So, are we all in agreement that “Chapter 11” was a filler episode? For one thing, there wasn’t even a dance sequence! Sure, it revealed a few precious nuggets of plot information, helping to lay the groundwork for David’s hunt for Farouk’s body. There was some interesting character work, especially with Kerry adjusting to her separate existence from Cary (apparently he handled all the eating and pooping before). But beyond that it seemed content to settle in and indulge in its own brand of philosophical, stylized weirdness.
For example: WTF was up with that cow?!
What I’m saying is, I think the show might just be trolling us all now. Not that I mind. Honestly, I’ll gladly sit through an hour of beautifully shot mindfuckery each week. Even if that’s all Legion adds up to, it’s still more satisfying to me than basically anything else I’ve got on my watchlist.
But I’m not writing off Legion just yet. There is still some substance hidden away in all the weirdness, as exemplified by the continued Jon Hamm Lecture Series. This week, the episode kicks right off with his narration, which discusses the “nocebo effect” and conversion disorder — two more examples of how the mind can, in a sense, create reality. The nocebo effect is similar to the placebo effect, but instead of a sham treatment making you feel better because you’re told it will, it makes you feel worse (because you’re told it will — so don’t trust your doctor, or something). Conversion disorder is more interesting: it’s where a mental stress converts into a physical symptom, like an uncontrollable tic — and it can spread, the way a yawn seems to be contagious.
As the Hammnator concludes: “If the idea of illness can become illness, what else about our reality is actually a disorder?”
This all ties into the main reveal of the episode, which involves the monks who have Farouk’s body, and the mysterious teeth-chattering psychic virus. IT’S ALL CONNECTED. Turns out that the Shadow King isn’t the one spreading the plague — a renegade monk is. But it’s also kind of Farouk’s fault? Anyway, Farouk has just been following in the monk’s wake, trying to track down his own body, which is why Division 3 thought he was the cause. Meanwhile the monk masqueraded as one of the teeth-chatterers from that night club so Division 3 would bring him back to their base. His goal? To gain information from Admiral Fukuyama about a weapon that can destroy the Shadow King once and for all.
Duh. It’s David. The weapon is obviously David.
In a mind-meld with the monk, David gets a glimpse at the hidden monastery and learns more about the order. After David’s father (that unknown yet powerful psychic!) defeated the Shadow King in a brain-fight, his body was packed into an egg-like coffin and handed off to an order monks for safe-keeping. They in turn buried that egg under their floor and tried to go on about their lives, only the Shadow King’s presence slowly drove them mad. It’s all very The Tell-Tale Heart. Some brothers go crazy, some become suicidal, and others… start chattering their teeth. Finally it seems the lone monk is the only one left unaffected.
So — the psychic chattering disease is some kind of conversion disorder. But is it spreading from the monk’s own anguish, or is it a manifestation of the effects that the Shadow King’s body had on everyone in the monastery? You know what, it probably doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s both! It may stem from the Shadow King, but the monk is its Typhoid Mary. What’s interesting to note is that, in a separate mind-meld David has with Farouk earlier in the episode, it appears that Lenny is also being driven mad in similar (albeit less teeth-chattery) ways. She begs him to help her get out, to put her out of her misery. She also tries to commit suicide twice, in the background of David’s talk with Farouk. Now that she is not longer the preferred guise of the Shadow King, her nebulous existence is weighing on her.
As the monk made his way to Fukuyama, the plague spread through Division 3, converting most of David’s allies into teeth-chatterers as well. Good thing David is the cure for that! Each character is trapped in a maze of their own desires: Ptonomy in a rose garden where he can’t remember anything, and Melanie in a text-based game where she exerts complete control. David enters their minds to wake them, and render them immune to future infection. It’s a neat excuse for a little character study, but the only real purpose it serves is to demonstrate another aspect of David’s powers.
Far more interesting is what the disease itself is meant to convey: the influence that the mind exerts on reality, and the interconnectedness of us all. If season one was about David discovering that what he thought was his own mental illness was actually his mutant abilities, season two seems to be almost a course-correction. It’s doubling down on the reality of mental illness instead of waving it away. It’s creating a world that visualizes delusions and disorders as tangibly as any other object in space, where a psychic plague can trap characters in the mazes of their minds and anything we see could be a symptom of some unknown illness. If we, the viewers, also can’t tell up from down anymore — then isn’t that the point? The show is our shared delusion, existing in our minds and on our channel guides. It’s the cow that disappears and reappears, that everyone can see but makes no sense.
Wait, is THAT what the cow was supposed to represent? I’m so fucking confused, you guys.