Before the title credits even rolled during last night’s episode of Legion, David (Dan Stevens) straight up asks Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) the thing that we have all been wondering: “Are you YOU at all?” Meaning: Is the Lenny that David sees remotely related to the Lenny he met at Clockworks? The version of Lenny he’s been encountering with Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement) isn’t the real Lenny, since she died way back in the first episode. Besides, this Lenny has no problem reminding David of memories that aren’t real, memories she was inserted into when she was the face of the Shadow King. But as she’s quick to point out — even fake memories are real in their way. They happened because they’re remembered. Reality exists in the mind.
[This theme is picked up in the episode’s obligatory Jon Hamm Lecture Corner, when the faceless Hammified narrator explains that while most animals experience reality via sensory input, humans construct reality in their mind. We see the color red as, well, red, because we’ve assigned it that meaning — and everyone agrees on it. If someone were to learn that what is red is actually called green, then their perception of reality would be different from everyone else’s even though “reality” itself hasn’t changed. And this is also maybe why humans are the only animal on earth that goes mad, according to Jon Hamm.]
And yet, it’s also clear that Lenny is something more than just an aspect of Amahl Farouk. Sure, for most of the episode Oliver and Lenny are acting in tandem as the Shadow King, right down to their creeptastic musical murder number in the halls of Division Three:
But eventually Amahl faces David as himself, to discuss the terms of David’s cooperation (in short: David will help find Amahl’s body, if Amahl agrees to stop fucking killing people). After David leaves, Lenny pops up with her own proposition: maybe now that Amahl doesn’t need to use her face to talk with David, he’ll let her go? She knows she’s dead, but thinks Amahl might have the power to make her a new body so she can go out and live her life. “I was thinking — you keep Oliver, right, and I’ll sneak out the back door!”
The implication is that the personas the Shadow King adopts are still somehow independent of him, with their own feelings and desires (“Do you know how long it’s been since I got laid, man?”, Lenny asks at one point). So are they merely serving his interests, like puppets with their strings being pulled? Or are they creations of his, extensions of him, that are delusional enough to think they’re independent?
And then Farouk unzips the motherfucking scene — LITERALLY, like WITH A BIG DAMN ZIPPER — and asks her what she’d do with a new life.
“I’d live the living shit out of it!”
“And then what?”
“… I guess I’d die again.”
“AND THEN WHAT?”
Lenny doesn’t have an answer.
But what’s really going on with Lenny is only the tip of the iceberg. There is no longer any “normal” in Legion — the show is determined to blur the boundary between the real world and the mindscape/perceptions of the characters because, as explained, reality exists in the mind anyway. So you can have David mentally meet Amahl by a fortune teller stand in a field, and also bring Division 3 to that place. One could be reality and one could be a mental projection, but there is no stylistic indicator to help the viewer know what’s what. Or rather, the show is both OVERLY stylized and evenly stylized. It can have Oliver swell up to Giant Jemaine-proportions during a fight, and he can fight alongside Lenny even though only Oliver’s body should actually, really, exist in that location — and yet the effects of the fight are “real”. Those people died, turned into sand and fish and pigs, and David witnesses the aftermath.
It goes both ways, of course, with the supposedly “mental” parts of the show presented in concrete ways. When David has a mental woo-woo power fight with Amahl, it’s more than just two characters squinting at each other. If the last episode treated it as a dance off, this episode has them wrestle. Until Amahl turns into a samurai, pointing out that David may be strong but he’s playing the wrong game. So then David meets the samurai as a tank, and Amahl in turn becomes a whirlwind.
No, Legion isn’t any closer to make logical, linear sense. Plot progression is dispensed in an off-hand way, like when David just confesses to Syd that he’s been lying and that he IS, in fact, helping the Shadow King — because Future Syd told him to (which Syd, bless her, accepts at face value: “If I said that you should do it, then you should do it”). But what the show IS doing is giving us a definitive superhero story of the mind. It’s easy to show Superman flying around, or Wolverine regenerating. It’s a hell of a lot harder to explore powers like telepathy and telekinesis not just visually, but thematically: the nature of the mind, and of perception, of mental illness and isolation and yes — reality itself. If you can control reality, is it even a thing that exists? Farouk believes that he and David have that power. And Future Syd knows that something big, bigger than the Shadow King, is coming — and that why she needs him alive.