Spoilers lie within for the episode. Don’t complain to us if your brain explodes after reading…
Even for a show as visually daring and complex as Legion, it’s somewhat inevitable that the second episode has to throttle back a little and start really digging into the story. Fortunately, that only means a slight reduction of quality levels from the fantastic pilot. With David now in the seemingly caring hands of Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird, it’s time to start exploring the powers he’s been told for years are the symptoms of schizophrenia. But even though there is more exposition this time around – such things are usually necessary to orient those who may not have seen the first episode – it’s all delivered in such a clever way that the seams rarely show. Dan Stevens continues to find layers in David Haller’s troubled nature, moving easily from near Spock-like detachment to the emotionally wrecked individual who has been trying to figure out his mind without much success. He receives some extra help from Jeremie Harris’ Ptonomy Wallace, a “memory artist” who can dig into others’ minds and help them tour their past. Of course, it’s not quite so simple when you have a brain as complicated and noisy as David’s, but Melanie also helps him start the slow process of focusing his telepathy.
And focus is also employed as a clever visual trick here – especially when our hero senses that his sister Amy (Katie Aselton) is in trouble, with the apparently evil Division 3 (think the sort of organisation that, say, X-Men comic and movie character William Stryker would head up) ready to start interrogating her about David’s whereabouts. It’s not the only visual magic on display here, in an episode that outdoes the pilot in terms of cinematic feel, especially when we visit David’s happy memories of younger days living in the countryside with Amy and their parents.
But even here there are shades of darkness, as we take a spin through a slightly older David’s time with a psychologist as his relationship with his live-in girlfriend Philly (Ellie Araiza) is breaking down. Even here, he’s noticing that a lot is wrong about how he experiences the world, and it takes Melanie and Ptonomy to draw back the curtain. We’re also graced with more from Lenny (Aubrey Plaza, still a chaotic elf in female, and great on every level), both in her past scoring drugs with David and in her seemingly ghostly visage after her death in the previous episode. Death is rarely the end in superhero tales, and we’re glad that the show is finding ways to keep her particular energy around. David also submits to an MRI scan of his brain, something that doesn’t go well, especially when the scanner ends up a smoking ruin in the garden, seemingly transported there by Haller’s power. It’s another fantastic sequence carried out in a way that you wouldn’t expect, a testament to writer/creator Noah Hawley, director Michael Uppendahl and their creative team. We’re also glad to see character stalwart Bill Irwin as the weird Cary Loudermilk who, in a Fargo-style naming twist, is related to Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder, who sounds like she was named by Hawley in real life). Irwin’s nervy, calm energy works well off Stevens’ increasing concern.
As for Summerland itself, another triumph of design (and location scouting) for the show, it’s a fascinating place that we don’t know enough about yet, but that we really want to explore, which is a positive sign.
Avoiding clumsy narrative shifts, the second episode keeps the tension up, deepens the characters and immediately starts doling out answers here and there – while there is plenty to discover, it’s refreshing to see characters being up front about the situation this early into the story, whereas other shows might keep the mystery wheels turning for months. We’re intrigued enough to learn more about all of these people (Rachel Keller’s Syd could do with a few more layers) and the unique look of the show doesn’t seem to be diminished that much on a weekly budget.
Why don’t we see David’s father’s face?
That will no doubt be answered down the line, but even though David in the comics is the son of Professor X, don’t expect to see Patrick Stewart (or James McAvoy) pop up.
Are Melanie Bird and Summerland on the level?
We could easily see Melanie and her facility as much more negative than they’re letting on, but right now they do seem to be helping David.
What’s with the weird eels in the interrogation room?
We immediately wondered if it was some odd company synchronicity with 20th Century Fox’s A Cure For Wellness, which is out in the US this weekend, but that’s crazier than the image of the Devil with yellow eyes. We’ll find out more about them next week, but given that The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) intends to use them, they can’t be good.
Legion airs on FX in the US on Wednesdays and Fox TV in the UK on Thursdays.