[This post contains SPOILERS for Legion ‘Chapter 4’.]
When Legion was still in its preliminary stages, the announcement that Aubrey Plaza had joined the cast as David Haller’s friend Lenny seemingly revealed a great deal about Noah Hawley’s plans for the mutant-themed TV series and, especially, its intended tone. Plaza, best known for her role as the disaffected government worker April Ludgate in Parks and Rec, is likely thought of first as a comedic actor, what with her appearances in the likes of Dirty Grandpa, Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates, The To Do List and so on. But her resume is far more interesting than those studio comedies, often times venturing into the dramatic and quirky with Safety Not Guaranteed, Life After Beth, and Hal Hartley’s Ned Rifle. In other words, with Plaza joining the cast, there seemed a better than average chance Hawley’s intentions for her went beyond playing a sugar-addicted sidekick to the potentially schizophrenic David.
Which is why, when Lenny wound up fused into a wall by a body-hopping Syd in the series premiere, it seemed a rather hasty and harsh dismissal of a character initially set up to play a prominent role in the series. Soon after, though, there were hints of what Legion was planning to do with the character when Lenny showed up in Amy’s basement, talking to David as she normally would have despite being, presumably, a figment of his imagination or, considering the show’s comic book bona fides, one of the many voices absorbed by his powerful mutant mind. Turning Plaza into a character only David could see and interact with is a familiar trope in any form of media that uses mental illness as part of its narrative make up, but Hawley and Legion soon proved that wasn’t the end of the character’s design.
Soon after meeting Ptonomy, David takes a deep dive into his own crudely edited memories, allowing the audience to discover that he and Lenny share a history far greater than their confinement at Clockworks. Lenny was there through his self-medication phase; the time when David turned to drugs in order to manage what others maintained was his mental illness. She was his partner in many ways but also his rampaging id. The flashback of Lenny and David getting high off a blue drug vaporized in a cute plastic frog was offset by the arrival of his girlfriend at the time, revealing that David was a very different person at the time, but Lenny seems to have been more consistent. Aside from her restricted freedoms at Clockworks, she is more or less the same person shown to Melanie, Syd, and Ptonomy while touring David’s recollection of his past.
That level of consistency is typically reserved for the more grounded – well, as grounded as you can be while being a mutant – members of Melanie’s Summerland compound, making Lenny something of an anomaly. So, in what can increasingly be called typical Legion fashion, the revelation seen in ‘Chapter 4’ upends the idea of who Lenny is and further complicates the baseline of what is real and what the audience (and other characters) can and should accept as the truth.
The halfway point of the first season – or the entire series, if Hawley really wanted to blow peoples’ minds – ‘Chapter 4’ is a turning point of sorts. Not only does it introduce Oliver, Melanie’s husband lost to the astral plane many years ago, but it demonstrates that David’s powers extend to that place, and allow him to not only move around via astral projection, but to generate his own sort of simulated reality, one that even Syd and Ptonomy aren’t entirely sure they’re not currently running around inside of. While introducing the question of “what if this isn’t real?” is like opening a Pandora’s box in a series already teetering on the verge of narrative impenetrability, there are just enough anchor points strewn throughout the story so far to allow the audience reason enough to trust at least some of it is real.
But as soon as Lenny became Benny, well… Legion clearly reached a tipping point of sorts. That’s a good thing, since Legion is the kind of show that builds intrigue by keeping itself contained – as contained as any show with impromptu dance numbers and henchmen in color-coded stocking caps can. But, like David, when those restricted elements begin to spew forth, they present entirely new worlds of possibility. In the case of ‘Chapter 4’, then, the possibility is that there’s a lot more to Lenny than the show would have had you believe. The question is: does it say more about her or about David?
“I’m you. I’m me. I’m everything you want to be,” Lenny tells David, who presumably remains unaware that his former oven-stealing smoking buddy may also be Benny, a stocky drug pusher whose physical presence takes on an entirely different, less comedic connotation than his perceived other – i.e., Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny. But the realization by Syd, Ptonomy (and the audience) that something is not right with the memory of Lenny – especially Syd, who knew and interacted with Lenny, and was even cognizant of having killed her – coincides dreamily with David’s astral plane realization that Lenny is – or has become – a manifestation of The Devil with the Yellow Eyes, the presumed powerful parasite infesting his mind and further altering the nature of his reality.
David’s unification with Lenny/The Devil with the Yellow Eyes affords him the chance to escape the astral plane lest he end up stuck inside an ice cube listening to jazz records and philosophizing about man’s warlike nature. But it also affords him a sense of stability, making The Devil with the Yellow Eyes the cause of and possible solution to all of David’s problems. But where does Lenny fit into all of this?
In ‘Chapter 4’ alone Legion demonstrates many different levels of reality in which its characters sometimes unwittingly interact. Some, like the astral plane where Oliver is imprisoned, are layered atop the reality of the show, while others, like the illusions conjured by The Eye, or what seen in David’s fractured mind and altered memories (and especially his continued interactions with Lenny) are intertwined with his unique experience, hopelessly knotted into the fabric of his consciousness until there’s no telling what’s real and what’s imagined – or, considering how powerful he is, to what extent there’s even a difference between the two.
The question of Lenny, Benny, and The Devil with the Yellow Eyes comes down to one of perception. What David sees and remembers, and what others around him can recall of encounters with all three seem to differ wildly. It’s like Amy’s recollection that she and her brother never had a dog named King, or how David’s ex-girlfriend remembers Benny instead of Lenny. But Syd, one of the show’s most trusted characters – in that she’s never given the audience a reason to distrust the authenticity of her experience – has firsthand knowledge of a character whose very existence has now been called into question. Is it possible Lenny/Benny is merely a manifestation of David’s id, hence why she so convincingly spurs him on to free himself from the astral plane in order to save the woman he loves? If so, why do some people perceive that manifestation as having undergone a gender swap and what’s with the gruesome demise? Was it really an accident, or did Syd, with David’s immense powers under her tenuous control, somehow sense Lenny’s influence and reflexively seek to rid his psyche of such a presence?
It seems there are a lot of questions about Lenny yet to be answered, which not only justifies Plaza’s casting in the role, but also suggests that in death the character is more intrinsically tied to David’s understanding and use of his abilities than previously thought. Of all the complicated layers of reality being folded onto one another, it seems the one that could have grounded the series in some way has now gone up in smoke… or perhaps some weird blue vapor.
Legion continues next Wednesday with ‘Chapter 5’ @10pm on FX.