[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Legion” Season 2, Episode 1, “Chapter 9.”]
Let’s get two things out of the way right off the bat: Yes, that’s Jon Hamm’s voice you heard as the narrator, and no, the black, gooey “delusion” was not an homage to “Twin Peaks” — not intentionally, anyway.
The second season premiere of “Legion” is flush with imagination — from a talking cat to a time-traveling version of Syd (Rachel Keller) — but there are two moments that stand out beyond the intricate narrative, so let’s focus on those before diving into whether or not we think David (Dan Stevens) should be following his future girlfriend’s advice.
The man welcoming you to madness is, in fact, a former “Mad” man himself. It turns out Don Draper’s dulcet tones aren’t just made for advertisements; he can build a mental maze as well as Dr. Robert Ford or even read an ancient Chinese text without sounding culturally insensitive. Speaking to IndieWire, creator Noah Hawley confirmed Hamm will be narrating what he refers to as “educational segments.”
“[They’re] sort of like ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ or whatever, which is really trying to understand well, what is a delusion, right? We talk about that idea, but it’s just words,” Hawley said to IndieWire. “But what if we could visualize it and say, ‘All right, well, here’s what a healthy idea looks like, and here’s what an unhealthy idea looks like’?”
Here, Hawley is referring to another segment narrated by Hamm: the birth of a delusion. In the scene, Hamm’s unnamed narrator describes how an idea can transform into a twisted reality. First, he told the story of Xiang Xiu and the butterfly, leading up to the moment where “he didn’t know if he was Xiang Xiu dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who was dreaming he was Xiang Xiu.” Then, he outlined a story about Albert A, a man who stumbled and was then convinced his right leg “did not belong to him.”
Even though that story ended in gruesome fashion, what follows is even more striking — for “Twin Peaks” fans, anyway.
Emerging from an egg similar to one that birthed a healthy idea, a delusion is born. That delusion is embodied by a Darth Vader-looking monster with the legs of an insect and a jagged body it drags across the floor. Oh, and it’s completely covered in oily goop.
“For a delusion to thrive, other more rational ideas must be rejected, destroyed,” Hamm says. “Only then can the delusion blossom into full-blown psychosis.”
With that, the black, gooey, anti-chick kills the bright, fuzzy, baby chick and is swallowed whole by Lenny (Aubrey Plaza).
What comes to mind right away — aside from choking back your gag reflex — is David Lynch’s widely hailed “Part 8,” the eighth episode of “Twin Peaks: The Return” that witnessed a disgusting creature hatch from an egg, crawl across the desert, climb up a window, and insert itself into a sleeping girl’s mouth. Here, in a white fantasy world, a disgusting creature hatches from an egg, crawls across the ground, kills an innocent chick, and is inserted into Lenny’s mouth. (Or she just kisses it — that part is somewhat unclear.)
Either way, the parallels are clear, and it’s not the first time “Legion” has been compared to “Twin Peaks.” Hawley is an outspoken fan of Lynch’s original series, so did the landmark episode of television inspire part of his Season 2 premiere?
“No, no,” Hawley said. “I would have to go back and look at the timeline [but] that script has been around for a long time. By ‘a long time,’ I mean I don’t think that I had seen that episode of ‘Twin Peaks’ before we’d put [the script] into motion.”
Though it’s worth noting Hawley has made accidental homages before, what was important to him about the scene was finding a way to visually illustrate the concept of a healthy idea vs. an unhealthy idea, and herein lies the beauty of the absolutely bonkers “Chapter 9”: There’s no way of knowing who’s delusional.
By the end of the hour, David has been visited by Syd from the future, and she tells him to help Farouk (a.k.a. The Shadow King) find his body. But Admiral Fukuyama already warned David that if Farouk finds his body, he’ll be “unstoppable.” Which is true? That’s delightfully, mind-bogglingly unclear.
The episode concludes with a mesmerized David standing in place as Lenny kisses him in the club — much like she kisses the delusion/chick — and he stares at a sleeping Syd. Did Lenny plant the delusion inside David’s mind to make him think he’s doing the right thing by helping Farouk? Are Clark (Hamish Linklater) and the other Division 3 elites right to be suspicious of David’s intentions? Or is David more powerful than Lenny and the Shadow King suspect? Perhaps he’s playing them all in order to annihilate the body and spirit in one fell swoop.
The ominous ending seems to indicate otherwise, but “Legion” is a series capable of becoming the illustration of its own idea. In a way, it already has — there’s no way of knowing we’re trapped inside a delusion. Either:
- You accept David is being manipulated by Farouk, which could be a delusion itself.
- You reject the idea that David is being manipulated, which could be self-delusional.
There’s no way to confirm either theory until the show does. It’s a maze of Hawley’s design. Either way, Hawley expertly controls the chaos to a point where finding our way out is a fun challenge, not an exhausting burden.
“Welcome to madness.” We’re glad to be back.
Reporting by Liz Shannon Miller. “Legion” Season 2 airs new episodes Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.