Last week's accomplished premiere of Legion could have been a short film unto itself. The ending came nowhere near promising closure, but was satisfying. If there were nothing to look forward to afterwards, it could exist on its own merits. For many viewers disappointed by awesome premieres and lackluster following episodes, this has become a standard best-case scenario. A show like Legion almost could not help but collapse under the weight of the anticipation it awakened in many viewers. Fortunately, the second episode lives up to expectations.
Directed by Michael Uppendahl, instead of series creator Noah Hawley, "Chapter 2" is a bit easier to parse, both by necessity and stylistically. Instead of the sprawling exteriors and rounded sets from last week, the show settles more or less in one location and explores the vast interiors of David's consciousness. His memories become the playground through which characters walk and discuss important matters of plot and theme, except when a literal playground is evoked with David and Syd on swings. When a brilliant night sky full of stars is shown, it's in the main character’s head.
Not that Summerland isn't comparable to Clockworks as a fully-realized environment. The lush greenery that surrounds it stands in stark contrast to the latter's sterile hallways and as an odd reminder of the lone patient standing in the middle of a wall of plants. Summerland is the therapeutic retreat/base of operations of Dr. Melanie Bird, played by Jean Smart and glimpsed in the premiere. She wants to help David deal with his memories, reconstructing them in service of the truth that he’s not crazy but in fact very powerful. Dr. Bird tries to get David to deal with past traumas, but he is able to block or work around much of the psychically-aided "Memory Work." He's "too powerful," in Ptonomy's words.
I mentioned last week how the plight of the main character could be affecting for gay fans, and the show seemingly doubles down on that metaphor with this episode. Not only does David learn there’s nothing wrong with him, but he gets to figure out who he’s always been and draw strength from that. The relief from such self-actualization is palpable, but also means there’s work ahead.
What that work could be for David, Syd, Dr. Bird, and the others is possible to guess. There’s talk of a war, and there's obviously factions being drawn into some grand conflict. The stakes remain personal, since the episode ends on a cliffhanger involving David's sister, Amy. His consciousness still needs a lot of unraveling. The residents/workers try to help David physically by giving him an MRI to try and gauge his powers. Much as this did for the sinister Division Three, this doesn't go according to plan. At least no one gets a pen to the face here.
We are treated to more of the show's signature transitions along various timelines that converge in unexpected ways to keep the viewer off balance. What starts as a calming exercise in what is made to look like a giant copy machine becomes a memory, which turns out to be a therapy session, which leads to another vision. Legion is the rare show that makes me look forward to the next episode for its aesthetic choices as much as its narrative ones.