I was as wary as I was excited about this premiere, though the most satisfying part of the credits is that Bryan Singer's name is not in them. Legion remains one of my favorite shows, but the latter half of the first season saw a steady retreat into more typical superhero fare, and I wasn't sure what form this second season opener would take. Would it be the innovative burst of energy that carried the show through its first four episodes? Or the empty burst of bright colors that defined the finale for me? I should have known showrunner and master of reinvention Noah Hawley would discover a third option; this episode is certainly energetic, but not in the way the previous season would lead anyone to expect.
"Chapter 9" establishes a new status quo, getting it out of the way pretty early with a discussion between David and Ptonomy over waffles: Summerland has been absorbed into Division 3, and there's a new threat beyond the common enemy of Farouk the Shadow King. The general overview of the whole enterprise is neatly laid out, with chyrons to provide context and new characters introduced without subtlety but enough ambiguity to make us wonder if they’re real.
Syd continues, explaining there's a virus called The Catalyst that's somehow being caused by the Shadow King (still trapped in Oliver Bird's body). This provides the first creeping shock of the episode: a crowd of frozen people with incessantly chattering teeth. Symptoms are announced throughout the episode via Division 3's speakers. "Beware of ideas that are not your own" is ominous on several levels.
The design and direction continue to astound. Director Tim Mielants evokes film auteurs David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jeff Russo's score enhances the action and atmosphere, as do the soundtrack selections, which include The Rolling Stones and Jane's Addiction. Horizontal planes are presented vertically, eyes become spheres become nightclubs become eyes again. Hexagons make Division 3 look like a honeycomb, but also contrast with the circles and lines presented elsewhere.
Constant motion is a theme, with the camera movements and the characters. Summerland moves to Division 3. Everyone rarely sits still. There's a dance sequence that couldn’t be more different than the one in the Legion S01 premiere. Objects and people transform, enemies become allies, and a person becomes a cat. Some may complain that this means the show continues to put style over substance, but I defy anyone to see the tears shed at David and Syd's reunion and not feel something.
An endgame is provided via the Vermillions, three "women with mustaches" who are apparently part machine and immune to David's powers, who serve as the mouthpieces for Admirial Fukyama, the head of Division 3. The Shadow King is hunting for his physical body, so that the psychic projection currently inhabiting Oliver Bird can reunite with it and become more powerful than ever. David literally describes it as a race, and hopefully this MacGuffin won't come to dominate the season. My concerns are not allayed, but at least this proves that no one delivers exposition quite like this show, either.