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David confronts Syd, and Legion confronts its dark narrative

Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)
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We all live with the mistakes of our past. Some of us go to therapy, some of us drink or do drugs, some of us repress, and some of us just accept it and try to move on. But David’s past includes actions that haunt him so profoundly, he can’t accept any of the above choices. His behavior fundamentally betrayed and violated the person he claims to love; so rather than figure out how to process that, he decides that, unlike the rest of the world, he can’t live with his past. Instead, he plans to change it—to reset the clock and potentially revise everything he’s ever known. But even amid the ramifications of such a radical decision, he can’t accept responsibility for his actions. “I’m a good person, I deserve love,” he repeats, this time to the very person he hurt. “I know,” Syd replies with tragic empathy. “But you did bad things to me.” And that’s what David can’t accept, or admit.

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There’s action, drug trips, and black-and-white musical interludes peppered throughout “Chapter 21,” but its most meaningful sequence comes early in the second act, when David appears to Syd alongside the hole where his house formerly stood, and for seemingly the first time since he went away, they talk about what happened. “For the record, I wasn’t bothering anybody,” he starts, as though that was the real issue. For as much as I’ve written about how this show isn’t equipped to handle the messy complexities of sexual assault, this conversation was a good step in the right direction. David apologizes, he elaborates, he justifies, he prevaricates and gaslights and fumes...and Syd plainly, even gently, rejects his entreaties. It would be easier if David were simply a monster, and at times, Syd tries to push him in that direction, saying he never really saw her. But that’s not quite right, and she knows it; the human side of David very much saw her, spoke to her, wanted to connect emotionally with her. And then the troubled psychic tries to shove those feelings into her mind, and it becomes clear all over again that he’s damaged, and ignorant of his abuse of power, and very much a man who can’t understand the true meaning of consent.

David’s plan was pretty obvious last episode, but here, it gets explicitly laid out: He wants to go all the way back to the beginning, before the Shadow King ever got his hooks into him, and prevent that from happening. To reset the narrative of his life. He wants a do-over, because he doesn’t want to live with the things he’s done. And yet Syd calls him out on this strategy as well. “All this, your undoing project—it’s just another trick,” she says, and before she even tells him they can’t stop hunting him (because he’s going to end the world, oops), his frustration starts to rise. All his high-minded plans for peace and love are for naught in the face of someone telling him he can’t just wave away what’s happened. He’s confronted with his guilt as an incontrovertible fact, and it turns his mellow blue vibes into a pulsing red.

Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)

While Syd tries to bring David back to reality (or some semblance of it), the rest of Division’s forces are busy trying to track down his actual location. And while there’s fun to be had in the bug-eyed Alchemist’s journey from the plane to the ground and straight into Lenny’s Mad Hatter tea party, the MVP of the episode is clearly Cary Loudermilk. Bill Irwin has gotten a few small moments here and there to demonstrate his vaudevillian gifts, but now they take center stage for a bravura scene where Cary effects his escape from the clock room. Watching him tap-step his way behind the woman tasked with bringing him food is to be reminded of the brilliant physicality Irwin brings to this character, proof of the ways that his clowning talents inform even the smaller dramatic beats, let alone a comic setpiece like this.

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And the psychological motivations behind his mannerisms get addressed as well, bringing even greater depth to an already delightful sequence. From the moment he wakes up after being drugged by David and his minions, Cary is exploring the permeable boundaries of his body, brushing hair that belongs to Kerry, and pulling her through the mirror to dance to his choreography. As the one who has always controlled their dual body (save for that brief period last season), he leads the way when she’s contained inside him, and that blurring of the lines of identity has contributed to both his intellectual and physical shifts. Lacking her prowess, he’s made his mind the realm of expertise, where he can exert a control forever lacking in the material world. The inter-imbricated nature of their existence has always made for absorbing pathos—and David, stepping in to lead the dance, uses that to his advantage. Cary dances to his beat, now.

Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)
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The other character starting to reveal some interesting cracks is Lenny. Far from being the confident “majordomo” to David’s leader, as she insists to Switch, the now-embodied soul is obviously feeling insecure about the current state of affairs. Even as she’s dragging the Alchemist far into the woods to interrogate him about what the forces of Division know, the uncertainty behind her eyes suggests she’s not entirely sure what to do, save for staying one step ahead of those who want them dead. This is clearer once Cary comes under David’s thrall and begins planning how to build the machine to amplify Switch’s powers. Lenny demands to know where David’s going, and what he’s going to do. “Save the world,” Cary replies with glassy eyes. The questions arise: Is Lenny questioning her role, or David’s? Does she still have some lingering psychic thrall to the Shadow King? Or is just she feeling marginalized in the wake of Switch’s arrival, and needing some way to reassert her presence? She’s become an increasingly fascinating character, and thanks to the subtle pops of doubt and self-consciousness Aubrey Plaza is injecting into her makeup, she could well become one of the best parts of the new season.

The hunt is on, and with it, Legion is delivering some of the most straightforward plotting since the first half of season one. But the darkness remains, and if there were any uncertainty on that front, Amahl Farouk is here to make sure it sticks. He’s trying to convince Syd to operate as a sort of emotional Trojan Horse—to pretend to become intimately involved with David again, the better to slide a knife between his shoulder blades. It’s bleak, disturbing stuff, and Syd knows it. But considering the Shadow King is walking around Division like he owns the place, it’s anyone’s guess how much his powers have already worked their magic. Maybe everyone there should take a listen to Switch’s lessons about time travel, chapter 20: “Consider the consequences of your actions.” They don’t always go as planned.

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Stray observations

  • Legion significant music cues of the week: This week features one of my favorite transitions they’ve done yet, the children’s sing-song of the Charlie Brown tune “Oh, Good Grief” crashing straight into Secret Machines’ “First Wave Intact” as we pivot from David and Syd to the drug den and Switch’s latest lesson. We also get Traffic’s “Heaven Is in Your Mind” when Cary and Kerry are dancing together. Oh, and let’s not forgot the snippets of Kriss Kross’ “Jump” uttered by the Alchemist.
  • The comedy stylings of Cary and Clark: “They’re doing the drugs.” “It’s just ‘drugs’.”
  • A line from Syd and Farouk’s exchange actually nails the heart of David’s perspective: “He thinks he’s the victim.”
  • David hasn’t the slightest compunction about altering Lenny’s mind to make her think she’s happy and wants to go back inside to eat.
  • A little disappointed I didn’t get to see Kerry go to town a bit more when she led the charge against Lenny’s followers.
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About the author

Alex McLevy

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.