“PLEASE STAND BY,” reads the screen in the opening seconds of “Chapter 20,” the third season premiere of Legion. It’s possible that “Look, please just stick with us, we’re really going to try and make it worth your while” was too long to go on a test screen image, so the show went with the old-school usual. After a second season that alienated many viewers (and ended on an especially dispiriting note), Noah Hawley and company could be forgiven some playful entreaties to bear with their odd little series. Either way, the words soon dissolve into “BEDTIME IS HERE,” as deliberate an announcement as possible for the show’s signature hallucinatory imagery as it begins the latest head trip. Is there any real justification for it in the narrative? Hell, it wouldn’t be Legion if there was.
The smartest move that this first episode makes is to transfer the audience into the perspective of a brand-new character, essentially using Switch’s mutant power to rescue the story, the series, and the characters from the dour fate it created. Last season ended with the transformation of allegiances that ripped apart the structure this series had established: After spending season two secretly working with the future version of Syd to prevent Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King, from being killed by Division 3—he’s needed to save the world from Future David, it seems—David crossed the line. He tortured Oliver to death, believing him to still possess Farouk’s consciousness, and then he sexually assaulted Syd by messing with her mind (to eliminate her bad feelings about him) then slept with her. It was a distasteful end to a narrative that had struggled to maintain momentum, and it resulted in all of Division 3 not only turning on David, but teaming up with the Shadow King to try and keep him under wraps. It failed; David grabbed Lenny and got the hell out of town. And rather than play expository catch-up (that comes later), we start with someone we’ve never seen before—a new start to provide a fresh entry into the warped world of the show.
Switch (who is perfectly content to drop her given name for her new mutant sobriquet) comes into this story with the same trepidatious perspective that could easily be transferred to a wary audience, making for easy identification. What little we know of her life thus far suggests an isolated and tightly controlled existence, so it’s no shock to see her leap at the chance to go on an adventure when the flyer soliciting someone with her precise mutant power—time travel—takes her on an elliptical scavenger hunt. Her journey is essentially an allegory for anyone watching the show, as it takes her out of the “real world” via a kaleidoscopic tunnel (prefaced by a dance number, of course) and into the trippy fugue state of David’s new home, a house populated by self-acknowledged cultists there to get high on David’s “peace and love” psychic-powered cocktail.
Of course, she’s immediately given good reason to be wary, as David tells her one of the rules to entrance is no secrets, which he demonstrates by reading her mind and recreating her bedroom in exacting detail. “How about trust?” she asks. “I tried that.” But despite these warning bells—magnified by the realization that David spent most of his life in mental institutions, with a literal (not metaphorical) monster in his head—Switch is committed to helping David, starting with keeping him alive before Division 3 can arrive at Syd puts a bullet in his chest. Which happens twice. All of which suggests Switch might know a little more about the situation than she lets on, because when Farouk greets her on the Astral Plane and offers to make an arrangement with her akin to whatever David may have offered, she turns him down with a statement that contains multitudes: “The reason is simple. He is a man. And you are a robot.” Farouk is equal parts frustrated and delighted by her disappearance. It’s a new mystery to solve, and given his subsequent efforts to keep Syd from joining the strike team to take out David, he has his own mysterious reasons for wanting to keep his enemy alive.
Then again, the remaining members of our old team seems to be in a weird place. They’ve been hunting David, yes, but Cary Loudermilk has also been busy building a new cybernetic home for the Mainframe, in a replica of Ptonomy, albeit with a mustache. (“Beware the mustache man,” goes one of David’s warnings on the flyer Switch sees.) It’s unclear how much, if any, of Ptonomy remains—last time we saw him, his consciousness was doomed to wander about inside the Mainframe—and this new version gets right down to business with Vermillion at its side. We only get a few moments with them (unless you count David repeatedly vaporizing Kerry during Division’s assaults), but the Loudermilks remain one of the few warm and welcoming presences on the show.
