“We’re more than just … this. I’ve been a Chinese man, a 300-pound woman, a 5-year-old girl, but everywhere I go, I’m me.”
— Syd Barrett
There’s undoubtedly a deeper meaning to be found in the Japanese folktale “Tsuru no Ongaeshi” (“Crane’s Return of a Favor”), told by the voice of Summerland’s coffeemaker to Melanie; perhaps a warning about the danger of peering behind doors that are better left closed. But the scene takes on a heartbreaking new facet when we realize the voice, like that of the elevator, belongs to Melanie’s husband Oliver, who with Cary Loudermilk founded this haven for mutants 30 years ago. He may not be dead — Melanie’s sidestepping of Syd’s question suggests that much — but he’s certainly no longer with them, leaving his wife to reenact this ritual each morning, simply so she can enjoy the sound of his voice, telling the same story again and again.
It’s emblematic, perhaps, of the sorrow and subterfuge that lurk at the boundaries of this woodland retreat, which promises safety and answers, yet is unable to ensure either. “You think Melanie’s on your side?” Lenny, dead but possibly never alive, taunts David at one point, giving voice to his doubts. “That bitch’s secrets have secrets.”
But then again, so too do David’s, and it’s his that consume Melanie Bird and Ptonomy Wallace, as well as “Legion” itself.
Forced to accelerate their memory work because of the danger David’s sister Amy faces at the hands of Division 3, Melanie and Ptonomy return to his mind in hopes of uncovering memories previously blocked or erased. Under normal circumstances, this might be an easy enough task, but while David may not be mentally ill, as he’d long been led to believe, he’s definitely not “normal.”
Back in the apartment David shared with his girlfriend, they again witness him getting high on the mysterious blue vapor, only to be caught by Philly, until that moment unaware of his secret addiction. It’s the event that triggered the telekinetic incident in the kitchen we’ve seen repeatedly in “Legion’s” first three episodes, albeit without context. Here, we’re given another small piece of the puzzle — what David and Philly were fighting about — only to be left with even more questions. Although we see Lenny in the apartment getting high with David and even trying to wrestle away the cake Philly brought home, Melanie and Ptonomy don’t acknowledge her presence. And when David unleashes his power in the kitchen, she’s nowhere to be seen. It may be further evidence that Lenny was a figment of David’s imagination even then.
Of course, Melanie and Ptonomy also can’t see the Demon With Yellow Eyes, even as the disturbances within David’s head begin to have an effect on them. When they try to withdrawal to a safe distance, Ptonomy finds he’s unable to move within the memories. But when David intercedes, he physically teleports them from Summerland’s glass-and-steel memory cube “600 feet, through two solid walls” to a room within the complex. “What are you?” Ptonomy asks.
Although David may be unable to answer that, Syd has already resolved the same question about herself. While her boyfriend struggles with what, or who, he is — burying one memory just as another is unearthed — Syd is philosophical about her body-swapping powers and the issues they raise about identity. “It’s not my body, y’know,” she tells David as he clumsily tries to describe what it was like to inhabit her body, if only for a couple of hours. “It’s just how I’ve come to think about it, if anyone can just come and go.”
David proves once again he can come and go at will when Cary makes another attempt to chart his memories and brain activity. Instructed to think of something stressful, David’s mind drifts back to a Halloween when his dog ran off, bringing him face to face with the Angriest Boy in the World come to life. It’s a traumatic enough memory to trigger another display of David’s powers, shaking the laboratory, threatening to overload the equipment and, ultimately, projecting him and Syd — their astral forms, at least — to the Division 3 facility where The Eye and Brubaker are interrogating Amy Haller. It’s there we learn that part of her might have always suspected her brother wasn’t truly mentally ill.
“Amy, didn’t you once tell your husband it felt like you grew up in a haunted house?” Brubaker asks. “Strange noises in the night, things moving on your own, you’d leave your brother in the bathroom, and you’d find him wandering outside …” Hitting a nerve, he presses on, insisting, “You let him put them in that place, when you knew — you knew — there was something else going on, something magical. Your brother has psychic powers, he’s a god. And you let them turn him into a fool.”
