Before we begin, I would like to give a shout out to April Klocko (my viewing partner for Legion), Miranda Lowe, and Liam Berry. Their ideas and contributions helped shape this into something superior to what I would have written on my own.
The second season of Legion recently wrapped, and to say its been polarizing is an understatement. Legion, from day one, has led several viewers to question the reality of anything seen on screen. Season two has been described by many on social media as uneventful, which I think does a disservice to the series. So much happens in every episode, but Legion is far more concerned with its characters and the nature of their reality than it is with big plot development. I believe that when you spend time in a slow burn with characters as fascinating as the ones on Legion, there is never a moment wasted.
Using the second season’s most controversial moment, David Haller’s rape of his girlfriend Syd Barrett, I will pull elements of the second season together to explore the central themes of social hysteria and the measurement of our reality versus truth. I am not questioning whether David raped Syd or not; I believe he did. I only want to explore how the season leads to this crucial moment of immoral action and what can be taken away from it. To emphasize this, I will take the lessons learned from Legion and apply them to a recent instance of social hysteria.
Part One: Nocked Narration
We begin with anchor points. (Anchor point is an archery term that refers to a point in which the arrow rests on the bow, or the firing hand rests on the face. It is used to provide stability.) In our context, an anchor point grounds the audience, usually a concept or a character allowing the audience to feel confident that what they are viewing is in fact true. A protagonist is one of the most common forms of an anchor point, as it allows us to know who the hero of the tale is, or serve as indication of whose story we are following.
Each episode of Legion is called a Chapter, but within each episode there are segments also called chapters. The second season of Legion uses a series of narrational asides to provide additional story context, and are first introduced in Chapter Nine as chapter 3: Delusions. Throughout the season, we return to these segments where we are anchored with the concept that delusions are ideas that grow in our minds. The idea of a delusion is explored as it relates to mass social hysteria and witch hunts, and it is emphasized that their growth is dependent on killing any rational thought that could replace it.
In the finale, the chapter 3 aside appears in David’s mind, playing on a television in the background when he first meets his other personalities. It reappears after he rapes Syd, after erasing her feelings of distrust towards him so she will love him again. This indicates that David is mired in delusions and unable to see his actions in the same light that the audience does.
Part Two: The Delusions of David
Now we return to the character under evaluation: David Haller, the man who will become Legion, Destroyer Of Worlds. In the first season, David Haller fought the demon in his head: Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King. Any time something bad happened, Amahl was David’s scapegoat. In the second season, David hunts Amahl in the real world. As the season progresses, David’s grip on reality continually slips. There are two cornerstones to David’s perception of himself and his reality. From the very start of Legion, David believes fundamentally that he is a good person. His second cornerstone is that he believes in love and he is worthy of love.
Some on social media believe that David turns to a villain over the course of the last two episodes, but I would argue against this. The entire season builds to his fall from grace by warping David’s cornerstone beliefs into delusion. Beliefs can be used to maintain a grip on reality and are often reinforced by what those around us say; unfortunately, delusions can also be influenced by those around us and pull us out of reality. David’s delusion leads to him raping Syd, an act that David is unable to recognize as such. To understand how these cornerstone beliefs become delusion, we must look at his relationship with Syd.
Throughout the second season, David returns to something Syd said in Chapter Twelve.
“Love isn’t gonna save us. It’s what we have to save. Pain makes us strong enough to do it. All our scars, our anger, our despair. It’s armor. Baby, God loves the sinners best ’cause our fire burns bright, bright, bright. Burn with me.”
The “God loves the sinners best” monologue is tied to David’s delusion that “I am a good man and I deserve love” no matter what actions taken.
David’s belief that he is a good man is slowly warped into a delusion as he makes increasingly immoral decisions based on the idea that his beliefs and reality are unshakable. David uses Syd’s monologue to justify his actions, even when he tortures his friends, consistently lies to Syd, or begins to influence others in the same moralistically mired manner as Farouk, such as when he enlists Clarke and the Loudermilks to help him find and kill Farouk in Chapter 16. Throughout the season, David sees himself as the hero even as he commits increasingly unheroic acts.
