Legion’s reputation for unstable narrative is only partially earned. There’s a lot of noise in each episode, but the big beats are typically clear. The path from one beat to the next isn’t always visible, but that’s hardly unique. In ‘Chapter 10,’ however, Noah Hawley appears to lay out a broad path for at least one person. David Haller now has a clear spectrum of possibility. Whether he’ll choose to exist within it, or veer off into his own custom space, is another question.
One endpoint of that spectrum is offered by Melanie Bird, shorn of purpose since the end of Summerland, who advises David to ignore any impulse to save the world. David’s powers are an obstacle, she insists, “to happiness, intimacy, peace.” He should go live somewhere quiet with Syd. “The real tragedy is forgetting to live.” She’s not wrong.
The far end of the scale is Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King, who sees himself as a god. Farouk lived in David’s head for years, but the two had never met. Their face to face confrontation (at a fortune-teller’s stall which looks like Lucy’s psychiatrist stand from Peanuts dropped into a Terrence Malick landscape) features a real met the ’devil at the crossroads’ offer.
Farouk suggests David should look at himself as a deity. He quotes John Lennnon: “bigger than Jesus.” Take the power, run with it, to hell with all the little people around you. To hell with people, period. But David is holding onto ideas Farouk probably considers small, like carrying off a plan with no killing. David will help the Shadow King find his body – which, as suspected, may be at Division III – but he doesn’t want anyone to die along the way.
While Farouk agrees to the “no killing” rule there’s no reason he won’t try to subvert it. That has already happened once earlier in the episode. Then, David and friends were lured away from Division III so Lenny and Farouk-as-Oliver could mount a low-key heist (modeled on the “Swingin’ on a Star” sequence from Hudson Hawk!) looking for Farouk’s. People died there, which has the already-suspicious Clark wondering where David’s allegiance really lays.
Two episodes in, and things are already messy, already shifting.
David started out uncertain of himself as what seemed like a lapse of hours turned out to be a year. Then this episode opens on a carousel carrying David, Lenny and Oliver around in circles. This may be a circular journey for them, but for us clarification is just a spin away. David wonders if some memories, like his recollection of Lenny, are actually fake. Pish posh, says Oliver/Farouk. It doesn’t matter. “You remember it, so it happened.”
The conflict between reality and unreality, and between memory and invention, is defined in stark, simple terms. David is powerful enough that he can write reality. Farouk seems to reinforce that later when he and David meet, but of course it was Farouk who tells him this stuff on the carousel, only in the guise of Oliver. Does David grok that two layers of conversation are really just one? Do we?
In case it’s unclear, Jon Hamm’s narrator is here with this week’s lesson. Animal species determine reality based on physical cues, he says, while humanity perceives reality through our mental input. His observation? “We must agree on what is real.” So far so good, but we can also be taught to believe in a specific reality. This against the backdrop of Oliver teaching a boy that red is green and green is red – and watching coldly as the kid is creamed at a traffic intersection.
This week’s lesson is a lot less oblique than last week’s Twin Peaks-like talk of delusions. What if we’re all the kid in that visual metaphor, and Oliver is representing Amal Farouk, or David?
(Who is that narrator, anyway? Future Syd uses some of his language from last week’s episode, which is our first clue of any kind. But few detectives can follow a trail of a single breadcrumb, so I’m not going to hazard a guess as to the narrator’s identity – or the target of his speech just yet. Maybe next week.)
Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) directs this episode, and her touch is evident all over the place, particularly in one utterly freaky shot of Lenny revealing herself to Cary just after he drops through the floor into a room in which she’s lurking in the corner.
Amirpour also has the pleasure of directing one of Aubrey Plaza’s best scenes in the series. After Farouk makes his god-power pitch to David, Lenny sidles up to the Shadow King, begging to be let free. Plaza plays the scene with a junkie’s jitters, shifting back and forth around Farouk to show us how unstable she is – and helping us get the feel of the Shadow King as an immovable force. It’s an early highlight of this season.
Otherwise, there are good developments for Syd, who was written fairly conventionally in the first season. Now her core persona is sandwiched between moments where she body-swaps with a cat, and ones where her future self stands as a Furiosa-style leader. Rachel Keller is getting to engage more here, and it’s a pleasure to see her work.
Future Syd obviously knows more than she lets on. When she tells David “it’s complicated” after he asks if he’s dead in her future, that’s probably serious.
Finally, 'Chapter 10' has a couple of big developments for David, which might make him a bit more like the Legion of comic book stories. First, thanks to Lenny’s conversation with Farouk, we know for certain that Lenny was definitely a real person whose mind was absorbed by Farouk. Which means maybe he’s absorbed other minds. And maybe David can do the same.
And we can maybe believe something else Future Syd tells David: that he is soon going to kill Farouk, and that the real scourge she faces in the future is something much worse. Going back to the spectrum set out for David this episode, it seems unlikely that killing Farouk would lead David to running off to live a nice normal human life. But the other end? Seizing the power Farouk implies is already his? That could happen – if he doesn’t veer off at an angle.
Is David that much worse thing Syd mentions? “[Farouk] killed a few,” she says. “This thing kills everyone.” Back at Division III we see the black slime trail of the delusion born last episode – a scene Syd kind of acknowledges. When David and that delusion cross paths whatever limited hold the guy has on reality – a commonly-accepted reality – may break.