Well, the first season of Legion is over and it’s a good thing we already know a second one is on the way because it left us with one hell of a cliffhanger. However, “Chapter 8” built to that cliffhanger in the most satisfying way possible, delivering gonzo action and wild character beats while also exploring its themes with humor and style. Let’s take a closer look.
A Dash of Humanity
“Chapter 8” follows up last week’s big cliffhanger with one of its most ingenious openings. We flash back to events of “Chapter 1,” where the Interrogator (Hamish Linklater) is brutally injured during the Summerland crew’s rescue of David. We watch as Clark (because that’s his real name) wakes up in the hospital, covered in bandages. His husband and his son are waiting for him and offer their full support during a painful recovery process. Clark struggles with his disfigured face, but his husband sticks with him through thick-and-thin. Eventually, he’s ready to return to his job and do his duty – he has to protect the world after all, and he’s not going to take a desk job just because he was hurt in the field.
It’s a brilliant subversion of comic book villains (and Hollywood villains in general). Clark didn’t transform in baddie with a scarred face and a an evil-looking skull cane overnight. He’s an actual human being with a rich interior life and people who love him. His job may look evil from our perspective, but he’s convinced that he’s doing the right thing and is acting to protect the human race. And considering the threats Melanie Bird is throwing around, he may have a point.
In this opening scene, Clark, the Interrogator, offers the enemy a personal face. These aren’t inherently bad people out to exterminate mutants – they’re scared people who are completely unprepared to deal with their changing world. They’re only human. Literally. With Walter dead and gone, we’re left with antagonists who need to be educated rather than defeated. That’s quite a shift and one that David Haller seems ready to embrace. After all, he could kill everyone with a snap of his fingers, but instead chooses to talk things over. With great power comes great responsibility, indeed…and an often overlooked component of that responsibility is recognizing that your enemies may be just as complicated as you.
Mental illness is nothing if not unpredictable and it’s hard to look at David in the opening scenes of “Chapter 8” and not wonder if he’s entered a manic state. One of the dangers of battling one problem is that you can create another – use the wrong medication on a depressed person and you can trigger mania, where despair transforms into dangerous overconfidence. For the first time in his life, David is in full control of his mind and body. He’s battled his illness and has won a victory. It’s still there, literally lurking within him and waiting for the chance to escape, but he’s overcome it and can see light at the end of the tunnel.
And suddenly, he’s effortlessly disarming a squad of soldiers and making plans to achieve world peace. One problem opens the door to another. Even if that second problem looks like an improvement, it can be overcompensation. And it can be just as dangerous.
While Legion sometimes pushes its metaphors to the background in “Chapter 8” in favor of locking in on the story and its characters (as is necessary), these moments serve as a quiet reminder that the victories of “Chapter 7” are only temporary. You don’t defeat schizophrenia or bi-polarism or depression as much as you lock yourself in a stalemate with it…and you don’t defeat a psychic parasite as much as you use your scientist friend’s special collar to make it a prisoner within an imaginary coffin.
Of course, Farouk (or the monster, or Lenny, or the devil with yellow eyes, or the World’s Angriest Boy in the World) isn’t done with David or the rest of the Summerland crew. It’s just biding its time, making its re-emergence known to Syd as she visits the psychic “white room” inside David’s mind. It’s telling that this encounter plays out so differently than past showdowns with this parasite – Syd is cautious, but she’s no longer terrified, even as Farouk literally drips black goo with every step (as usual, Aubrey Plaza is having a ball). Once you understand your enemy, you can confront it. Once you know the illness, understand the “tumor,” you can look it in the eye and discover how to defeat it.
It’s during this scene that Legion drops one of its best lines. Farouk tells Syd that to remove it from David’s brain is to unmake soup…and how the hell do you unmake soup? It’s a part of David now, Farouk insists. Separation just isn’t going to happen without doing serious harm. In a show that’s always found incredible ways to visualize mental illness, this exchange verbalizes it. You don’t unmake soup as much as you struggle to change the flavors to be more bearable.
Of course, everyone does try to unmake the soup. Using gadgetry cooked up by Oliver Bird, David enters his own mind to push Farouk out, flashing through past memories while Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” provides a weary, psychedelic soundtrack. But then, just as things go wrong, “Breathe” gives way to the next track on The Dark Side of the Moon, the stressful, fast-paced “On the Run.” Legion was clearly made by Pink Floyd fans (Syd is named after the band’s original lead singer, Syd Barrett), but rarely have these overplayed tracks been utilized so well.
Farouk confronts David and their resulting conversation will be familiar to millions of people: your disease arrives right when you’re in the process of recovering, of finding your balance, and insists that you are inseparable. “What am I without you?” That’s a good question. David is undoubtedly the man he is in these moments because he’s had a bitter, evil monster that wants vengeance against his father inside his brain…but that doesn’t mean he has to put up with it forever.