The second episode of FX’s Legion opens with a young woman – presumably Rachel Keller‘s Syd – singing some timely words: “Well, we know where we’re going/but we don’t know where we’ve been.” Fans of David Byrne and Talking Heads will notice them as the opening lines of “Road to Nowhere,” which was used as a far less metaphysical reference point in Ben Stiller‘s Reality Bites, another work about twenty-somethings trying to get a handle on their place in the world. And just as The Rolling Stones’ “She’s Like a Rainbow” seemed to perfectly encapsulate the teeming romance, joy, and curiosity of David and Syd’s relationship in “Chapter 1,” as well as Haller’s splintered perspective, “Road to Nowhere” perfectly sums up where we find ourselves at the end of “Chapter 2.”
Indeed, much of “Chapter Two” involves getting ahold of where and when is David right now, and how he arrived at this point. Following his harrowing escape from the Division 3 lunatics, led by Mackenzie Gray‘s The Eye and his beautifully maintained fro, David is now spending his days at Summerland, the experimental institute for mutants run by Jean Smart‘s enigmatic Melanie Bird, where David begins to piece together memories from his childhood and his life before Clockworks in general. Notice how even the difference in the names of the institutes underlines a desired break from the regimented intricacies of psychology and the past in the hopes of understanding time without constraints.
Hawley’s colorful, audacious, and object-obsessed aesthetic and the destabilizing editing style continue to work greatly to illustrate the hotbed of metaphysical and psychosexual subtext that lies just beneath the words that Hawley has written. A variety of visual transitions, including vertical wipes and slow fades, and manipulation of focus continue to give the entire show the feeling of a waking dream where memories, imagined exchanges, and present-day activities seem to fold in on each other. Or maybe this is meant to be a nightmare, but not one where a razor-toothed clown eats you up but rather the kind where you feel like you’re constantly being chased and the confusion is overwhelming. With the exception of his moments with Syd, this is the state that David seems to be constantly in as he begins to investigate scenes from his childhood.
A bucolic afternoon of chasing his sister in a large spread of tall grass holds major nostalgic weight to David when he begins to remember alongside Bird, Syd, and Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), Bird’s memory expert, but his temperament changes when things turn toward his father. In one memorable sequence, a young David is seen listening to his faceless father read a favored book, “The World’s Angriest Boy,” which includes the decapitation of a character and quite a lot of allusions toward death. Even here, the show’s creators are pressing how David’s search for his true identity and self-knowledge is also, in a way, a search for death. Later on, he references the endless oblivion of space as well when speaking about his mysterious father, who will likely become the elephant in the show’s proverbial room soon enough.
As “Chapter 2″ covers quite a lot of backstory, it’s not as immediately engaging and thrilling in its excursions into violence and psychokinetic powers, though that’s not to say that it’s any less fascinating. Glimpses at David’s sessions with his former therapist, Dr. Poole (Scott Lawrence) and drug-huffing good ol’ days with Aubrey Plaza‘s Lenny give shading to David’s character and mindset. (If anyone is looking to get me a super early Christmas present, a replica of that frog vaporizer would be at the top of my list.) More importantly, David’s exchanges with his new colleagues reveal a distinct variety of moods, talents, and perspectives. One that sticks out is Ptonomy’s description of being able to remember his time within his mother’s womb, in which a universally understood image of hope, peace, and humanity – pregnancy – is described as a disorienting and upsetting experience from the other side.
Hawley writes in myriad lines that reflect the cornucopia of views he’s taking in underneath the banner of David Haller. When he’s speaking about his trips with his dad to look up at the sky, he talks about his enduring love for the constellations – seemingly whole images and symbols, each made up of a dozen or so stars. Though Hawley takes much of “Chapter 2″ to finish laying down the foundation for what’s about to commence, alongside director Michael Uppendahl, there’s never a moment where Legion feels as if it’s just burning up time or restating a plot point to make sure everyone understood a flash of foreshadowing. There are small, intriguing elements in the performances, the editing, and the imagery that open up compelling concepts with more finesse and intellect than any group of words could ever convey with such grace. It’s this often slept-on tactic of thinking visually as often as one does narratively that has quickly separated Legion into a different class than much of its Marvel brethren.