first live-action X-Men show broke the mold carefully established by the movies – anything feels possible.
So, does the second episode, simply titled “Chapter 2,” live up the promise of that first chapter? Let’s take a look in our new spoiler review…
Catching Our Breath
After the breathless insanity of “Chapter 1,” it should come as no surprise that “Chapter 2” taps the brakes on Legion‘s eccentricities, pausing just long enough for everyone (the characters onscreen and the audience at home) to find their bearings. If the pilot was all about launching everyone into a brand new and dangerous world, the follow-up is about defining the boundaries and rules of that world and explaining the roles of everyone within it. The supporting characters have names and dialogue now! Legion is a real show!
And Legion is still a very good show in its second hour, even if it’s never quite as audacious and visually stunning as “Chapter 1.” In many ways, it’s a more traditional X-Men adventure, introducing elements and characters that should be familiar to both comic readers and movie watchers alike (while remaining steadfast in the decision to not directly tie these events to any larger continuity). In true FX fashion, Legion is still a handsome show and it’s still an odd show and it’s still a show that refuses to coddle you and hold you by your hand, but I’ll admit that I miss the glorious cocktail of confusion and goofy mayhem seen in the first episode. The plot had to kick in at some point, but I hope the series’ delicate tone can survive more traditional waters.
Summerland, or: Not Quite’s Xavier’s School
“Chapter 2” shifts locations from institution to another, removing David Haller from Clockworks and placing him in Summerland, Legion‘s answer to Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters. Only this isn’t quite a boarding school and most of those living on the grounds don’t appear to be youngsters. And unlike Professor X, who brought mutants together with a gentle touch and exuded a calming presence that made him an instantly trustworthy leader, there’s something fishy about Summerland and its leadership. Jean Smart‘s Melanie Bird may be a psychic mutant, but her manner is a bit more aggressive, immediately throwing David into a treatment he doesn’t understand. The grounds themselves resemble more of a cult compound than an institution of learning and healing, and those handles David grips to begin his psychic “memory work” recall the meters Scientologists use during their “audits” of potential new members. And let’s face it, no fictional institution that recalls Scientology should be trusted.
While Summerland is as disconcerting as any location we’ve seen in Legion so far (and no place ever feels safe or comfortable on this show), it is certainly a place worthy of additional exploration. New characters like Bill Irwin‘s Cary Loudermilk are strange enough to raise their own sets of questions and announcements referencing rules about levitation and time travel classes suggest a much larger world than we’ve seen. If Legion is planning to settle down at Summerland for the long haul, at least there’s going to be plenty to do.
Ptonomy and the Dream Team
We met Jeremie Harris‘ Ptonomy Wallace in “Chapter 1,” where he was just a dapper fellow armed with a machine gun who assists David in escaping from his government captors. In “Chapter 2,” we get to know him a bit and finally learn his powers: he’s a psychic who can access the memories of others and help them relive important moments. He seems to have other abilities as well, like being able to put someone to sleep with a simple suggestion. Psychic abilities seem to be flexible and difficult to strictly define in Legion, which is appropriate for a show where every moment hinges on uncertainty and dread.
It should be noted that Ptonomy’s powers have no real use in a combat situation, but he’s still part of Summerland’s front line and was still an active participant in the rescue mission that brought David into the fold. A mutant superhero whose abilities have no offensive applications but who still fights using more traditional methods is one of the X-Men-iest things any show or film connected to this universe has ever done. The more Legion strays from the established template, the more it evokes the source material.
The Exact Nature of David’s Powers
Over the past two episodes, David’s mutant powers have manifested themselves in a number of ways. He has controlled objects with his mind, transformed doors into solid walls, teleported an MRI machine onto Summerland’s front lawn, and seemingly projected his mind into the halls of Clockworks, where his astral form (for lack of a better term) was able to communicate with his sister. At this point in the show, David’s abilities are intentionally vague and beyond our understanding. After all, David doesn’t know exactly what he can do and neither does anyone else observing him, whether they’re government or mutant.
This is where comic book fans have to tread on thin ice. Since the show hasn’t revealed what drives David’s powers, it would be unfair for an article (even a “spoiler review”) to speak of their nature. David Haller’s skill set has been defined in the pages of the X-Men comics and nothing we’ve seen in the show directly conflicts with the source material yet. Still, Legion is very much a loose adaptation and it’s taking its sweet time exploring what our hero can do with his brain powers. Anything can change. Any sentence that begins with “Well, in the comics…” is a sentence that could rain on the parade of a show watcher.
So let’s stick with what we can see on screen and that alone: David’s telekinetic powers seem capable of manifesting themselves in a number of ways and he has limited control over them. Whether the show will ultimately treat him as a hero in control of his powers or a man with unique abilities who can barely take care of himself remains to be seen. The comic book David Haller always straddles a fine line between both.