Warning: this review contains spoilers for Legion season 2, episode 1
Legion season two opens with a narrator (Armie Hammer, is that you?) delivering a monologue about a maze that exists only in the mind – a maze that is pointless to explore and which only leads to madness.
Legion's first season could very well have ended up being just like that maze. By design, the show's main character was an enigma and its many imaginative, inspired and downright batshit flights of fancy could have made it infuriating – a pointless maze. But the series played fair and answered all of its obtuse questions and weird mysteries by the end, and it wound up being both stylish and satisfying.
The sheer panache with which it was all presented meant that any other niggles or shortcomings could be easily forgiven. And if you thought Legion's debut was bonkers… Well, buckle up.
With the Shadow King having abandoned David (Dan Stevens) for Oliver (Jemaine Clement), you might expect that Legion would calm down a bit or become more conventional. After all, much of the madness we bore witness to last year took place in David's brain/the astral plane as he battled his demons. Will a healthier David mean a more grounded show? Not a bit of it.
David may have his marbles back this season, but Legion wouldn't be Legion without the gob-smacking presentation, and if anything, the production this year has doubled-down on the visual gymnastics. The execution is exceptional.
Plot-wise, it's been a year (well, 362 days) since David was whisked off in a mysterious orb, and it's been all change in his absence, although to David's mind, he's only been gone for a few hours. The rest of the team have since been absorbed into Division 3 and each plays an integral role in the organisation that once hunted them.
The Shadow King remains in Oliver's body, but has eluded capture as he scours the world for his original body, as reuniting with it will supposedly make him (it?) all-powerful. Complicating matters further is a terrible affliction that seems to be affecting anyone in the vicinity of the Shadow King – one that causes people to become stuck, frozen-like mannequins, with the notable exception of their constantly chattering teeth. (More than anything in season one, the look and sound of the chatterers is pure, undiluted nightmare fuel.)
We also have one notable new character – or should that be characters? – in the leader of Division 3, a man who wears a wicker basket on his head and is flanked by three ambiguously gendered androids who represent his bio-mechanical brain and speak like an auto-tuned YouTube video.
Like we said: Legion is still very much Legion.
Almost every element of the production in Noah Hawley's breathtaking series is designed to be more inventive and visually adventurous than anything else out there. From the costumes (Ptonomy's blue pinstripes) to the set dressing (Division 3 is adorned with a recurring hexagon motif) to the inspired musical choices, everything is delivered with an extravagant flourish.
Why have a regular canteen when you can have a Yo Sushi-style waffle boat carousel? Why have David stand in front of a regular wall or window when he can be set against an image of a trippy, perspective-skewing spiral staircase (does it spiral up, or down?)? Even David and Syd's (Rachel Keller) sex scene in the astral 'white room' is edited and cut innovatively (and is potentially compromised by the icky black 'delusion' creature we see in the gorgeously animated second lesson from 'Armie Hammer').
Every frame of Legion simply drips with invention: absolutely no shot is wasted. There's plenty of exposition in this opening episode, but you might not even notice, as it's all presented in ways that feel fresh and alive with possibility. Syd's anxiety over David's disappearance is told in shorthand as she seemingly holds her breath for nigh on a whole year, while – most significantly – the revelation of what happened to David within the orb is told through an elaborate game of Pictionary using sparklers.
It's here that the series' main plot seems to coalesce, as we meet a grubby, vaguely post-apocalyptic-looking Syd from the future, who suggests that David needs to help the Shadow King find his body. Perhaps they will need his abilities to help fight off some even more powerful foe? Bitter enemies being forced to work together is, after all, a comic-book staple.
There also seems to be more humour in the script, be it the Interrogator's story about eating ice cream when faced with hackneyed memory loss plots being punctuated hilariously with a bowl of ice cream being delivered, or Cary's new amplification
daiquiri – sorry, amplification device (Cerebro, anyone?).
And of course, there's a full-blown five-minute nightclub dance-off between Dan Stevens, Jemaine Clement and Aubrey Plaza, because of course there is.
Legion may not be the deepest show on television, but it is the most multi-layered, and far and away the most lavish. It's a superhero story that eschews almost everything its cinematic counterparts revel in, but feels absolutely true to its comic-book roots. In fact, Noah Hawley's vision jettisons most of the laws of normal TV storytelling, preferring instead to simply cut loose with one dazzling idea after another; convention be damned.
It's difficult to imagine that Legion's in-your-face idiosyncrasy won't eventually grow wearying (the introduction of time-travel elements is often dangerous for a show like this) but when the sensory experience of watching is as deliriously, deliciously bonkers as it is here, you can't help but just go along for the wild ride.
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