Or rather, one of the only ones until David started his new cult, with Lenny apparently vetting new recruits to the house. In the wake of his being confronted with the gravity of his actions, David ran from responsibility, but the weight of that guilt is most assuredly resting heavy on his mind. Why else start a place geared toward doing nothing but providing blissed-out happiness, free of secrets or ulterior motives? He hurt the person he loved—betrayed her in a horrifying way (thank god the show isn’t trying to walk that back, which would be even worse)—and it pushed him into trying to become the embodiment of a good guy, someone no one could possibly have a problem with. “I’m the magic man,” he tells Switch, shades of past moments David was convinced all was well. Think of what he tells Switch about the reason he asks his followers to stick around and love one another: “Love—I need that.” It’s what he was telling himself at the end of last season, when Division 3 and Syd tried to contain him in a makeshift prison, ostensibly for his own good. “I’m a good person...I deserve love,” he told them. Looks like he’s getting what he thinks he deserves.
Or part of him, anyway. It’s just a brief glimpse, but when Switch looks inside the little facade of a home in which David invites her to have tea and learn about why he needs a time traveler, she catches a glance of another David, one much less mellow and sanguine about the whole situation, demanding from his alter-ego to know just what the hell he plans to do with Switch. David’s insistence on no secrets doesn’t extend to himself, it seems. More importantly, it suggests the show might actually be gearing up to deal with the fallout of David’s actions. I’m not sure it’s capable of pulling off the emotionally charged nuance required to deal with a man grappling with the fact that he committed sexual assault—the show has philosophical layers aplenty, but almost none of them are subtle—but for now, there’s potential.
Weirdly, the show doesn’t seem to be doing anything to address the reverse situation. We know Farouk is a rapist, murderer, and numerous other terrible things, many times over. But he’s strolling around Division 3's airborne hideout like he has a free pass. This is presumably the result of his whispered machinations we saw last episode, using his powers to influence the minds of everyone he’s working with so they treat him as an equal, and not the prisoner he so clearly should be. It’s only the premiere, so there’s time to get to this, but it’s so odd, the show will hopefully do it sooner rather than later.
And Syd? Syd’s a cypher at this point. Farouk calls out the fact that she’s going after David for revenge, not for any “sake of the mission” nonsense, and while she denies it, there’s not much insight gleaned in the few minutes we get with her. The person we most bond with over this hour is Switch, and it’s all to the better: Legion needed a means to bring people back, and her story serves as a way to bridge the divide between the dismaying turn of events that led us here and a hopeful new direction for the narrative. It’s no coincidence that this is one of the most straightforward and unambiguous episodes the series has ever done, structurally speaking; there’s a time traveler here to set things right, and after collapsing into the morass of one too many what-if reality distortions last year, the story of David Haller, villain, needed to plot a course where the messy diversions lay in time, not morality.
- As always, I am here for the Loudermilks. Cary, awakening Mainframe/Ptonomy: “I still need to test his reflexes—” Kerry: [pow!] “Slow.”
- Legion significant music cues of the week: The dry-cleaning dance number is set to a slightly tweaked remix of Superorganism’s “Something For Your Mind,” which seems pretty self-explanatory (this show does love its on-the-nose music cues), while we get a return appearance from The Rolling Stones with “2000 Light Years From Home” when Switch first arrives at the cult house. And it all ends with a heavily distorted cover of the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle.”
- Speaking of the house, it looks like New Janine really was pregnant after all, and Lenny, her Cornflake Girl, is still credited as the co-parent.
- Lenny, still not one to mince words: “Is this a cult?” “Yes.”
- There’s apparently some larger plan for David and his feel-good drug, and it involves making lunchboxes with his face on them.
- Even Switch’s time travel lessons are intriguing—a fun transition from the Jon Hamm lesson-of-the-week strategy from last season. Especially the whole “don’t travel back too far, or you’ll wake the demon” thing.
- Clark’s husband is now a full member of the team, it seems. “Why don’t we have a time traveler?”
- Welcome back, everyone, to Legion reviews! It’s good to once again join you all for a spirited discussion of a show that can be compelling, maddening, inspired, or enraging...but never boring. I look forward to reading your comments.