“Chapter 23” delivers another strong, confounding episode that blends style with actual substance.
This recap of Legion Season 3, Episode 4, “Chapter 23”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Legion is a weird show — always has been. But it has also always been a bold and ambitious one that has sometimes — okay, let’s be frank, often — prioritized style over substance, so a playful concept like time travel suits it. It’s a good excuse for all the aesthetic and actorly flourish that the show built a fanbase on in the first place, but it’s also an opportunity to return to and reexamine old events from a new perspective.
Legion Season 3, Episode 4 isn’t the kind of time travel story that delights in time travel for its own sake, and it’s mostly unconcerned with all its attendant paradoxes and rules. Almost everything in Legion can be explained by saying “just because” anyway, except for its characters’ various motivations, which sometimes — again, probably often — deserve more context and depth than the show is willing to give them. “Chapter 23” is that kind of time travel story; one which revels in all the possibilities that come from being able to confront its heroes and villains with whatever is most terrifying or important to them.
The way “Chapter 23” accomplishes this is through the concept of “Time Demons”, meddlesome nuisances who play temporal tricks that allow for a scene in which Syd converses with her 16-year-old self, Lenny cruelly sees a life pass before her eyes, and David begs his mother to protect him from the Shadow King as she rots in a concentration camp. The idea of “Time Demons” is silly, obviously, but they’re a means to an end, not an end in themselves. What they mean for Legion Season 3, Episode 4 is that we get to see a potential turning point for Lenny, gain more clarity on Syd’s childhood — and a controversial sticking point that deserved more explanation in the first place — and feel some kind of sympathy for David, despite his many heinous actions and his reimagining in this new season as a straight-up villain.
All the meddling with the timeline also frees Cary from David’s control, and he, in turn, liberates Switch, leaving David alone at his lowest point yet, all but promising some serious shenanigans next week. “Chapter 23” was able to find a decent enough balance between plot development and introspection so that everyone left Legion Season 3, Episode 4 knowing they’d experienced it, including the audience — it wasn’t psychedelic filler or a rambling surrealist deviation, but a reiteration of important details and ideas that didn’t receive the right amount of attention the first time around, while also managing to shunt the overarching plot forward, even if it wasn’t by very much. Maybe by next week, I’ll have digested all the words this season has made me eat.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.