TV Review: ‘Legion’ takes shape through the lens of memory loss in second episode

After its pilot, this week’s episode of the FX series Legion has a lot to live up to. And hoo boy, did it ever. Lots of hot Man with Yellow Eyes action, smoking frog bongs, and a sample of what may possibly be the creepiest children’s book since The Babadook. Before we get going, you can look at our previous recap here, and of course, spoilers follow. I mean, what else are you expecting from a recap? Let’s do this, Legionnaires.

We open to whispers over the title and a 16:9 riverboat journey for our boy David and his merry band of mutants. They’re being hunted by the Interrogator’s second-in-command, the Eye (you may remember him as the whittling dude from the last episode), and successfully make it to their home base, Summerland. It’s a really nice facility, and I’ve got to wonder who pays for all this. David basically goes through heroin withdrawal as homie has the shakes and sweats in bed as his power is amplified to an incredible degree, causing the mass of voices we heard in the opening. Bird tells him to focus his powers and find a single voice within all the others, which just so happens to be Syd’s, and that she’ll work with him on memory training the next day.

Bird stresses David’s importance to the whole project, and they get down to the nitty gritty of memory work in a glass room in the middle of the forest. The whole crew sits around a table that has grips on it, and everybody’s told to grab onto the table because you bet your ass it conducts psychic energy. Suddenly, David, his mentor, and one of her pupils, are transported inside David’s memories. It’s revealed that Ptonomy, who you may remember as the black dude who chased David all last episode, is a “memory artist” who can transport people into their own memories. And he picks the absolute worst fucking one to take David back to, in which David’s dad reads him a super creepy story about a kid who killed his mom. Understandably, our boy freaks the fuck out, snaps out of his trance, and demands to get out of the room. Syd tries telling him that it’s just a memory and that it’s all okay, but David isn’t having any of it and Ptonomy has to put him to sleep. Commercial.

We return to David, pre-hospital, talking to his former shrink about his memories of his father and his troubles with his then-girlfriend. He wants a lozenge, dammit. The shrink tells him to get a more settled environment, and David starts spazzing out a bit. He leaves the office, eats a twizzler and runs into Aubrey Plaza, who’s wheeling around an oven she got from a chick she fingerbanged and wants to cook him an omelet. Yeah. But wait! It was all a dream — Ptonomy rouses him and gives him a glass of milk. We get some minor exposition about the memory artist’s powers (he remembers his birth!) and about how David is the “chosen one,” before the dude pushes his luck and asks David about the creepy bedtime story his parents used to read him. David tells him he doesn’t want to talk about it, and Ptonomy says that he’s not the talk guy anyways and “that the first time’s a bitch.” Aspect ratio change time as we look at the Eye and a bunch of gubberment soldiers heading through the woods hunting for David. Commercial.

HyperFocal: 0

Syd meets up with David at a really cool-looking swing, and we get a nice recap of the events from the last episode when she was in David’s body. Apparently the gubberment and the mutants came after him at the same time when she used his powers to kill Plaza and seal all the patients behind concrete, and the mutants got there first and were sorely disappointed when “David” changed back into Syd. Back in the present, our boy really wants to kiss Syd or something, but she tells him not to. He gives himself the consolation prize that they’re having a “romance of the mind” and I wondered when the Demolition Man virtual sex machine would come out.

David gets an MRI from one of our hitherto unexplored mutant-bros, a dude named Cary. They banter for a bit, and Carey asks David to think about someone he loves, which of course leads us into a flashback about David’s sister and him talking about his former relationship. His sister wants to know why he can’t have nice things, and David tells her he’s sick. We jump cut to Aubrey Plaza in a junkyard trying her best to sell her oven for drugs as a big ol’ dog barks. Our boy goes back with her to her apartment, Aubrey suggests they rob his psychiatrist, and they start to do those weird-ass drugs together out of a frog bong. We have a pretty nice jump scare with the Man with Yellow Eyes, and the vision pauses. Turns out we’ve been witnessing David, Bird, and Ptonomy exploring his memories again. Generic mentor character angrily tells him he doesn’t have schizophrenia when he suggests that he might see things that aren’t real, and after a short detour in the past with David’s old therapist, we get to the meat of the journey through David’s head: His childhood. Creepy shit starts to happen as the memory becomes unstable, and Bird tries to help him. Commercial.

