The defining visual characteristic of the comic-book David Haller is the pillar of hair that shoots out from the top of his head, a physical representation of his immense mental power. He’s a godlike character who can do nearly anything with his psychic abilities, and in the comics, his mind has created a slew of other personalities, each with their own superpowers that he can tap into if he has them all under control. I’m a huge fan of the Legion-centric volume of the X-Men: Legacy title, a devastating story by writer Simon Spurrier and main artist Tan Eng Huat that has David grappling with the recent death of his father, Charles Xavier. His passing creates a psychic shock wave that lets all those other personalities loose, and David has to contain the chaos in his mind so that he can honor his father by becoming a hero for all of mutantkind.
That book is ultimately a tragedy, so it’s fitting that this week’s tragic episode of Legion would begin with a shot of David in the future, looking exactly like his comic-book counterpart. He wears the same costume as Legacy David, and while his hair isn’t quite as tall, it now points straight up. A dazed, euphoric Lenny lays on the ground in a nightie while David sits in a throne surrounded by skeletons, channeling Labyrinth’s Jareth the Goblin King as he holds a crystal ball displaying Syd’s face. We don’t see this version of David again in “Chapter 18,” but the episode sets the stage for his forthcoming arrival as he gives in to the darkness within, much to his girlfriend’s terror.
Last week, FX announced that Legion would be back for a third season, and I fully support the idea of David becoming this show’s big bad when it returns. This story is more compelling when the threat comes from within David rather than an outside force, and the first season had viewers constantly questioning whether or not David was possessed or if he had created an entity that could be blamed for his decisions. The show became less complex when the Shadow King was revealed, but this season has hinted that David is the real danger now that he no longer has someone else feeding off of his psychic energy.
The plot catches up to that foreshadowing in “Chapter 18,” which has Farouk waking the world-breaker inside David by abducting Syd. A significant amount of this episode is a recap courtesy of a Farouk-possessed Melanie, who has trapped Syd in an underground hole with glowing discs that present images from the past, present, and future. These are used to convince Syd that David is the enemy and needs to be stopped, and despite Syd’s initial protestations, she eventually can’t argue with what she’s seeing. David’s psychic parasite can only be blamed for so much of his behavior, and while Farouk may have influenced David’s behavior, he’s not responsible for the joy David feels when he engages in this destructive, malicious actions.
Even when the plot disappoints, Legion can always be counted on to deliver memorable visuals. That shot of future David radiates chilly menace, and even though we don’t see much of this environment, the overwhelming darkness suggests total devastation. There’s no electricity, only candlelight, as if David has sent the world back to a more primitive time. One of my favorite images in this episode is the giant pink rubber bath stopper resting next to the hole in the ground, which adds an element of absurdity to a very dark and serious episode. Director Dana Gonzalez prominently features the stopper in the frame throughout the chapter, establishing the hole as a drain where waste is funneled underground, but also a gateway for creatures to emerge from the deep. Warriors rise out of the hole like cockroaches, and luckily Kerry is there to smash them.
Sometimes I just want to see people get hit in a superhero story, and “Chapter 18” gives us a fantastic fight sequence as Kerry faces off against a wave of fighters that emerge from the desert hole. She beats them down with a bo staff while “Ocean Size” by Jane’s Addiction plays in the background, providing a break from the emotional drama with good old-fashioned fisticuffs. Lenny has a similarly badass role in this episode, and while she doesn’t get her hands dirty like Kerry, she does provide a last-minute save when she shoots down some attackers with her sniper rifle. I like seeing Lenny on the side of the angels, and Aubrey Plaza’s cool performance gives the impression that she’s going along with this because it’s something to pass the time rather than a mission that she has a deeper stake in.
The demon that has been haunting Melanie transforms into an undead minotaur to fend off the heroes, but the lighting is so dim that it’s hard to see the details of a cool, creepy design. I wish we had some sort of explanation for what this character is, and while I assume it’s a mutant, a quick explanation would make it feel less like a random idea the writers came up with for an imposing enemy. Kerry and Syd team up to fight the minotaur, giving Syd something to do that isn’t staring mournfully at images of her man, but there’s a missed opportunity here to have Syd use her powers and switch bodies with the minotaur.
Syd isn’t all that rattled by David’s past, but she’s disturbed by his present as she watches him torture Oliver to get information about where she’s been taken. Dan Stevens’s performance has been getting more and more aggressive over the course of the season, and he explodes with rage when he confronts Oliver, combining mental and physical torture in hopes of getting information that Oliver doesn’t have. The most gruesome moment here is when David power drills into Oliver’s kneecaps, and while he’s doing this to save Syd, he begins to lose her as she sees the violence he’s capable of when pushed too far. Melanie and Farouk succeed in making Syd believe that David needs to be wiped out to save the world, and at this point it looks like the potential future could very well end up being reality. This episode ends with Farouk back in his body and about to face off with David, and if David kills his enemy, everyone else is doomed.
After a series of wheel-spinning episodes, it’s refreshing to get some major forward movement in “Chapter 18,” even if the story is reiterating information the viewer already knows. Being taken by Farouk revitalizes Melanie’s character, and Jean Smart gets to be active again as Melanie plays mind games with Syd. Smart’s work in season two of Fargo had her bringing a sinister edge to a motherly character, and that dynamic is back in play in this episode as Melanie tries to comfort Syd while luring her to the dark side. (Smart’s performance in this episode makes me think about how amazing she would have been as Cassandra Nova, Charles Xavier’s evil twin sister from the comics that he tried to strangle when they shared a womb.)
Melanie has been pushed to the side for an entire season, so Smart makes the most of this new status for her character, playing a woman who is tired of serving shitty men who only care about themselves. It’s a pity she’s under Farouk’s control, because this would otherwise be an empowering development that takes the character in a fascinating direction. I don’t know what’s in store for Melanie next season, but I’d like to see more of her in this mode, freed from the burden of her past relationship with Oliver and ready to pave a new path for herself that isn’t defined by her desire to reconnect with her husband. Perhaps she could be on that path with Syd, working together to lead the resistance against a power-mad David as he sets the apocalypse in motion.