WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week's episode of Legion, "Chapter 21," which aired Monday on FX.
The Season 3 premiere of Legion offered a few hints that David (Dan Stevens) isn’t as serene as his new persona would suggest -- not that any of us would have believed it anyway. In the second episode, his issues are fully on display: This is, indeed, the man who could end the world with a temper tantrum.
The worst sign that he’s off the deep end is also the explanation for why everyone around him acts so cheerful and loving. David’s commune is a miasma of the vaporous drug first seen in flashbacks to his junkie past, then used by Melanie throughout Season 2. He’s found a way to produce it, apparently from thin air, and feeds it in liquid form to a giant sow which pumps the vapor out of her teats and into the air. The effect keeps his followers in a perpetual state of bliss ... and willing obedience.
He’s also not above using his psychic powers on others directly to change moods and minds. This includes his right-hand-woman Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), whose fanatical devotion to him has evolved into jealousy over his new favorite, Switch (Lauren Tsai). Instead of addressing Lenny’s dissatisfaction, David makes her happy by telling her she’s happy -- a shortcut that's bound to come back to bite him at some point.
Lenny is still the face of the cult and a primary target of Division 3, but their attempt to capture her backfires, allowing her to kidnap Cary (Bill Irwin) at David’s command. After being exposed to David’s mental manipulation, he’s put to work developing a device to boost Switch’s time travel powers. David has a clear goal in mind and all the right tools at his disposal to achieve it, and it’s not even that bad of an idea, on paper: if Switch can help him do it safely, why not go back to the beginning and start over?
But we’re not taking his side at this point, and it’s not about the potential dangers in his plan. Without even getting into his mental instability, David just isn’t a good guy anymore. He’s become petty and selfish, sulking over his (formidable) past suffering and using it to justify having his way in everything. When he’s unable to enter Switch’s time traveling portal, one senses that his frustration is less about the obstacle itself, and more about encountering something that he can’t control.
One thing is clear: No matter how much it may affect billions of innocent bystanders, this conflict is deeply personal. David and Division 3 both claim to be trying to save the world through their respective methods, but how much of the conflict between them is really about that, and how much are they motivated by mutual feelings of betrayal? When David approaches Syd (Rachel Keller) through an astral projection, he doesn’t sound like a madman or supervillain, just an ex-boyfriend who wants to prove his love but refuses to take responsibility for the way the relationship ended.
The way the conversation progresses, however, suggeststhere isn’t actually much of a difference. “Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them’?” Syd asks, trying to make David see what she’s endured. He doesn’t pause to think about it before responding with an affronted, “No, that’s awful.”
After she reminds him that it’s foretold he’ll end the world, David’s rage seeps into his chemical production, replacing the vibrant blue liquid with a scarlet variant. When tested on David’s harmlessly daft henchman Squirrel, it makes him violent and angry (although not, it’s worth noting, in any way that makes him useful as a weapon).
It’s almost too blatant to be called a metaphor: David’s internal problems infect everyone around him. The protagonist’s character development is currently up in the air with the fate of the world, but unlike most apocalyptic stories, this one puts the latter as a direct consequence of the former. David needs to get past the delusion cited in the last season’s narration, that “other people don’t matter”, and to understand the kind of catastrophe that he could unleash through his own emotions.
So far, he’s not even close.
Airing Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX, Legion stars Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Bill Irwin, Amber Midthunder, Jeremie Harris, Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement, Hamish Linklater and Navid Negahban.