However, before he can drill down further, the interrogation is interrupted by The Eye, who demonstrates there’s more to his code name than the cloudy cornea: Detecting David and Syd, he startles them, sending them back not to Cary’s lab but to the waters of Summerland’s lake. “Hey, if you learn to control that, you’re going to become a world-class badass,” a soak-and-wet Syd marvels. Their unexpected journey also provides a few more details about Summerland and Division 3, as Melanie is forced to acknowledge to David and Syd that she knows The Eye, who was among the first mutants discovered by Cary and her husband Oliver. “They found Walter, but he wasn’t like them,” she admitted. “He wanted to hurt people …”
The brief encounter with The Eye leads Melanie to redouble her efforts to unlock David’s memories, and take on risks that might have otherwise avoided. “You’re too important, because we’re at war, and we’re losing,” she tells him, “and you may be the most powerful mutant alive.” Asked by a skeptical Syd whether she simply wants to “fix him so you can use him,” Melanie convincingly replies, “No. I want to fix him because he deserves to be healthy, and he deserves to be happy. And then I want to use him.”
Worried about his sister’s safety, David has little concern for his own, which leaves Syd to look out for his own interests. When Melanie suggests they sedate him, to lower his defenses, before they reenter his mind, Syd insists she accompany them — over David’s objections. He doesn’t want her to see his time as a junkie, but there are much darker things lurking in the recesses of memory.
As fractured and dangerous as David’s mind can be, however, it also possesses glimmers of tenderness. Transported to the incident that led to hit committal to Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, Melanie, Ptonomy and Syd are accompanied not by the adult David but by his 8-year-old form. As Melanie explains, the sedative subdues his rational brain, leaving the child as the only part of his mind that remains awake. Unencumbered by the rules of the physical world, Syd is able to hug this version of David, a moment that’s broken only by Ptonomy’s desire to press on.
They likely wish they’d remained in the alleyway, though, as David’s burglary of his psychiatrist’s office quickly goes sideways, first with “memories within memories” — ghost-like visions and sound from a therapy session — and then with tremors that, remarkably, only Syd and young David can feel. Even as Syd warns the others, she sees a fissure open in the office wall, which pours out ominous red light and a grasping, clawing hand. Ptonomy’s attempt to extract them from the memory fails, leaving Syd to follow a panicked 8-year-old David as he flees through memory, Dr. Poole’s office giving way to David’s apartment and then to his childhood home, pursued by first the Angriest Boy in the World and then the Demon With Yellow Eyes.
Syd is somehow able to free herself before waking Ptonomy, but Melanie is left his David’s mind. She creeps through his childhood home, pausing as she sees his mother and father, and they seemingly see her. It’s a moment notable not only for that apparent flash acknowledgement but also for the first time we’ve seen the face of David’s father. In his previous appearances, through David’s eyes, his face as been obscured by shadow. It’s difficult to say which aspect made Melanie pause, but she’s drawn upstairs by the sounds of a dog whimpering and scratching at a door; considering the earlier Halloween memory, that can’t be a good sign for poor King.
In David’s childhood bedroom, Melanie pages through the increasingly disturbing book “The World’s Angriest Boy in the World,” which probably isn’t advisable under the best of circumstances. Story time ends predictably and violently, with the book slammed by the Demon With Yellow Eyes, seemingly disfiguring her hand. But Melanie abruptly awakes, traumatized by physically unharmed. “It’s OK, it’s not real,” Ptonomy says, trying to soothe her. “It’s just a memory; they can’t hurt you.”
Syd, however, remains unconvinced: “”I’m not sure those are memories.”
That, of course, leads us to wonder, if they’re not memories then what are they? Constructions of David’s subconsciousness? Something intruding into his mind from elsewhere? And why is it that Syd could feel the tremors, see the fissure in the wall and even free herself from David’s mind when Ptonomy, a “memory artist,” couldn’t? It’s possible all of that may be a side effect of swapping bodies with David, but given that this is “Legion,” the answer is undoubtedly much bigger, and more complicated, than that.
Odds and Ends
- Kerry Loudermilk displays her mutant ability twice in this episode. I’d theorized after the premiere that she might by pyrokinetic, but at first glance her she seemed to demonstrate Kitty Pryde-like phasing abilities. However, I think it’s more complicated than that; she appears to split from Cary, as if they’re two different aspects of the person, he the intellectual and she the physical. It would certainly add a new layer to that Cary/Kerry confusion.
- The circular window with that X-shaped pane at Summerland can’t be by accident, can it? That has to be a subtle X-Men shoutout.