David Heller (Dan Stevens) has certainly transformed since Season 1 of “Legion,” where he was once confined to a psychiatric hospital and told that he had schizophrenia. Now he has harnessed his life-altering powers, banished the ancient demon Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban), and wears a red tunic. He is not so much a mutant but rather “the Alpha and the Omega,” as he proclaims. David smokes blue vapor from the teats of a giant pig and runs a cult full of young people with “daddy issues” who will kill for him. In his own words, he is “God.”
And everyone in the apocryphal world of “Legion” is trying to kill him, including former girlfriend Sydney (Rachel Keller), whom he once horrifically wronged. Now he is trying to end the world and start again. Season 3 of the quietly popular FX series is a compelling departure. The latest season teeters towards a more straightforward sci-fi caper than in the earlier aughts. Watching the previous installments, told through the lens of a very unfaithful narrative steward (David), would sometimes feel like a fever dream. Reality would undulate between astral planes and monsters real and imagined.
Now the Marvel production that doesn’t quite feel like a superhero series has set its sights on deconstructing David, the one-time hero. “Legion,” a series with a “Blade Runner” aesthetic, the occasional didacticism of a “Black Mirror” episode, and a Tarkovskian approach to exploring what we really want, lays bare the hero complex.
In Season 3, audiences will learn more about David’s childhood and his deeply set fears. It accomplishes that while also painting a picture of a thoroughly modern superhero, who is really more of a narcissistic, world-be-damned villain. That first episode takes us into a commune of “Wild Wild Country” proportions, particularly fitting since David’s mantra is that everybody just wants to be loved, and shows the lengths that he will go to kill, bend time and space, use the people who care about him the most until they cave and try for a better life for himself.
One element that is poignant about the newest season is that the people with the real power are Switch (Lauren Tsai), a young woman with the power to time travel whom David asks to do his bidding, and his former lover Sydney. David, a mutant with sad blue eyes has all the power in the universe, and still cannot get outside of his own head. Switch feels like a welcome, and necessary addition to the series, without whom Season 3 might feel myopic and insular. But she brings new stakes and a compelling emotional core: a loneliness on account of incessantly feeling out of time and out of body. With her intense physical and emotional labor, she provides a sense of urgency to the series, and fresh eyes with which to view the tragedy and horror and occasional comedy–there are a surprising number of dance scenes.
One of Season 3’s most stunning performances, however, goes to Aubrey Plaza as Lenny. “Legion” has seen the actress in one of her most versatile roles, and she endows her character with an incomparable sense of comically cruel, deadpan humor. In a nod to “Alice in Wonderland” she wears in one scene a top hat while doling out red poison that she forces one unfortunate man to smoke out of a bong (that also, coincidentally, is shaped like a man with a very Trumpian comb-over). As Lenny, Plaza shows off her impeccable timing and utilizes her expressive eyes to translate a feeling of impending doom.
The newest season of “Legion” is remarkably grounded and precise for a series that explores everything from the fabric of time, the frailty of memory, and the relentlessness of a bruised ego. The pacing is slower, and tonally, it veers towards the somber. Fans have a chance to find their footing in this tight yet sweeping season. It’s a marvel just how ambitious this series is, and how it so expertly weaves between disparate character and story arcs while still feeling polished.
To enjoy this show, audiences need to relish its fractures and chaos. Admittedly, however, Season 3 is easier to parse than the previous two. But that’s partly because it is more of a crystallization of what Season 2 was building towards–particularly with that season’s frenetic, and quite shocking, finale. Season 3 is all about the chase, and is peppered with enough backstory to add a certain kind of gravitas.