Breaking The Darkness: Exploring Legion Season 1, Episode 2

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The following is a recap of the first two episodes of FX’s Legion. The first outing introduced us to David Haller (Dan Stevens), a “mutant” living in a mental hospital called Clockworks. Through non-linear storytelling and an exploration of David’s world, we learned that our protagonist has lived his life believing that his telekinetic and telepathic superpowers are a mental illness.

During the pilot, we also get acquainted with some of the major events in his recent life. These include switching bodies with his girlfriend, Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller), and escaping his mental hospital, Clockworks, during which his friend Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) dies in a wall that he may have created; returning home to his sister and talking with Lenny, his recently-deceased friend; getting captured and interrogated by a sinister governmental organization, before escaping with the help of Syd and fellow mutants; and joining up with a team of other superhumans, led by Melanie Bird (Jean Smart).

Episode 2 picks up right where things left off, with David exploring his memories, including a haunted childhood, doing drugs with Lenny and therapy sessions. Throughout it all, the father in his memories has no face and a devil with yellow eyes lurks in the corners. Suffice to say, it’s another intriguing and exciting instalment.

Rather than a traditional recap, myself and J. H. Gardener are going to dive into things by having a conversation on what just went down while also diving into all the homages and references that one might see when watching the episode on a bit of a deeper level.

D. F. Lovett

Okay, first of all, I’m thinking we may not want to dig too deep into comic book analysis, for a simple reason: plenty of other people are already doing that. Sound good?

J. H. Gardener

Works for me.

Lovett

Right away, here are three of my favorite things about Legion: the anachronistic setting, the use of music and literature, and the narrow focus on David Haller’s story. This focus is so rare in a so-called “superhero story.” I’m even reluctant to call it a superhero narrative because that label can potentially undermine what’s happening here. By focusing on David’s perspective, the show feels more like a horror story. This is apparent in the first episode but much stronger in the second.

I found myself reminded both of some of the best recent horror films – It Follows comes to mind – but also some classics like The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby. I’m not saying that the show necessarily contains intentional homages to any particular work of horror, but watching David run around, concerned with his own survival, reminds one of how the characters in Invasion of the Body Snatchers are concerned not with saving the world from the body snatchers, but just with saving themselves for one more day. Then, in episode 2, there’s the nightmare children’s book that he may or may not remember from childhood. Some strong vibes of The Babadook and other child-centric horror films creep in there.

As for the other two things I mentioned: I don’t think I’ve ever seen an anachronistic setting that’s both this mysterious, this exciting, and this intriguing since the bizarre world built by Archer, another FX show. There, the strange setting allows them to spoof whatever they want. It’s not clear yet, to me at least, why Legion has a similarly bizarre setting (flat screens televisions and tablets in a world where everyone is dressed like they’re in the 1960s), but I’m looking forward to seeing how it builds, whether it’s explained or not.

Finally, words and music. Syd Barrett is the name of one of the two main characters. That alone is fascinating. Based off this, you can start to think that the entire show could be nothing more than an extended Pink Floyd homage. The lyrics “there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” describes the entire first two episodes.

Gardener

So true. We could be volleying Pink Floyd lyrics back and forth for the next two months I feel like.

As you said, the show is almost inconceivably different from anything that’s aired – a couple comparisons are possible, but only to partial aspects – which is pretty unusual when the superhero genre formula has seemed like a license to print money for other networks and franchises.

When Roger Waters sings “the lunatic is on the grass” in “Brain Damage” (from The Dark Side of the Moon, which has been repeatedly cited by the show’s creators as an influence), there are a few layers there. He confirmed years later that, in a general sense, the reference is to pedestrian signs saying KEEP OFF GRASS and similar instructions. Only a lunatic would deviate from the path… but then again, television showrunners are not always the most sane bunch.

Lovett

Wow, I didn’t realize they had actually cited The Dark Side of the Moon as an inspiration. I had identified that as being a likely inspiration, along with their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn, their tribute to Syd Barrett “Wish You Were Here,” and their arguable masterpiece, The Wall.

The character Syd Barrett is obviously an intentional, on-the-nose reference to the Syd Barrett, and I don’t think I’ve seen a review or recap yet that doesn’t point it out. The question is, why? I think it has a lot to do with one of the themes of Legion so far, which is also a theme of Pink Floyd’s work: the state of becoming divorced from oneself, whether through mental illness, drugs, fascism, manipulation, or some other factor. David Haller is separate from himself. Syd Barrett is separate from herself. The two, in the first episode, are in a relationship with one another but cannot touch one another.

As for The Wall: Lenny dies inside a wall created by either Syd, David, or the two of them together. The Wall is not just one of Pink Floyd’s most renowned and recognized albums, but it has a strong connection to both the events of today. It’s about illness and childhood, about paranoia and politics. It’s also prophetic. One can listen to songs from this 1979 album (their eleventh, somehow) and mistake it for something written today.

Finally, there’s this line from “Wish You Were Here” that goes, “and did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” David was in a cage. They’re grooming him for a war. And consider if David Haller weren’t in his own TV show. He would be a bit part in an X-Men movie, a walk-on mutant who dies in one fight or another.

But let’s circle back to one other theme present throughout all of Pink Floyd’s work, time, but step away, briefly, from Pink Floyd to look at another potential source: William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Have you read it?

Gardener

Yes, I have read it. Interesting comparison but I think I see where you’re going with it. The Sound and the Fury was and may still be a pretty revolutionary depiction of what we call mental illness, Legion seems to make that its main goal.

Lovett

Okay, so the entire novel is, as you know, a post-modern exploration of a violent, troubled family, told through four different perspectives. The second section is from the view of middle son Quincy. We spend this section exploring his memories and sadness, with a broken watch at the center of it. There’s one line in particular that I think ties directly to what we’ve seen happen in the first episode of Legion: Because Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels only when the clock stops does time come to life.

I think we saw this Faulkner line manifest itself in the first episode. What happens when Clockworks stops controlling David Haller? The clock breaks and David’s story comes to life.

Gardener

Clocks, that’s a good spot. There’s also the clock hands missing at Clockworks seen in episode 2 (when The Eye brings in Amy). One might also recall The Phantom Tollbooth’s watchdog (and we already know that Noah Hawley likes children’s books, so don’t laugh). We saw the dog being carved in chapter one and it’s still not really clear why. But we did see David and Amy’s childhood dog, King, in episode 2 as well.

Lovett

King. Perhaps a Stephen King reference? It would make sense, especially considering the escalating horror element.

Gardener

Interesting. There’s also a semi-popular theory right now that the Devil with the Yellow Eyes (seen in both episodes so far) is the Shadow King. But it could also be Mojo or someone else.

Lovett

I get somewhat lost with those references, but I’m okay with that. One exciting thing here is that we really do not know where this narrative will take us. My prediction is that, as the season progresses, we can expect a lot more homages to previous films, shows, books, and songs.

But I would like to conclude with one note: not everything in this is a reference to something else. Lots of people think that David’s love for waffles is a Stranger Things nod. I disagree. Sometimes a waffle is just a waffle.

That concludes this edition of Breaking the Darkness, but be sure to check back in with us next week as we dive into the third episode of Legion!