David’s moral judgement is the rational thought that is killed. In its place, David develops a God complex over the course of the season. The growth of his God Complex is accompanied by increased violence and David’s enjoyment of it. By the time we reach the finale of the second season, David wants to kill Farouk, not only for justice, but in a manner in which he will find enjoyment.
David’s sense of reality is shattered in the finale, when he believes everyone around him is judging him for actions taken by a future David who destroys the world. Syd is the first to confront him, but she is confronting him not about Legion’s future actions but about the pleasure David takes from torturing and mentally enslaving those around him. David is unable to take responsibility for these violent urges and blames Farouk, much as he did in the first season when Farouk still resided within his brain. David not only relies on Syd’s words as justification but also on Farouk’s actions, using him as a scapegoat so he does not have to face the reality of his own actions. Later, Syd (with help from Farouk) is able to wrest the others out from under David’s mental influence and they too turn on him. David continues to argue that they are judging him by the actions of another man, a future David he may never become, but he is unable to see how close he already is to becoming him.
Furthermore, the “Love is not what will save us, it is what we must save” line is directly linked to David’s delusion of “I deserve love.” The rational thoughts it kills are the qualities that prove he is worthy of love. Syd’s reinforcement that love must be saved provides David with the justification used when he alters her memories to forget Farouk’s words and David’s violent actions. He believes he must save their love even if it means making Syd forget that she questions her love for him. David was raised in part by a man (Farouk) who took all his choices away, so this form of toxic masculinity is what he knows best. The foundational idea that he is worthy of love is warped into the delusion that David deserves love.
David relies on his relationship with Syd to reaffirm these two warped cornerstones: that he is good and that he deserves love. Legion repeatedly shows us that she is the foundation upon which his reality is based. This speaks incredibly true to many unhealthy relationships in real life. We can use our images of others and ourselves to justify the most horrible things, failing to see ourselves and others as we really are. From David’s perspective, when he erases her memories, he is saving her from Farouk. From that understanding, he is having consensual sex with her later in the episode. But just because it is our reality does not mean it is a universal truth and this is one of the questions Legion constantly asks of the audience: what is truth?
Part Three: Adolescence vs. Adulthood
Syd Barrett is not only the foundation of David’s reality but also a complex character in her own right. Legion‘s second season gives us a deeper look at Syd, breaching a surface only skimmed in the first. The Syd-centric episode, Chapter 12, follows David as he relives some of Syd’s childhood memories while trying to discover why Syd chose these memories to share with him (these leads to the monologue discussed in detail during the previous section of this article).
These memories cast Syd in the same light David finds himself caught at the end of the season. We see an adolescent Syd use her own powers (the ability to swap consciousnesses) for violent purposes, although never to the extremes that she confronts David over. More importantly, we see Syd commit an act of rape that shows a level of self-awareness that David’s rape does not. Syd’s mutant ability is used to swap minds with her mother. Syd, within her mother’s body, then has sex with her mother’s boyfriend in the shower. During intercourse, their bodies return to their minds, and the boyfriend is arrested after Syd’s mother discovers him in the shower with her adolescent daughter.
Both Syd and David commit morally questionable acts this season, but we judge David more harshly for them than Syd. There are two reasons for this. The first is the age difference when they commit the act. Syd is an adolescent, and we expect adolescents to do more morally questionable things while they attempt to discover themselves. Moral judgement is something learned from our surroundings. Society and those around us, both peers and elders, teach right from wrong, but we still need time to figure things out on our own.
David is a fully-grown adult when he commits rape. However, given what we know about David, we’re seeing him in a form of adolescence in Legion‘s second season. His abilities, like our mental capacities during youth, are growing and he is being shaped by them and those around him: Farouk, his elder; and Syd, his peer. This isn’t meant to justify David’s actions, but to explore where the mindset behind them comes from. Farouk’s toxic influence is tied to David’s mental manipulations. He believes that if he knows best, then it is okay to take away choice from those around him which also ties into David’s growing God complex.
