Spoiler warning: This article discusses the plot of the seventh episode of Legion.
It’s difficult to say whether “Chapter 7,” the latest episode of FX and Marvel’s addictive TV collaboration Legion, is singlehandedly the best episode of superhero television this year because it’s great or because it’s satisfying.
For the past six weeks, Legion creator Noah Hawley has taken viewers on a discordant path through the brain of one David Haller (Dan Stevens). Haller, one of the most powerful mutants in history, has what was thought to be schizophrenia. But in “Chapter 7,” we find out that the malignant sickness in his head is actually a mutant named the Shadow King, a parasite that has hijacked David’s brain and powers.
Shadow King is a major villain in the X-Men comic books, and in Legion we learn that he has a past with David’s fellow mutants. He’s been taking the form of Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) this whole time, and his master plan involves controlling David and his immense powers. His reveal is a whopper, one that unlocks the entire show.
Within this new context, David’s altered memories are Shadow King’s doing. David’s parents put him up for adoption to avoid Shadow King’s vengeance. David’s schizophrenia and his mental illness were diversions that cloaked the Shadow King’s parasitic presence in David’s mind. Now that we know the truth, we have a key to which parts of the show are real and which have been hallucinations.
What’s a little more difficult is figuring out of this reveal is actually a good one, or if it simply feels good because we’re finally let in on the mystery.
“Chapter 7” is satisfying, but the solution might be a little too simple
The deus ex machina in “Chapter 7” is David’s construction of a “rational mind” — which is basically David, but with Dan Stevens’s natural British accent — that appears out of nowhere to reveal that he’s a safeguard David created in his own brain to take over in case of an emergency.
In a pretty nifty scene, David and his rational mind talk through what’s happening with the Shadow King on a giant living chalkboard (it’s like a giant animated comic book page), and figure out a plan to stop him. The two spell out Shadow King’s origin story step by step: He fought David’s father, who banished him to the astral plane, and it was then, during his separation from his body, that the Shadow King latched onto David’s psyche.
It’s an immensely satisfying moment, closing all the loops and twists we’ve been battling through the past six episodes. Thus far, Legion has constantly made us question things, like whether the events taking place in Clockwork Psychiatric Hospital were real or hallucinations, whether characters like Lenny or Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) are real people or just constructs of David’s mind, or even just how much actual time has passed in David’s world. Watching David and his rational mind spell things out helps (mostly) to separate the real from the fake. Having things presented coherently and chronologically is a giant brain relief, considering how nonlinear and obfuscating the series has been.
But after this pep talk, David suddenly attains complete control of his powers, managing to save his friends and, with the help of Cary’s (Bill Irwin) device, cut off Shadow King’s power supply. Considering what a challenge this show has been over the course of the season, the solution comes a bit too quickly and cleanly to feel true to Legion’s complex spirit.
The best thing about Legion is how it takes big chances with superhero convention
What I enjoy a lot about Legion is that even though it’s telling a superhero story, it doesn’t bow to superhero convention. The show could have easily staged a big superhero battle against the Shadow King, but instead turns the battle pursuit sequence into a vintage silent film, complete with title cards.
Outside of Shadow King literally twisting a mutant inside out, there aren’t any dazzling, budget-breaking special effects here. But it’s much more effective, even a little jarring, to see a climactic scene — Shadow King crawling toward Kerry (Amber Midthunder) and Syd (Rachel Keller) with the intent to kill them — absent any sound or color. In that sequence, Legion turns horror and comedy into symbiotic partners, creating a strange, humorous tension that cuts through the superhero seriousness.
I like that Legion is confident and daring enough to employ such a weird stylistic curve in the season’s most pivotal scene; I wish it had shown similar confidence and daring in revealing the Shadow King’s identity, which was maybe a bit too tidy. Considering how jarring the season has been and its lack of explanations, I can also see an argument for why that decision was made.
But the show isn’t without one final twist.
At the end of the episode, the covert military operation known as Division 3 ambushes everyone, just as Shadow King threatens to break back into David’s psyche. It’s a showdown between David, the Shadow King, and the mutant friends he’s vowed to protect — and given how this season has played out, the only predictable thing is that we should expect the unpredictable, something as screwy as a silent film, when the final fight eventually goes down.