The second season of Noah Hawley’s Legion took us on yet another psychedelic trip unlike anything experienced before on network television, continuing and expanding on the momentum set by season one. While the first season explored mental health and the victims of such conditions who get shafted from modern society, season two asks the more challenging question: are we, the ‘normal’ people in society, any less delusional than those we deem clinically insane? The true genius of this season is that a valid case can be made that each character’s actions are a result of their own delusional thoughts. As viewers, we are left to question our own beliefs and the apparent truths we tell ourselves every day.
Jon Hamm lends his soothing, persuasive voice as the narrator, interjecting throughout the season with brief lessons on psychology and the human condition, connecting these ideas to themes within the overarching narrative. In the first episode of the season, the narrator explains, “a delusion starts like any other idea, as an egg.” From there we learn of varying ideas in which we determine our reality. But what if some of these ideas are delusions, spreading from person to person as shared concepts of an agreed truth on reality?
Take Farouk for example. We normally associate a super hero story in terms of heroes and villains. So in the first season, when we are told that Farouk is the ‘bad guy’ and David is the son of Professor Xavier, who we know as the righteous leader from X-men lore, we don’t question it. We know professor X stands for ‘good,’ so we don’t consider any antagonist of his being anything more than a villain. But from Farouk’s perspective, Xavier is the villain of his story. He explains, “For decades I rule over my country. I’m a good king. Strong but just. My people, they prosper. And then…a white man…he decides that what, that my people should have better? That he knows better? Who is he to make such choices?”
Is it possible that professor X is the delusional one? Perhaps Farouk really is a good king, and his people would ultimately be worse off without him. In our current culture, we are consistently questioning the history of white men in power subjugating and dominating those they so self-righteously deemed beneath them. Mention the actions of Christopher Columbus in our present political climate and a discussion of his atrocious actions against Native Americans can’t be avoided. However, not long ago, Columbus was discussed as nothing more than the founder of America. When we consider Farouk’s position, maybe he is like the Native Americans and Professor Xavier is akin to Columbus. In this case, Xavier would have no right to meddle in foreign affairs and dictate leadership in a culture unlike his own. It then would seem that we the audience have been deluded to perceive Xavier as the morally prestigious hero at all cost, eliminating any counter ideas that would dispute that fact.
The show intentionally keeps the details of why Professor X chose to end Farouk’s rule vague. Therefore, we can’t determine an objective truth. All we have is Farouk’s viewpoint. Xavier is no longer around in this timeline to make his case. So then, the delusion can easily be reversed. Perhaps Farouk was committing genocide, getting drunk off power, and Xavier’s ‘killing’ of Farouk actually saved lives. Farouk would then be manipulating David and the audience into seeing himself as the tragic figure of the story. As a modern audience, we would certainly be susceptible to such a narrative. Feeling empathy for a foreigner’s victimhood due to colonialism can undoubtedly inspire a moral panic.
In the seventh episode, the narrator describes moral panic, telling us, “rational concern becomes irrational fear.” A sort of witch hunt towards a perceived threat can occur when a delusion takes hold. In that same episode, we watch as Syd, Ptomony and Melanie react to an implanted delusion from Farouk. They become convinced that Admiral Fukyama of Division 3 is a literal monster in disguise. David eventually stops the mob and destroys the delusion. However, while Fukyama is no monster, what gives him and Division 3 the authority they posses?
The surrounding world of Legion is designed to be vague, but we do know Fukyama was granted the technology to see anything or anyone under Division 3 at all times, a constant ‘eye in the sky.’ At the start of season two, we find out that Melanie and the Summerland gang joined forces with Division 3 after both parties came to an agreement that most mutants are not a threat. They decided to work together to take down their common enemy, Farouk. But if Melanie and the Summerland gang fought for the freedom of all mutants, it does seem contradictory to join their former oppressors to take down Farouk. The Summerland team even runs into some disagreements with their new allies. Most notably, when David is found in the first episode of the season, Admiral Fukyama is eager to kill him for the simple reason that David’s mind may be under Farouk’s influence. Cary keeps Fukyama from executing this order, but the jurisdiction Fukyama posses to make such a decision reveals Division 3 as a governing force with no discernible limit. Can the true delusion then be the Summerland gang’s choice to join forces with Division 3? Have they convinced themselves that Division 3’s all encompassing authority is a necessity? That granting themselves judge, jury and executioner of a threat is okay, even though they too were once that perceived threat in the all seeing eye of Division 3?
By the final episode, David is captured and imprisoned by his Division 3 allies. And it is here that all the narrator’s quandaries of delusions throughout the season come full circle. But the question of which characters are falling victim to delusion is left up to the viewer. Syd and Division 3 have every reason to feel a moral panic over David. At this point, they know that David is destined to become a monster unless drastic measures are taken to change the course of their timeline. Not to mention that David has already crossed serious moral lines by ‘love drugging’ Syd. Division 3 has every reason to believe that David has begun his transition into ‘world breaker,’ and that their only hope to prevent his apocalyptic rain is to detain him by force. From their perspective then, David is slowly deluding himself into believing that he has the right to abuse his powers in any situation he sees fit. And they may be right, as we find that David has voices in his head constantly trying to convince him of his superior position in the world. If these voices are David’s delusions, then they have grown into full on schizophrenia by the final moments of the season.
