“Chapter 21” found just the right balance between character, plot, and psychedelic flourish in a refreshingly slight and surprisingly effective episode.
This Legion Season 3, Episode 2 recap for the episode titled “Chapter 21” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
All the best villains believe themselves to be the heroes of their own stories, and David Haller is no different. He might be a schizophrenic mutant with unquantifiable psychic powers, but he believes he’s a victim. He wants to “save the world”, but not because that’s the right thing to do — he wants to erase his mistakes, to garner attention and sympathy and praise, to make Syd forget what he did and what he’s capable of doing again. In a way, despite his immense power, he’s just pathetic.
Does this make David sympathetic? I don’t know about that. His delusion is too obvious. His plan is too prideful. He doesn’t show any remorse for his actions, or really any awareness of how what he did was wrong; he believes, in an almost childlike way, that his ability to fix it means it shouldn’t matter. He can just make it go away, like wiping up a spillage or sweeping away something broken. But once something has been broken, the pieces never fit together in quite the same way.
This was the essence of the conversation between David and Syd, which was the highlight of “Chapter 21”, in part because it felt about as human as this show ever gets. Syd has long-since become a more important character than David because of that humanity; David’s powers isolate him somewhat, ensure he plays by different rules, that he should be considered different. He’s super, but he’s not the hero. Syd’s role is to be someone who we can believe David would want to change the timeline just to win back, but we’re supposed to be rooting for her when she tells him that his plan to have her forget the crime ever occurred is self-serving nonsense.
This exchange was more effective at characterizing David as a villain than any of his hippie cult-leader shenanigans, and when he went away to sulk about it, he felt more dangerous than he perhaps ever has. It isn’t about his powers, it’s about his mental state; all-powerful psychic or not, the crux of the matter is that he’s a self-entitled abuser, and people like that tend not to take rejection particularly well.
Legion Season 3, Episode 2 worked on that level, I’m pleased to report, much more so than, say, Lenny conducting an Alice in Wonderland-themed smoke session or the weird interpretive dance routines of Cary and Kerry. Cary, by the way, was kidnapped by David in “Chapter 21” in order to devise a solution for Switch’s inability to take David through time. At present, only she can access the timestream, through helpfully labeled doors, which means she can warn David of future events — such as the Forces of Division raids in the previous episode — but she can’t yet position him to rewrite events for himself.
All that is coming, I’m sure. “Chapter 21” was a refreshingly slight episode of Legion, and I’m pleased it didn’t try to cram too much in; a show so prone to silly diversions is better when it doesn’t have time to include them. In the margins are further interesting questions that are thus far without answers — the Shadow King’s true intentions, in particular, being one of them. And while it’s rare I’m forced to eat my words, here we are. So far, at least, I don’t mind Legion‘s third season. I’m even slightly looking forward to next week.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.