If Legion's ultimate goal was to be the trippiest and wildest show on TV in 2017, it has definitely succeeded. We can and should, of course, revisit the conversation when David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks returns with new episodes in May, but right now Noah Hawley's exploration of mental illness through the prism of David Haller's (Dan Stevens) unstable mind continues to reign supreme.
The entirety of Legion's storytelling is constructed around David's mental state, about whether he has powers, is schizophrenic or both. And the parasitic nightmare creature that has apparently taken up residence in David — which has apparently been with him "since the womb" and is, like all parasites, using him for his body with no regard for the mind attached — has propelled us into a frequently confusing world that is both bewildering and beautiful.
But at the heart of David's story is another mystery, one that's tied into his current mental state: Who is his birth father? In the comics upon which the show is based, David is the son of Professor Charles Xavier, the well-known founder of the X-Men. Is he the man Lenny/the Demon With Yellow Eyes references at the end of this week's episode? Is Professor X the man who acts holy but gives up his only son? "He thought he could hide you from me," Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) tells David in the episode's climax. "But he was wrong. I found you. Such a sweet little baby... and me. Your very own walking, talking fungus."
This was a pivotal moment for David in an episode that presented a twisted version of reality but not reality itself — or at least, not the reality we think we know and understand to be the real world. After our characters appeared to return to Clockworks at the end of last week's episode, "Chapter 6" put the creature/metaphor wearing Lenny's face more clearly in the driver's seat — a nod to the idea that David has never been pulling any or all of the strings — by playing the role of therapist to David, Syd (Rachel Keller), Melanie (Jean Smart) and the rest of the show's core group of characters.
The hour framed the underlying issues of the team through therapy sessions, and it was easy to see how one might believe this reality over everything we've seen so far. In this version of the story Melanie is suffering from the loss of her husband and has become the person seemingly frozen in time, while Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris) is living in the memory of his mother's death. Cary (Bill Irwin) and Kerry (Amber Midthunder)... well, they're still confusing as all heck, to be honest. But these real world explanations are what our minds naturally want to gravitate toward when presented with the unexplainable. Is it easier to accept that someone is mentally ill than it is to accept they might have superpowers? Which would be considered worse given that they both make you an outsider?
As "Chapter 6" progressed and we explored the possibility that our heroes are all suffering from medically diagnosable mental disorders and their powers are just metaphors, the hour felt a little reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Season 6 episode "Normal Again," which is just one example of this storytelling cliché come to life but one that also presented the idea that Buffy Summers was a patient in a mental ward and the world she thought she knew — the world where vampires existed and she was the Chosen One — were delusions or figments of her imagination.
But like Buffy, Syd knew the reality she was witnessing felt wrong somehow, as if she was in a less-than-exciting dream, but a dream none the less. She saw doors that shouldn't have been where they were — and sometimes weren't there at all. She saw walls pulsing and dripping with blood that conjured up memories of the White Room, being chased by the Devil With Yellow Eyes and switching places with David. It was twisted dream logic at its best and worst. And instead of David being sympathetic to Syd's concerns, he was the opposite. He was the calmest and most sane he's appeared since we first met him, which should have been — and eventually was — seen for the warning sign it was. David said he didn't want to leave Clockworks — or this version of reality — because he was happy and everything finally felt balanced even though it was clearly, terribly off.
After Syd brought up the idea that something was wrong, though, Cary witnessed a glowing, icy orb above his bed and found himself in the astral plane — once more wearing the bruises and injuries he was sporting after Kerry was attacked — and following a floating diving suit like the one we know Oliver's (Jemaine Clement) body to be in back at Summerland. The idea that something was off apparently allowed Cary's mind to break through (maybe? Who the hell knows?) this false reality, and eventually other characters followed suit (and followed the suit).
Melanie broke through a wall that looked solid but wasn't and followed the diving suit through a doorway that was actually a mirror into David's childhood bedroom, which was still as we left it last week, with Amy (Katie Aselton) on the floor and Syd jumping in front of the bullets meant for David. When she tried to move or remove any piece of the frozen image, though, she wasn't able to do it. The episode ended with Cary wearing the suit and waking Syd up from her musical-induced sleep.
Legion and its approach to storytelling makes it the most ambitious show currently on television. But with that ambition and robust originality comes the risk of alienating viewers who don't understand or can't be bothered to keep up with its complex and confusing detours through David's mind. It also raises the question of whether or not the show's writers will be able to deliver an ending that satisfies or wraps up everything that has come before. At the moment, with just two episodes to go in the show's first season (it was renewed for Season 2 today), we still haven't the foggiest idea what is in store, and honestly, that's half the fun.
Legion airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.