However, it can be argued that Division 3’s action of imprisoning David is the catalyst for David’s turn to the dark side. David abused his powers on Syd, but from his viewpoint it was a desperate act to “remind” Syd of the love they share. As awful as David’s action is, he comes off as genuinely ignorant to the ethical line he crossed. Since the start of the series, the show emphasizes that every course of action David takes is for love. A love he discovered when he first met Syd. A love that then branched into a friendship with his Summerland allies. Without the idea of love springing him into action, David would not be the hero we know him as. So, if love is the one thing holding David back from going full on Legion, then Syd and Division 3’s rejecting David can be seen as an unintentional push towards that dark path. One cannot help but consider the better outcome if Division 3 had first attempted to educate David on the moral parameters of his godlike power instead of instantly jailing him. If they had only approached him as a friend rather than as a lethal enemy, maybe David’s resulting path would be different. Perhaps a delusion had spread within the minds of Division 3, leading them to overreact to the alarming thought of David’s possibly corrupt character. A thought that quickly turned from rational concern to irrational fear.
The fact that both David and Division 3 may be victims to ideas turned delusions can provoke us, the audience, to question our own subjective realities. In his final offside of the season, the narrator explains, “And now we come to the most alarming delusion of all. The idea that other people don’t matter. Their feelings, their needs.” As the narrator continues, his lecture becomes a clear allegory for social media, exposing just how easily humans can lose empathy for one another when interacting on the internet, behind a screen. Much like David mind drugging Syd or Division 3 imprisoning David, when panic takes hold, humans will naturally avoid the consideration of other people’s opposing realities. A delusion maybe, but one made for survival.
However, if what the narrator says is true, then humanity will eventually become conditioned to seeing the world through the prism of the internet. Genuine, face-to-face compassion would be lost. An argument can be made that this has already begun. Now, more than ever, social media has provided a platform for people to voice their opinions. This has naturally provoked internet users to seek out like minded communities, big or small, to share their similar world views. But this kind of natural segregation gives a person the power to edit reality to their own standard, choosing to be informed only by the opinions they wish to hear from. Eventually, any contradicting viewpoints are seen as a disturbance to their reality. It has become the standard today that if someone makes an unconventional or largely disagreed upon statement, that person will be strongly pressured into apologizing by an offended community. Is it then possible that some of these viral communities fall victim to moral panic, fearing that their perception of reality has been challenged? These concerns get amplified by the cultural force of the internet, spreading alarm. All the while forgetting that the accused person is only expressing their own moral standard. Their own reality. In our modern social media age, how many people, or groups of people, have been influenced by the delusion that their thoughts and feelings are real and others don’t matter?
If a mass of people can be so easily persuaded by delusion, then surly we can take consolation in the rationality of the individual. Yet, Legion challenges that assumption as well. In episode nine of season two, the ghost (or lingering consciousness) of Amy appears before Lenny, asking her, “are you a good person?” We know little about Lenny before her death at the start of the series, but if any trait was emphasized, it’s that she was a free spirited drug fiend with only the next fix on her mind. When Lenny is granted new life with Amy’s body, she is left with the lingering echo of Amy’s mind. As Lenny attempts to re-embrace her former self in a drug fueled party bender, she is caught off guard when Amy eerily repeats, “are you a good person,” over and over again. Lenny is experiencing her conscience for the first time, something her former self never had. The old Lenny was in constant motion, never questioning the right or wrong of her actions. She had an unburdened mind, so much so that it got her committed to a mental hospital. Yet, this new Lenny, with her guiding inner voice, a voice that would deem her ‘normal’ in our society, seems to be holding her back from her true self. She lacks the same manic zest for life that her former personality had. She is now taxed by the guilt of her innate being.
Lenny’s struggle connects to the encompassing theme of Legion, challenging the idea of sane and insane. We, the “normal” people of society, are guided by our conscience everyday. We constantly ask ourselves if we are good people, and we all agree that this is what makes us sane. But is it possible that our conscience can be the burden holding us back from our true selves, like Amy’s voice of ‘reason’ does for Lenny? Society will cast out and lock up the person without a conscious, deeming them insane. But maybe we, the people ladened by the voice in our head that dictates our actions and choices, are the true insane individuals. We would then be victim to the delusion that the life of the insane individual, who lacks a conscious voice, does not matter, as they do not conform to our agreed upon notion of sanity. As the final episode of the season so perfectly puts it, “If all the apples are bruised, then it is the unbruised apple that is bad, the sane man who’s crazy.”
Season two of Legion proposes the concept of delusions, but it is up to us to determine who the true victims of the disorder are. Maybe all the characters in the show are infected by personal delusions. Maybe none of them are, or maybe some of them are. Perhaps we, the viewers, are the delusional ones. Or, maybe Noah Hawley is simply expressing his own false interpretation of reality through Legion, and the thematic storyline he has built is a result of his own idea turned delusion, spreading through his team of writers and filmmakers, and then broadcast to the masses. A subconscious virus that began as an egg. Whatever the case, some solace can be taken from the words of the shadow king himself, “You decide what is real and what is not. Your will.”