Is David Haller a good person? He’s done plenty of bad things, but for most of his life, his actions were motivated by a malevolent psychic parasite that burrowed into his brain when he was a baby. He continued to do bad things after Farouk was expelled from his mind, but David is still living with a history of trauma that has corrupted his worldview and his moral compass. He paints himself as a victim, but at a certain point there are no more buts. He eventually has to take responsibility for his actions, and if he doesn’t, he’s admitting that he’s just as bad as the villain that took advantage of him for decades.
Legion’s second season has been leading David down the path of evil, and by the end of “Chapter 19,” he drops his heroic mask and embraces a life of selfish, destructive wickedness — all because he is asked to stop blaming other people, come to terms with the pain he’s caused, and take steps to change his behavior and achieve a healthier state of mind. This show has always had a complicated relationship with the subject of mental health, and I appreciate that the writers have moved away from the idea that David was cured when he exorcised Farouk. The Shadow King may have played a part in David’s mental illness, but getting rid of him doesn’t magically eliminate the damage he’s done, especially if that damage is intensified by biological factors David cannot control.
“Chapter 19” begins with the big showdown between David and Farouk, which kicks off with them singing the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” as they levitate toward each other. I really enjoy when this show incorporates musical sequences, and the song fits the themes of this show so well that it feels like it has been in the back of Noah Hawley’s head for the entire series, waiting to be deployed in an episode where it will have the most dramatic impact. Once the two men are face-to-face, they engage in a psychic battle depicted with brightly colored, ever-shifting animation. Their astral forms morph into samurais, dinosaurs, and military machinery, and it’s a sequence that captures the might of their psychic ability in a visually spectacular way.
Just as Farouk is about to fully ensnare David in a psychic spider web, Lenny shoots the power dampener and knocks out their psychic powers, giving David an opening to start beating Farouk’s body with a rock. Psychic extravagance is replaced by physical brutality, and then the episode breaks from the action for Melanie and Oliver’s only scene, a flash-forward to three years in the future presented as a video recorded on a retro camcorder. The spouses now live in domestic bliss in the astral plane, where they’ve made Oliver’s ice cube their home, and they’re gradually losing the memories of their old lives.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the end of their story, although I was hoping that Melanie would stay on the path she was on last episode as she turned against her partner and started putting her needs first. There’s still a three-year gap here, so we might see Melanie and Oliver’s path to their new frozen home, but this scene establishes that the series is planning on writing them out eventually. Given my disappointment in Melanie’s treatment this season, I don’t mind the show letting Jean Smart loose, but I’ll miss Jemaine Clement’s wacky energy, which always helped balance the darker elements of the narrative.
David is about to kill Farouk with the rock when Syd shows up with a gun, prepared to shoot her lover if he doesn’t stop. Rachel Heller gives a remarkable performance in this episode, capturing the tumultuous mix of love and hate that has taken over Syd as she tries to save a man she deeply cares for, but cannot trust. Syd is tired of his bullshit and after seeing the scariest parts of David’s personality, she’s willing to shoot him if it means saving the world. She fires the gun right before a commercial break, and when the episode returns, David is in his childhood bedroom, watching the Jon Hamm–narrated interludes while confronting other aspects of his personality that manifest throughout the episode. They taunt David and try to convince him that his relationship with Syd is the true delusion, something that he’s created to keep himself in check so that he doesn’t reach his full power. David refuses to believe this, but in his efforts to save his romance with Syd, he ends up cementing his villainous fate.
Syd fires the gun, but Lenny once again saves the day, shooting the bullet in mid-flight and creating a shock wave that knocks Syd and David to the ground. This scene brings back the split-screen framing, and it’s an effective way of creating tension with a barrage of visual information from different angles. That tension builds to the shock wave, and what follows is a major turning point for David. When he finds Syd unconscious, he sees an opportunity to fix their broken relationship by wiping her memory of everything she’s seen in the past few hours. It’s a play from the Buffy season-six handbook, and the plan backfires big time when Syd inevitably finds out what David did to her.
Farouk survives, and is outfitted with a power nullifier so that he can be taken to Division 3, where he’ll stand trial for his crimes. David plans to kill Farouk and run away with Syd, but his sins eventually catch up to him. While a mental projection of himself has sex with Syd, David confronts Farouk in his cell, and Farouk tries one last time to manipulate his old puppet by talking about how how he tried to make David love him. He’s playing to David’s need for affection, but it doesn’t work so he switches tactics and plays to David’s fear of rejection. Farouk warns him that he needs to remember the hatred he feels right now because he’ll eventually see it in Syd’s eyes, and that happens after Farouk reveals to Syd what David did to her mind.
David believes that he’s appearing for the trial of the Shadow King, but it’s actually an intervention for him. He’s trapped in a chamber that diminishes his powers, and is confronted by Syd and Cary, who want David to seek treatment for his mental illness so that he doesn’t create an apocalyptic future. David interprets this as being put on trial for crimes he has yet to commit, and he doesn’t want to be turned into a medicated zombie again. But there are crimes he has committed in the present, and Syd gives him that hateful stare when she tells him that he drugged her and had sex with her.
David has done awful things, but Syd still gives him the chance to make amends. There are downsides to that, but he has a support system that wants to see him get better. They can work together to ensure that David finds a combination of medication and therapy that doesn’t drain his will to live, but he doesn’t want that. He wants to hold on to his power, and he doesn’t care about the potential consequences. He thinks that he’s a good person who deserves to be loved, and if Syd isn’t going to give him that unconditionally, he’ll leave her behind.
The final moments of this episode situate David as a symbol of egotistical entitlement, and even though David has consistently hurt the people around him and knows that he will potentially destroy the entire world, he doesn’t think he needs to change his behavior at all. Everyone else is the problem, and he rescues Lenny because he knows that she won’t place any demands on him. She’ll encourage him because she’ll benefit from being his lackey, and she doesn’t care if the world burns in the process. I applaud Legion’s willingness to commit to this heel turn for David, and setting him up as the big bad has me intrigued for next season despite the inconsistency of the past 11 episodes. There’s a dark road ahead for these characters, but that could mean very good things for this series.