Legion: Chapter 1 Recap

Synopsis 01×01: David Haller is a disturbed man who has trouble navigating what’s real and what isn’t… or is he? The pilot episode introduces the opposing forces that have come crashing into his life after ‘the incident’ and audiences are left to figure out what’s fact and what’s fiction.

Rating:
Visually, Legion is stunning and outside the realm of anything that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered up so far. With a mix of 1960s flair and modern touches – juxtaposed beautifully throughout the first episode, but most interestingly mixed when the Interrogator has his tablet laid out on the table and David, our unreliable narrator and anti-hero, is hooked up to a machine to measure his brain waves that looks more like an old-fashioned television set than the EEG machines we’re used to – this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to questioning the reality of the show.

If you haven’t yet read our exclusive interview with Jeff Russo, the composer of the show, now is a great time to give that a read!

As I imagine will become the norm with this show, it opens with a montage of David growing up, leaving viewers wondering how much was real and what was made up between hanging out with friends and getting arrested (complete with the shattering of every window in the police vehicle). A dark suicide attempt that seems to work morphs into a birthday candle at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, where David’s sister sings him happy birthday.

What follows is an introduction to Lenny, David’s partner in crime, and Sydney, the newest patient at Clockworks. After a botched attempt to speak with her, David asks her to be his girlfriend in a group therapy session and she agrees, as long as he doesn’t touch her, which he agrees to. The relationship is easy and light, until suddenly there’s no relationship at all.

David finds himself at a table with the Interrogator, who is asking about Syd and the rest of the patients at Clockworks, interspersed with questions from a much more affable session with Doctor Kissinger. He talks about his suicide attempt and the last night Sydney was in the psychiatric hospital with him.

When a break is called, the Interrogator walks out of the room, through an empty swimming pool and heavily guarded building, to another man who is watching David on camera in the room as he eats his lunch. They discuss the merits of killing him now, before he recognizes and learns to control his powers, which they believe he’s conflating with a mental illness.

During a flash to another time, when David is struggling with his emotions, he’s shown standing in a kitchen alone as things start to shake. The kitchen explodes around him, though nothing touches him until he notices a grotesque looking man in the room with him, known as the Devil with Yellow Eyes. A knife flying by his face brings him back to the interrogation room, where he’s confused about whether or not he ate his lunch and quickly realizes the people there are afraid of him as they hook him up to the machine.

They finally get to talking about the “incident” at Clockworks on the day of Syd’s release. Before she leaves, David kissed her (despite her protesting) and they switched bodies. Syd, in his body, is screaming hysterically and restrained, while a dazed David, in her body, is escorted from the room by Doctor Kissinger and tended to before a shock wave brings them both back to the patient ward.

Horrifically, the floor is empty, with patients all screaming from their rooms without doors. Lenny was dead, half inside the concrete where the door must have once been, and Doctor Kissinger rushes David, in Syd’s body, outside to avoid any scandal and ruining the chance of release as emergency services respond to the scene.

He thinks he remembers the Interrogator and two others exit a vehicle while he stood outside the hospital, but the Interrogator denies it. They argue about it and the Interrogator gets a pen in his cheek for his troubles before David sends everyone and everything in the room crashing into the walls. He faints when the man in charge of the operation makes good on the promise to gas him.

David remembers himself sitting at a table in Syd’s body, which becomes his own body, and then he heads to the home of his sister, letting her know that they discharged him from the hospital. She’s taken aback, but allows him to stay in her basement – where a deceased Lenny shows up to warn David about someone coming to kill him and to blame him, not Syd, for her death.

There’s a Bollywood-style choreographed dance scene before David wakes up in the pool, now filled with water, surrounded by armed guards, and charged to electrocute him should he try anything else with the Interrogator. He’s convinced none of this is real, but continues to talk about Syd and how, when he went looking for her, she was gone.

He’s running from the two people who got out of the car when Syd catches up to him and explains that they’re both in his mind. It’s a fascinating monologue where she repeats herself multiple times and directs him to slip out of the chair and not come out of the pool until he sees her face.

As he’s following her instruction, he does finally admit that it wasn’t the Interrogator in the car, but a woman, and slips under the water just in time for some kind of fireball to blast through the facility, throwing charred skeletons into the water with him. Syd and an extraction team, the other two people from the car, as well as a man that tosses people with the flick of his wrist, take David out of the facility and introduce him to Melanie Bird.

It’s a war zone where David wonders if any of this is actually real, considering he’s been bouncing back and forth between Clockworks and the interrogation and witnesses the Devil with Yellow Eyes from his kitchen on the beach, where Syd promises it is and he seems to join up with them.

“It’s all connected,” may be the rallying cry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this off-shoot of the X-Men side of things (though that’s not mentioned explicitly) doesn’t factor in and that may be the best thing Legion has going for it.

Divesting itself from the rest of the MCU, as well as the X-Men movies, may set a new precedent for how superhero television shows may be treated in the future. Free from the entanglements of other shows, Legion gets to shine with its own voice, mood, and direction. This show is so strong visually that it’s worth a second and third watch to fully enjoy all of the nuances.

David’s retraction into his own mind has audiences questioning what’s real and what’s imagined, but it may be Sydney’s ability to join him there and subtly manipulate things that becomes more important as the show goes on – what is truly out of his control, even in his own head? FX has conjured such a strong start to this compact eight-episode season that I may even forgive it for being the delay of Fargo season three.