Syd finds David sitting alone on a park bench and asks him if he’s okay. Bird won’t tell her what was in the memory, and she’s worried about him. She asks if it’s okay if she brought him here, and David says sure, before immediately undercutting that by asking if she thinks they’re safe. David thinks he hears her say “I’ll keep you safe” before realizing that he actually heard her think it. Lady’s freaked out a bit that her boyfriend’s a telepath and can hear her thoughts by accident. Jump to the MRI machine, where David’s told by Cary that they’re having trouble locating his memories. We head back to the old therapist again, and finally get a name for the drug that he and Aubrey Plaza have been using, Vapor. He asks about David’s father, and David shares a pretty touching memory about his father taking him stargazing. The stars were talking to him, he said, and the stars talked to his father too, albeit in a different sense.

The therapist presses on, asking what the stars said to David. He doesn’t want to tell. We get some Lynchian creepiness as shaky voices behind the door disturb our boy David. Back to the present! David focuses his telepathy to find his sister, who’s at his old psychiatric hospital looking for her brother. There’s no record of David ever being at the facility, and his sister starts to freak the fuck out at the receptionist, who asks if she has ever had any delusions. David telepathically watches his sister get kidnapped by the Eye, and Cary freaks the fuck out about the dude’s brainwaves and leaves the room right about the time the machinery starts to malfunction. David hallucinates a vision of the yellow-eyed man again, and freaks out. Suddenly, the MRI machine disappears, and he sits alone in a peaceful, white-walled room where the device used to be. Cut to Bird, watching her students run towards a balcony. She follows, and bam, there’s the MRI machine, right outside the complex. Commercial!

We see that David’s lying awake in bed, thinking of the events of the day — shots of the frog bong, his files being seized, and hearing bits and pieces of his sister’s voice. He packs a bag and tries to go and rescue his sister, but Syd rushes into the elevator he’s boarding to try and convinces him to stay so that he can learn how to better use his powers. He reluctantly agrees with her, and asks if the gubberment will hurt her. Syd tells him that his sister’s being used as bait. We cut to Amy, David’s sister, being confronted by the Eye in a warehouse somewhere, with some ominous-ass leeches swimming around in a fish tank. The Eye asks if they should begin, and the credits roll right on a straight up fucking perfect Thomas Dolby needle drop. Ah, “Hyperactive,” have you ever been used better?


Stray Thoughts:

— So this was a pretty solid second episode for a show that had hella hype surrounding it, brah. I actually kind of like that they stepped back from the more obvious stylization that was present in some of last week’s scenes and grounded it a little more. I mean, it still looks fucking great, too. That final shot of the partially out-of-focus Eye staring at the fully-focused Amy in that dank room was spectacular.

— Holy crap that children’s book. It worked really well in the moment, and I kind of want to give my friend’s kid a copy of “The Angriest Boy in the World” now just to see if he gets psychic powers.

— The whole scene where “David” turns back to Syd in Bird’s car is probably the series’ funniest moment as of right now. Makes you wish there were a few more every now and then to break up the tone a little bit. I think it can be a little oppressively serious at times, which is bizarre given how stylistically fun the show is. Remember, the Twin Peaks episode in which we visit the Black Lodge for the first time also has the whole “map of Tibet” scene in it. And I don’t think you could fault that series for breaking its tone.

— Stevens is still doing good work, though some of it’s buried underneath all of David’s tics and wobbles. The “star-gazing” scene is probably the best work he’s done in the show so far as well, and it gives him a chance to run the gamut of emotion with the whip-crack speed that the show transitions between its moods.

— It’s a bummer that the Eye wasn’t the main antagonist from the beginning. I mean, outside of Hamish Linklater being a vaguely recognizable face, he really didn’t serve much of a narrative purpose outside of the first episode. He’s creepy as hell, and I love the changes in the aspect ratio whenever we check in on him and the gubberment goons.

— I wish Hawley and company would stop whisking us away from answers to questions that we actually might want and/or need about the mutants or pretty much anything else. I’d be a little more okay with all of the vagueness if we occasionally got a tidbit of information. Maybe they’re trying to keep a hidden X-related revelation for the rest of the season or a betrayal on the part of the mutants towards our boy, but it’s frustrating that we’re getting all of these info-drops and affirmations of David’s status as the chosen one to “end the war” when we don’t actually know who’s on the side.
Aubrey Plaza wasn’t nearly as bad as she was last week but holy crap she talks so much stupid jive that I just want to put my head through a window. Easily the worst part of this show at the moment, but I’m glad she’s starting to truly fit into the overall picture here.

Next Week: “David searches for answers, while a threat looms.” See you next Wednesday.

Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus.