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Legion Recap: The Tree of Life

Legion

Chapter 14
Season 2 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating *****

Legion

Chapter 14
Season 2 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating *****
A scene from Legion.

A person’s life is defined by the choices they make, but what if each choice creates a divergent reality for the path not taken? “Chapter 14” explores the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics by entering a world populated by different versions of David Haller, each one representing a separate branch of a tree that never stops growing. This is the first episode of the season written solely by Noah Hawley, and it’s a strange, ambitious chapter that takes a dynamic approach to the idea of multiple realities all existing at the same time.

“Chapter 14” begins with the camera moving through a shantytown, stopping at an old man who sits by a trash-can fire. It’s hard to tell at first, but this is David, one of the many introduced in this episode. There’s a reality where David is an office assistant who uses his psychic powers to rise through the corporate ranks and become the most powerful man in the world. A reality where David’s drug dependency takes over and he becomes a homeless junkie. A reality where David is able to stay medicated and lives a long but dreary life being cared for by his sister. The script jumps between the multiple Davids, but it also jumps to different points on those separate timelines, making the episode a puzzle that the viewer can put together in any number of ways.

This episode is a showcase for Dan Stevens, who gets to transform into a lot of different characters built on a shared foundation. It’s a challenging acting exercise that is also a lot of fun, and you can sense Stevens’s excitement as he takes his role in so many directions. His appearance is altered with different makeup, facial hair, and wigs, and while there’s definitely some artificiality in the older Davids, it never gets to the point where the makeup gets in the way of his ability to emote. Stevens’s icy blue eyes are the unifying factor across all these different looks, and they are a huge part of his acting in this episode, projecting despair, determination, mania, confusion, numbness, and, on rare occasion, joy.

In the X-Men comics, David has been responsible for two alternate realities: the Age of Apocalypse and the Age of X. Those gave creators the opportunity to riff on established characters in new surroundings, but Legion isn’t interested in engaging with the larger X-Men franchise on that level. We do get to see some alternate versions of familiar Legion faces in this episode: Syd, dolled up like Brigitte Bardot and sitting in the back of an Audi, drives past a younger vagrant David on the street. Kerry Loudermilk slices the homeless old David in half with a sword. Farouk shows up in one scene, a psychic stand-off with the wealthy David while women writhe around them in silhouette. This can be interpreted various ways: It could be a reality where David has enough power that he keeps Farouk contained, but it could also be a future where Farouk is pulling the strings and he’s achieved world domination.

“Chapter 14” takes David’s reality-shaping ability and focuses it on the man himself, examining how his emotional state and mental faculties are affected by his mutation. David is a psychic whose abilities could destroy the entire world, so his perception of the world is drastically different from other humans. His mind absorbs information in ways we cannot conceive, and his control of the mind allows him to take control of his personal reality. This is the thing I find most compelling about Legion, and the stylistic flourishes work best when they are informing David’s unique point of view of the entire universe. Or multiverse, in the case of this week’s episode.

I don’t know if this episode will have a greater impact on the overall narrative of this season, but I have a theory that this is all a superhuman exploration of the trauma of discovering a loved one has passed away. This trauma is all the more intense for David because his sister is violently killed as a way to hurt him, and his brain reacts to this injury by replaying his memories of his sister. But it goes beyond him thinking about their shared past in that reality. In that moment of learning that Farouk and Oliver killed his sister and put Lenny in her body, David also imagines the lives he could have lived with Amy, and because of his mutant powers, those fantasies become reality and hit him with a violent avalanche of varying emotions.

This episode ends with the script getting on the branch that Legion’s main plot grows out of, and when Amy checks David into Clockworks, we get a full recap of the series thus far that ends with Lenny holding David as he completely melts down. It suggests that the entire episode has happened in the seconds after he learns of his sister’s horrific fate, and it frames this chapter as a story about two siblings and their complicated personal dynamic.

John Cameron’s direction gracefully guides the audience through this complicated tale, and he works with the design team to make the separate realities distinct. Boxes are a recurring visual element in this episode, but they appear in different ways. The old homeless David lives in a box on the street, and his introduction is immediately followed by an immensely wealthy middle-aged David, whose gigantic home is all sharp right angles, giving it a boxy quality without the sense of confinement that is associated with most of the other boxes. A mustachioed David works for a dairy company, and when he’s first introduced, he’s pushed to the side of the frame by a row of green and white boxes with icons of a sun, cow, milk bottle, and piece of cheese. David is off-center, and his position in the frame reflects how he feels when he’s on the medication his sister implores him to take.

The most delightful scene in this episode concerns a David who works in a soulless, solitary office job, sitting at a desk surrounded by filing cabinets, a single fluorescent light illuminating his workspace but not much else. David is in the center of the frame, but he’s surrounded by cabinets on all sides to suggest that he’s trapped in the monotony of this job. Unlike the dairy boxes, these filing cabinets don’t have the extra graphic element of the icons, which makes them even duller on the screen. It’s an image of pure boredom, so it’s no wonder that David gets his kicks by making a mouse dance and lip-sync to Brian Ferry’s “Slave to Love.” In different circumstances this could come off as the show being weird for the hell of it, but the context clues in the visuals give this moment a discernible intent. This is a sedentary David but he’s not wholly unhappy, and he gets his kicks by psychically manipulating rodents.

A Clockwork Orange is a fundamental influence on this series, and “Chapter 14” features a scene that steals the film’s visuals and dialogue when the old homeless David is abused by some young men on the street. Cameron replicates the shots and staging of the movie, and David repeats the same words as the man beaten to death by droogs: “Man on the moon, men spinning around the Earth. There’s no attention paid to earthly law and order no more.” Those laws don’t apply to David, either, and unlike the droogs’ victim, he annihilates his attackers by tapping into his psychic powers, wiping them from existence with a thought.

When David unleashes his full might, he starts to glow and radiates beams of energy like he’s channeling energy directly from the sun’s surface to disintegrate his enemies. He’s using his telekinetic abilities to completely disassemble a person’s atomic structure, but this imagery connects him to the power of a star, reinforcing the idea that there’s nothing anyone could do to stop him if he turned against the world. When a star goes supernova, there’s nothing to do but let the heat burn away everything.

Legion Recap: The Tree of Life