TV: Legion (Season 2)

What I loved most about Legion’s inaugural season was the fearless, inventive way it took superhero TV into unexpected new spaces. If anything, season two doubles down on this artistic vision, delivering an unforgivingly weird spectacle. At times, this makes the show feel indulgent, if not at times opaque. But it remains fiercely, impressively unique, and for that it’s won my admiration and allegiance.

After season one’s origin-story introduction to troubled, powerful mutant David Haller (Dan Stevens), season two propels us into the future for a new phase of the saga, pitting David and his companions against the sinister Shadow King (Navid Negahban), the parasitic mutant who infected David for decades. Now free of the Shadow King’s “possession,” David comes back from lengthy imprisonment in a magical orb to find his Summerland allies have joined forces with his “enemies” at Division 3. These former rivals have united to face the looming threat posed by the Shadow King, who remains at large. David’s return should improve the team’s chances—but then David has a mysterious encounter with a future version of his girlfriend Syd (Rachel Keller), who urgently convinces him he should be helping the Shadow King, casting him in stark opposition to the group’s mission.

That’s about as coherent a summary as I can manage, for season two of Legion isn’t very interested in conventional, linear narrative. Not that there isn’t a thoughtful structural core holding the season up; indeed, the twists and turns of the plot deliver the season to a satisfying destination. But the show is less interested in that destination than in its wild journey, and using that journey as a palette for relentless audio-visual experimentation. Bonkers worldbuilding, music-video montages, psychedelic imagery, and unsettling sound and visual effects abound. There are stirring action sequences, perplexing and amusing side plots, and nerve-wracking chills, all wonderfully unpredictable. It feels a little like AV prose poetry, a collage of loosely connected, vaguely sequential ideas that don’t so much tell a story as circuitously amount to one. Contributing to the unsettling atmosphere is intermittent, philosophical narration from Jon Hamm, which editorializes on the story even as it raises more questions than it answers.

Even moreso than the first season, Legion’s second is bound to polarize viewers. It’s messy. It can be quite sluggish and alienating. It might credibly be accused of being pretentious, or creatively perverse, or weird for the sake of it. Indeed, I watched the entire season and all those criticisms are legitimate. Yet—like Twin Peaks: The Return, with which it shares certain sensibilities—I loved every fucking minute of it. If Aubrey Plaza owned season one, this one belongs to Dan Stevens, who leans into a rich, multifaceted role with gleeful abandon. But there’s great work across the board, resulting in scads of riveting moments and at least one brilliant start-to-finish episode. The production values are superb, the dialogue sharp and compelling, the performances terrific—basically, all the elements of prestige TV. But in an age of superb television, Legion remains gloriously, steadfastly itself, and it really goes all in. The strange journey of Legion might not land all of its punches, but when they connect, they knock the wind right out of you. A breathtaking series.

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