Deconstructing Noah Hawley’s Legion is a headache-inducing challenge. It may have the Marvel logo on it, but this is not a traditional superhero show by any stretch of the imagination. Between alterable memories, psychically superpowered mutants, constructed realities, and visually provocative direction, it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the head trip of it all. But now that it’s back for a second season, you may be wondering: Wait, what happened last time?
With the new season premiering on FX this Tuesday night, we spun through the first season again to point out everything that’s worth remembering before you dive into season two. What do you need to know if you’ve never seen the show? What should you remember even if you have? And which questions do we want answered next?
Fans of standard superhero shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Gotham may have been startled when they tuned into Legion for the first time. Much of the first season takes place in the mind of David Haller (Dan Stevens), a mutant who can safely be called an unreliable narrator. He can alter reality, zapping enemies into walls and floors with a snap of his fingers or creating entire alternate universes that look and feel real — which means that almost everything we see onscreen can be called into question. Legion is set in a world where one can never be sure what’s memory, reality, or vision. Characters even swapped bodies and broke into musical numbers. It’s a trip.
Within all of this chaos, we met our lead characters. After David is hospitalized for schizophrenia and a suicide attempt, he meets a new patient named Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller), who helps him realize that he isn’t mentally ill. After he “wakes up,” a mishap with Syd allows him to escape the mental hospital. From there, he begins trying to understand his powers and how to control them.
It’s worth noting that David isn’t an entirely original character, though. In the comic books, he is one of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men universe — and, crucially, he is the son of Professor X.
Not yet, and maybe not ever, although there were veiled references to Professor X in season one — especially in reference to the show’s main villain, a parasitic mutant named the Shadow King.
Also known as Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King was a nemesis of Professor X in the comic books. Without ever saying Professor X’s name, Legion lays that subplot out in its seventh episode: The Shadow King and David’s father (a bald man who looks a lot like Professor X) fought each other, and after the Shadow King was defeated, he latched onto young David’s mind like a psychic parasite to feed on his powers. The Shadow King has been controlling David from within ever since, most obviously by manifesting himself as the voice of another patient named Lenny (Aubrey Plaza).
Yes, but no familiar faces like Wolverine or Storm — however, Syd recalls Rogue in the sense that she can’t touch anyone. (Her mutant power is that she swaps bodies with whomever she touches.) We also met Cary and Kerry Loudermilk, played by Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder: The former is a brilliant scientist, and the latter lives within his body. The Professor X surrogate is Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird, who rescues David and Syd and brings them to a compound known as Summerland. Melanie’s husband Oliver (Jemaine Clement), a powerful telepath, has been stranded on an astral plane for decades, and she believes David can bring him back to the physical realm. We also met a memory specialist named Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), who works alongside Melanie and Cary to train mutants at Summerland. Finally, there’s David’s adoptive sister Amy (Katie Aselton), who has demonstrated no powers and just thought that her brother was sick.
Even though Legion jumps around across alternate realities, the basic plot of season one is relatively simple: After David Haller meets Syd Barrett and discovers that they both have remarkable superpowers, a covert branch of the U.S. military known as Division III comes for him, but Melanie Bird gets to him first. With the assistance of Bird’s team at Summerland, David learns to harness his own abilities and defeat his inner demons, including the Shadow King. But in the closing moments of the season, after bartering peace with Division III and expunging the Shadow King from his mind, David was sucked up into a metal ball and disappeared. WTF?
Who knows? It could be the return of the Shadow King or Division III, although the technology sure doesn’t look like something they could do, given their basic interrogation techniques. Where David went, who’s got him, and why they kidnapped him are the first major questions of season two — although given the propensity for this show to take place in alternate realities, dream sequences, and mental landscapes, maybe don’t expect answers right away.
As mentioned above, Professor X is David’s father in the comic books, so Legion’s focus on the Shadow King seems to suggest that he could appear in the show too. Big emphasis on seems, though: Although David’s lineage will likely play a major role in season two, it also raises lots of non-Professor X questions. Who is David’s mother? What about his adoptive parents? We only saw David’s adoptive father in shadow in the first season. Could he have worked for Division III? Will he be a character from the comic books? Did they know about his powers?
Aubrey Plaza gave the best performance in season one, playfully reimagining a role originally written for a middle-aged man. But now that David has banished the Shadow King from his mind, what will Legion do with her? How the show brings Lenny back, and how that relates to the Shadow King’s future plans, are major questions.
Yes, but he escaped. In the season finale, the Shadow King jumped from David’s mind to Oliver’s, then drove off into the sunset, heading south for some unclear goal. We saw Oliver driving with Lenny sitting next to him, suggesting that the Shadow King is manipulating him much like he did to David, but their exact relationship is still unclear. What’s happening in that final scene? If Oliver is dominated by the Shadow King, what threat does he pose to David? We’ll soon find out how Legion plans to handle its returning big bad.
At the end of season one, Division III seemed to recognize they could never control David, and so peace was brokered between Summerland and the military. Will the truce remain or will they come back for David and his friends? There are also still some questions about why they wanted David in the first place. Division III’s chief interrogator Clark (Hamish Linklater) was clearly afraid of him, but what did they want to know? And do they still want to use him?
David’s real memories have been restored and the Shadow King is no longer infecting his mind. But does this mean David is in complete control of his powers? The finale seemed to suggest as much — especially when he single-handedly faced down a squadron of Division III soldiers — but mental illness is a much trickier subject. It was a defining theme of the first season, and David can’t transform into a completely healthy man overnight. Recovery takes time, trauma always leaves its mark, and Legion isn’t really about stability.
This may be the most important question for season two. The first year was critically acclaimed and developed a loyal following, but the show doesn’t produce big numbers, and it isn’t cheap. Now that it’s been expanded to ten episodes, FX seems to be betting that Legion becomes a true phenomenon. It’s certainly like nothing else on TV.