Adolescence is a time when we follow the examples of our peers over our elders. As both David’s peer and his girlfriend, Syd arguably has the strongest influence on David, who relies on her to shape him into a good person whether she wants the responsibility or not. When Syd shares her influential childhood memories with David, his grip on reality is loose at best and the influence these memories and Syd have can be seen when David makes the same morally questionable moves in the aftermath. David intends for Syd to be the counterpoint to Farouk’s influence, but as Farouk and Syd’s stories become more intertwined, that line is blurred; quite literally in the form of a future version of Sydney Barrett, who manipulates David to Farouk’s advantage.
The second reason that we are more inclined to forgive Syd is that she doesn’t use a scapegoat. When Syd says “God loves the sinners best,” she isn’t hiding behind it. She is aware of her actions and the consequences of them. She has lived with and grown from them. David shows neither an awareness nor a sense of growth from his actions, and David even manipulates her words into the foundation of his delusion about himself. This is another reason it is much harder to forgive David.
In the finale, Syd has many great lines, but the two that interest me most are the ones said just before she shoots David. The first links Syd’s state of mind/reality to David’s own: “Maybe I believe myself more [than you].” This is followed by the line, “I am the hero of this story.” Syd’s claim to be a hero is interesting, because despite showing a level of awareness in the past, the present Syd is being just as manipulated as David. She is a pawn in this game, as is the audience.
Part Four: Farouk’s Feat
Legion is a masterclass in manipulation. Although we do not see the show from his perspective, Amahl Farouk is the only person aware there is an audience watching Legion. The show breaks the fourth wall in his favor, turning the audience against David Haller. There is a visual shift in the framing of the world when we follow David, causing us to question the truth of what we see from his perspective. The dialogue also distances us from David who speaks with cadence and mannerisms unmatched by anyone else in the show.
Farouk is not only out to manipulate the audience but the characters within Legion too. Farouk uses Syd to pull David’s punches, causing me to question the truth of future Sydney. Is David truly destined to become the Legion that Sydney warns of? Or is this Farouk rewriting the central narrative of Legion, turning himself into the hero? Legion plays with the idea of being the hero of a story, often using it as an indication that a character is suffering from delusions. When Syd announces herself as the hero of the story in the finale, she is playing exactly into Farouk’s hand. When David acts as the hero, he commits acts of violence that drive away those closest to him—once again playing directly into Farouk’s hand.
Syd trusts her future self more than she trusts David, which puts her in the same position as David: trusting in something that may not be true. We see future Sydney (or perhaps Amahl Farouk) push Syd down a path that leads to a murder attempt on David; once again, the hero makes a villainous play. As David’s new personalities, Daved and DVD, emerge we see them also influencing him towards more villainous acts. These acts in turn push David away from others leaving them at the mercy of Farouk where he can manipulate them against David.
This also leaves David further untethered from reality—exactly what Farouk wants. He wants David making the worst decisions that will leave him adrift, alone. But something happens in the final moments of Legion season two that has the power to upend all of Farouk’s hard work.
Part Five: Sisterly Salvation
A vital episode is Chapter 14 which follows David Haller and his sister, Amy, through multiple realities after Farouk places Lenny Busker in Amy Haller’s body. Chapter 14 examines the relationship between David and Amy in multiple realities to show us the universal truths of their relationship. In a show where truth is always so subjective, the show works to illuminate these truths to make it hard to question them. The truth of their relationship is that it is Amy, not Syd, who has always kept David anchored.
It is Amy, as well as Lenny, who shows the audience that David is worthy of love. They alone stand by his side. This doesn’t mean they are perfect human beings or offer a pure form of love. Amy allows David to be diagnosed by those who don’t understand him and pushes him towards them while Lenny pushes David towards drugs. We see Amy try time and time again to save her brother, though her heroic acts are damaging. Like David, Amy makes mistakes when it comes to those she loves. While Amy pushes him to fix what he is, it also pushes him away.
When Lenny pushes him to drugs, she brings David closer to her. There is a negative stigma around drugs and those who push them, but drugs are a social experience; by pushing them on David, Lenny makes herself essential to his life. She doesn’t do this out of malice, but out of her own warped form of love. Her love for David is perhaps best seen when David is admitted to the Clockworks psychiatric hospital, as Lenny also goes with him.
