After a wonderfully creative whirlwind of a debut, I had high hopes for Legion. Unfortunately, the second instalment has swung wildly to the other end of the spectrum with a mechanically implemented ‘nothing happens’ episode. You can almost feel how the show’s scheduling needs to separate some future plot beats, and this offering is here just to pad out time.
From the moment it starts it feels like no one can really be bothered. Whereas last week we had a beautifully done opening montage to set up David Haller’s life, this week we have straight up expositional narration. “You’re a powerful mutant,” David is told with all the grace of a bank statement. In fact, most of the cast seems to only exist on screen to explain things, or worse, kill time between explaining things.
Much of the episode focuses on ‘memory work’ where another mutant called Ptonomy rifles through David’s brain like a video library - pulling out moments from his past in an attempt to unravel and replace the ‘old narrative’ of David’s mental illness. It’s explained that his history of seeing things and other problems was created to suppress his powers, and the memory work is meant to undo that to release his mutant potential.
The trouble is, it doesn’t really achieve anything. We see that there’s something odd about the recollections of his Father, and a strangely unpleasant children's story. We get a little bit of his previous, pre-institutionalised life as a delinquent drug addict on the streets. And there’s a few more appearances from the yellow-eyed demon who’s clearly key to something big given the screen time he keeps getting. But there’s nothing substantial to really grip onto, only the sense that some of these moments will be relevant later when the show cares enough to tell you more.
After the first episode’s great use of colour, music, and photography this all feels a little more perfunctory. There are scenes; people talk in them, but somehow it’s lost all that previous spectacle. There’s a moment when David turns a huge, room-sized volume knob to dial down the voices in his head but it feels a clunky and obvious visual metaphor rather than a clever explanation.
The idea of plundering a character’s memory feels so wasted as a result. After all the clever ideas from the last episode, most of this psychic travelling is shown by people standing in rooms talking. They’re literally rifling through a man’s mind and it’s done with basic shots and simple edits. I was looking forward to seeing what Mad Men/American Horror Story director Michael Uppendahl would do here but he seems to have brought little to the table.
In fact the only clear pay off to the entire episode is that it ends with David’s sister being kidnapped by the Division, the shadowy mutant hunting organisation trying to find him. The entire episode feels like it’s treading water just to set that up. Hopefully it’s just a hiccup in the pacing as the show sets all its balls in motion, because another pointlessly expositional episode will be hard to take after such a classy and well made start.