Legion Season 2 premiere
Actors: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Jermaine Clement, Hamish Linklater, Jeremie Harris, Jean Smart, Amber Midthunder & Jon Hamm
Director: Tim Mielants
Writers: Noah Hawley & Nathaniel Halpern
Producers: FX Productions/Marvel Television
If one hadn’t watched the first eight-episode season of Legion on FX last year, this continuation would likely have been quite impenetrable, mainly because the backgrounds and abilities of the supporting characters aren’t explained at all. If one found the first season of this show to be too bizarre or surreal, well, the second season is off to an even weirder start. That all being said, the launch of Legion Season 2 was riveting, challenging and occasionally quite amusing. My wife was in the room for a few minutes and was quite put off by the unconventional visuals and tone of the show, but then, she can’t even handle the commercials for this series. Me, I was entranced.
After disappearing from the mutant haven of Summerville a year ago, David Haller, the world’s most powerful psychic, has reappeared, found and rescued by the combined forces of his mutant allies and Division 3, the government agency that previously hunted them down. David learns they’ve joined forces to face a common enemy: the Shadow King, who, in the body of Oliver Bird, is at large and roaming the world. Division 3 is also tracking and investigating a psychic infection that’s turning up all over the world. It’s believed the infection is connected to the Shadow King, and David may be the only one who can track the ancient, malevolent mutant down.
This second season strikes me as being all about role reversals. Whereas in the first season, David’s mind was all turned around thanks to the Shadow King’s manipulation of his memories and perceptions, now, he’s the one who’s more grounded and normal, finding himself in the odd and surreal surroundings of Division 3. His mutant friends explained to David the nature of the world in which he found himself, but now, they’re turning to him to provide answers. We also see Melanie, previously the guiding force of the mutant protagonists in the first season, sliding down into the drug-addicted haze in which David found himself previously. She’s taken on his embittered personality, relying on her own animal-avatar drug-delivery system to escape from a reality she doesn’t want to face anymore.
Where this episode makes its greatest missteps is in its failure to reintroduce several of the key supporting characters. Syd’s body-switching power is only hinted at subtly through a scene of her petting a cat, and and Ptonomy’s power to observe memories at will isn’t stated overtly enough.
Dr. Bird’s team of mutants coming together with the militaristic Division 3 that once hunted them strikes me perhaps as a representation of a seemingly impossible political ideal today: bipartisanship. Perhaps I’m stretching too far to see that sociopolitical reflection in the show. Of course, Division 3’s early demonizing of mutants doesn’t seem to make much sense now that we have more context and information about it. It appears to be even weirder than the mutants (and in show creator Noah Hawley’s world, that’s saying something). The basket-clad leader of the agency and the mustachioed, robotic women serving him are pretty much ludicrous, but it’s played straight here; only David comments on goofy they seem.
Easily the most interesting scene in the show was the dance flashback among David, Oliver and the Shadow King’s female persona. The dancing exchanges in the club are clearly meant to represent a psychic battle, and the choreography was incredibly well done. The scene’s full meaning wasn’t wholly apparent, but it signals that there was quite a bit to David’s lost year.
The most interesting aspect of Division 3 is Clark, the scarred, limping agent who initially discovered and captured David in Season 1. He’s really the only member of the cast of characters who hasn’t changed. He still sees David as a threat, but of course, he’s experienced the destructive nature of David’s power first-hand. He has a personal grudge against him, and that colors their tense interaction in the weird mess hall.
Speaking of which, I’m struck by how much the show brings its science-fiction elements to life with technology that’s actually antiquated. The switchboard plugs and cables of the psychic-enhancement machine is one example, and the odd toy-boat cafeteria seems like an idea from decades past. There’s a low-rent look to the show that ends up as a visual strength rather than a distraction. Of course, the throwback qualities of the show extend to the costumes. Nothing looks like it belongs in the here and now, or in the real world.
The performances across the board are strong, but given the reputation of several of the actors, it should come as no surprise. This episode introduces a narrator’s voice I don’t believe we saw in the first season, and I was struck by the fact that the voice belonged to Jon Hamm. He does an excellent job of dispassionately informing the audience. The standout performance in this episode was easily that of Jean Smart. Her disillusionment with her mission and her anger toward a long dormant husband she now feels has abandoned her was palpable, and I enjoyed how she essentially warns Syd about her relationship with David, seeing her past mistakes in the choices Syd is making now. 9/10