Syd and Lenny show they love David, as imperfect as that or any form of love can be, and they prove to the audience that even when David struggles with his grip on reality, he is still worthy of love. Their very real, very flawed love is an excellent contrast to the idealized version of love that David believes in when it comes to his relationship with Syd.
At the end of the season, David leaves District Three with Lenny, in the body of Amy, in tow. Amy’s soul remains in her body as well, and I think we may see the two either clash or come together to save David’s soul in the coming season.
At the end of the season, David stands as close to villainy as ever, after a season of losing himself to delusions and committing horrible acts because of it. David undoubtedly rapes Syd, which is tough to reconcile and is not something that we should forgive him for. Syd’s past shows that people can grow from their mistakes and if you can forgive Syd, then the capacity to forgive David also exists. However, it is next to impossible to forgive him at this current stage because he is unable to own up to his actions and grow from them.
Perhaps the greatest delusion of all is that of love. David believes in a pure unrealistic form of love, which makes him blind to the flaws of others and how they manipulate him. We all desire a pure love, but Legion shows us that true love is a tool that breaks as often as heals. We often hurt those we love the most by doing what we think is best for them. Syd, Lenny, and Amy all unintentionally hurt David. David misunderstands Syd’s lessons, twisting her words and experiences into the basis of his delusion. Lenny is a constant form of temptation to do wrong, which David struggles with daily. Amy acts as his conscience, pushing him to fix himself, but she loses sight of her brother by believing him to be too pure or too broken. Their actions are well intended in nature but misguided, once again drawing attention to the flawed nature of trying to be a hero. Good though their intentions may be, they are lost when they are interpreted by someone as delusional as David, the person their actions have effect on.
Part Six: Real Results
In the time of #MeToo, Legion walks a dangerous line. Accountability and a striking down of uneven power dynamics is something our society has struggled to achieve for a long time. As we move towards it, to express controversial opinion amongst our peers is dangerous. Legion asks you to contemplate the realities of its characters as they make horrible decisions. It warns the audience that your actions may not align with your goals. And it asks them to consider social hysteria and how quickly things can escalate in a instant gratification society that wants to play the hero by bringing injustices to light.
As I was finishing this article, a notable director was removed from a huge project over a controversial series of tweets he made in the past. These tweets were crude and in very poor taste, coming from a man well into adulthood. And while he has expressed regret and has shown growth through his recent works, which emphasize love over anger, his roots were based on doing things, often obscene in nature, for a reaction. He worked in an industry where his peers acted in the same crass manner as he did. Legion shows us how the actions of our peers can have a normalizing effect on us.
The most terrifying aspect of toxic mentalities is how they don’t register as such to ourselves; we fail to see when our reality does not reflect truth. We build communities around us that normalize our behaviors, creating causes that give us a sense of righting the balance of power. These causes can often be powerful and just, as well as cruel and unfounded, but they lead us to believe we’re the heroes of our stories. We believe ourselves infallible and that our actions, no matter how harmful, are justified. We can forget simple truths, like growth can come at any age, because it does not fit the narrative of our reality.
Legion does not ask you to forgive sinners but hopes you will see that we are all more than a single decision. It tells you that it is wrong to force and demand love while also reminding us that we are all worthy of love. As it does this, it also reminds the viewer that there are Amahl Farouks out there—those who enjoy abusing and manipulating power dynamics. Legion is asking tough questions at a high-risk time, but if we wait to ask these questions, it may be too late for some.
Legion does not seek to anchor us in conventional methods. It is a show about the perception of reality and how that can be manipulated. It reminds us of the power of delusions, especially when spread from person to person. It asks to consider the ugly truths of love and how love relates so easily to delusions. It asks us to contemplate the competing truths of the world and reflect before we act. And, it reminds us that there are not always clear-cut heroes and villains. Good and bad is not a binary; it is a spectrum. We regress and we progress, rarely in a linear fashion. We are all a legion of our own decisions.