Legion Recap: The Lunatic Takes Over

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Aubrey Plaza as Lenny. Photo: Michelle Faye/FX
Legion

Legion

Chapter 5 Season 1 Episode 5
Editor's Rating 3 stars

David Haller has lost control. He may look more self-assured, but that’s merely the parasite in David’s mind, wearing his face to fool others into letting it run free. This is very bad news for everyone in “Chapter 5,” which reveals the full devastating potential of David’s power when amplified by whatever has taken root in his consciousness. David toys with Syd’s emotions by giving her the physical contact she craves, taunts Melanie with information about her husband, and launches a solo assault on Division 3 that shows off his godlike ability to warp reality, taking the lives of countless soldiers in the process.

The scope of David’s power is still unknown, but as of now it doesn’t look like it has any upper limit. He can find a way to have sex with an untouchable partner. He can vaporize people with the wave of his hand. He can create a space where people go deaf once they step within its boundaries. David is likened to a god in this episode, and it’s hard to argue. With the parasite in control, he has become completely detached from reality, which gives him the freedom to alter it however he pleases. Being unable to distinguish between imagination and reality is a defining aspect of schizophrenia, and rather than dismissing David’s mental illness with his mutant ability, the show is offering a more extreme, fantastic version of the illness. Legion is by no means a realistic or nuanced interpretation of schizophrenia, but the way it ties the main villain to the illness is fascinating.

We learn the parasite has been in David’s brain since he was a child, perhaps since he was born, feeding off of his power and rewriting his memories (and those of the people around him) whenever he started to realize that something wasn’t right. Cary breaks this down in easy to understand terms, and like the last episode written by Peter Calloway, “Chapter 5” takes a simpler approach to structure and characterization than the other Legion installments. It feels like Calloway has been brought in to reorient viewers after experimental episodes; although there are certainly weird moments in his script, it’s all much more straightforward. But like the conclusion of “Chapter 3,” the final moment of this episode suggests that things will get much more challenging now that the parasite has put David, the Summerland crew, and the Eye in Clockworks for some group therapy.

This episode makes two more big moves: It reveals that David was adopted by the Haller family, and confirms that Lenny is one face of the parasite, along with King the beagle and the World’s Angriest Boy in the World. The adoption has me wondering if David’s comic-book father, Charles Xavier, will make a surprise appearance in the final episodes of the season, but there’s also the possibility that David’s is the son of Melanie and Oliver, which would make sense given the similarities between David and Oliver’s mutant powers. The identity of the parasite remains a mystery, but having one of its manifestations named King lends credence to the theory that it’s a loose interpretation of the X-Men foe Shadow King, a being of pure psychic energy that once possessed David Haller in the comics.

“Chapter 5” gives Dan Stevens the opportunity to tap into the menace he exhibited so well in 2014’s The Guest, but here, he pairs it with impish mischief rather than sexy, dangerous charisma. There’s a palpable sense of delight in David’s character, but again, it’s not really David we’re watching. It’s the parasite enjoying free rein after years of being restrained in David’s mind. Now that it’s finally in control of his powers, it uses them with unadulterated glee. We do see the real David instead of the parasite during a strange scene when he plays “Rainbow Connection” for Syd in the White Room, and the fear and weariness in Stevens’s performance contrasts quite well with the devilish consciousness that has taken over his body. David is trying to send a message to Syd with this song, and while it’s open to interpretation, I believe the mentions of “visions” and “illusions” are a warning for Syd not to trust the White Room or the David she sees in the real world.

This series has had some very effective music choices, and in addition to the “Rainbow Connection” scene, there’s a sequence set to Radiohead’s “The Daily Mail” that creates a strong sense of dread as Melanie and the Summerland mutants make their way to Division 3. The second line of “The Daily Mail” is “the lunatics have taken over the asylum,” so it’s fitting that it would underscore a sequence that reveals the terror of what happens when the parasite in David’s mind takes over. The first verse sets an eerie atmosphere as the group heads to the Division 3 base, and the percussion explodes once they witness the carnage left in David’s wake. Sound also plays an important role in the final act of this episode at David’s childhood home: With the characters unable to hear anything, dialogue disappears in favor of disorienting sound effects and tense music from composer Jeff Russo. A recurring sound motif is a descent of harsh, atonal strings, creating the feeling of falling further and further into unknown, frightening depths.

I’ve mentioned Lux Alptraum’s piece on Syd and “the curse of the untouchable girl” in previous recaps, and the events of this episode further show why Alptraum’s points are so relevant this series. In the first three episodes, she writes, Syd is “presented as the perfect, permanently chaste love interest — one who serves mainly to demonstrate David’s noble, heroic restraint without ever running the risk of defiling herself by tarnishing her purity with something as sordid as sex.” When David switches into a more villainous mode, one of the first things that happens is the removal of Syd’s chastity. He creates a psychic space where they can enjoy the sensations of sexual contact without actually touching each other in the physical world.

David’s physical intimacy with Syd is a demonstration of his new sinister, manipulative mindset, and while Syd isn’t necessarily “untouchable” anymore, this episode doesn’t make her characterization any less problematic. After having sex with David, Syd shares the story of when she lost her virginity at 16, recounting how she used her mutant powers to switch bodies with her mother and have sex with one of her mother’s boyfriends. “Who teaches us to be normal when we’re one of a kind?” Syd asks, and it’s an awkward button to a monologue that tries to say something profound, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the tale. The moment is clumsily written, and that clumsiness carries over to Syd’s broader character when she becomes completely dickmatized by David after having psychic sex.

Syd knows that going after Division 3 is a foolhardy decision, but she gives herself over completely to David anyway. Her behavior is so shallow that it makes me think she might be under more direct psychic manipulation, but the script never makes it explicit that David is influencing Syd’s mind that way. He gives her the physical sensation she wants, and then her sense of judgment disappears. Melanie tries to warn her that David still needs treatment, but Syd doesn’t care about that anymore. She’ll do whatever he wants because he’s her man, and it’s disappointing to see Syd lose her agency so quickly.

The X-Men movie franchise has consistently underserved its female characters, and Legion has yet to break from tradition. (For the most recent example, see Logan, which has one principal female character who is silent for most of the movie.) Every major female character in this show is primarily defined by her relationship to a man: Syd and Amy exist to be loved by David and rescued by David, respectively; Lenny is a psychic parasite that torments David and feeds on his power; Melanie wants to heal David, but also wants to use his power to reconnect with her husband, Oliver; and Kerry literally lives inside a male host body. The X-Men comics are filled with compelling female characters who have received ample development in hundreds of comic books, but the franchise’s film and TV properties have a long way to go until these characters get the same kind of depth.

Legion and the Curse of the Untouchable Girl
Legion Recap: The Lunatic Takes Over