Legion: What is Real & What is Not?

New X-Men inspired series Legion is a trippy look at mutant powers that leaves audiences (and us) asking: how much of this is actually real?

Legion - David in the MRI machine

Legionthe latest live-action comic book series (and the first for the X-Men franchise), premiered last week to somewhat average ratings, but rave reviews from critics and fans alike. The show is something entirely different: intensely trippy and sometimes even visually uncomfortable, leaving viewers sitting with a pile of questions at the end of each episode. We are now two episodes in, and while the popularity of the show is rising (thanks in part to the incredible buzz now surrounding the series), those questions are no closer to being answered. Who is the Devil With Yellow Eyes? When is this show even set? Will this connect to the X-Men franchise, and is David's faceless father actually Charles Xavier?

The biggest question of all, however, is one that permeates every moment of the show: what is real, and what exists only in David's head?

David Haller (Dan Stevens) is the epitome of an unreliable narrator. From the flashback sequence at the start of the first episode, it appears that David was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager and has spent much of his life believing that he is mentally ill. From the comics, however, we know that David is actually an incredibly powerful mutant with almost limitless abilities... and dissociative identity disorder. We also know from creator Noah Hawley that much of what we see in the series reflects David's perception of the world, rather than the world as it actually is:

"When it came time to make it I thought about it more as a fable on some level and I realized I wanted to make something subjective. Which is to say this whole show is not the world, it’s David’s experience of the world. He’s piecing his world together from nostalgia and memory and the world becomes that."

We are watching multiple timelines spliced together, as well as memories and 'present day' scenes woven together beautifully (but certainly not simply). We are also watching David's take on what is happening, characters who may or may not exist outside of David's head, and a world where other mutants exist, but are not widely recognized quite yet. While there is no way to know for sure just how much of this show is 'real' at the moment, there are a few possibilities that we can take from the first two episodes of this fantastic new series.

False Memory

Legion - David and Syd

One possibility is that reality is dependent on which timeline we are watching. As it stands, there are three main timelines in the show: the 'present', where David has been rescued by a pro-mutant group who is teaching him to control his powers; the time in Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, where David spent six years being treated for his schizophrenia; and the distant past, where David remembers his childhood and his time before coming to the institute.

Given that David is our unreliable narrator, and that he is the one remembering both his time in Clockworks and his childhood, it's likely that scenes in both of these timelines are not entirely as they seem. In episode 2, we saw that David was mis-remembering his sessions with a past psychiatrist during his 'memory work', with moments being missed out. During a memory of his childhood, David was also unable to see the face of his father, suggesting that his memory is deeply flawed. It's likely that his memories of his time at the institute are also far from accurate, as we see scenes like the Bollywood-inspired dance number, which we can assume did not actually happen. The show wants us to understand that the memories we discover during 'memory work' are not accurate, but is it also possible that his other memories are equally unreliable?

Ghosts, Personalities, Or Real People?

Legion Lenny wearing headphones

Another option is that the timelines are essentially correct (with the exception of the memory gaps that have been directly pointed out to us), but several of the characters are not real. This would fit perfectly with the David Haller of the comics, who has multiple personalities, each with control over a different aspect of his powers. Many fans have already speculated that several of the characters in the show are actually aspects of David's powers, manifested in human form that only he can see.

There is a lot of evidence within the series for this option, as well. Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) first appears as a patient in the Clockworks Institute, but she interacts almost exclusively with David and doesn't appear to be wearing the same orange jumpsuit as many of the other patients. Beyond that, she is brutally killed off in the first episode, before reappearing in David's sister's basement as a 'ghost'. In the second episode, Lenny reappears in even earlier memories, running around and getting high with a teenage/early twenties David. It seems likely that Lenny is a personality of David's, or a hallucination. At the very least, this is more likely than her being a friend of his as a teen, also diagnosed and sent to the same institution, killed, and then reborn as a ghost.

Others have questioned whether David's girlfriend/rescuer, Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) is a figment of David's imagination. There's the confusing matter of their 'body swap' in the first episode - potentially a manifestation of Syd's mutant powers, but conceivably also a part of David's dissociation. It's possible that it was David who was released all along, and taken peaceably to the new facility, without the intense murder/destruction/chase scene at Clockworks ever happening. In the first episode, we also see David being told that Syd never existed, although this is potentially part of a cover up. Syd's aversion to touch, and her tendency to hang around in the background of scenes (such as the 'memory work' room, where she didn't sit at the table with the others), all suggest that she may not be as real as we are being led to believe.

These two women are not the only characters who are creating confusion for viewers. The man who hid a little too convincingly in a tree at the institute - is he another mutant, or a figment of David's imagination? Could it be that the institute is not real at all, but is a kind of mental holding area for David's various personalities, with everyone in it being inside his head? It's very possible, and some of the sets and costumes seem to support the idea that there is no Clockworks at all, and that everything that happens there is happening inside David's head.

The Mojoverse

Legion Devil with Yellow Eyes

Another character who is ripe for speculation is the Devil With Yellow Eyes: a blobby, monstrous character with gleaming eyes who seems to appear in the moments before something goes wrong. This nightmarish figure could well be a representation of a certain side of David himself - the part of him that is violent, angry, and wants to cause damage with his powers. He certainly seems to show up right before David uses those powers to devastating effect.

Another possibility, however, is that this Devil is real, and has somehow managed to put himself inside of David's mind. Many believe him to be the Shadow King, who may be either possessing David or siphoning power from him. Others, however, have a slightly different theory - that the Devil is actually Mojo. If this is the case, it draws everything we see into question, as the series may actually be taking place inside the Mojoverse, a universe overseen by this spineless villain who creates chaos for the joy of watching it. If this is true we may be watching David as he tries to break free from the Mojoverse, with the help of his personalities who could be absolutely anyone.

All Or Nothing

Dan Stevens as David Haller in Legion

One of the most fascinating aspects of the series is that any of these options could be the case - or even all of them at once. We could be seeing David attempt to escape the Mojoverse with the help of characters who are actually personalities, using memories that are not accurate. This may seem a little too complicated, but if we have learned anything from the first two episodes of the show, it's that Legion is more than willing to take risks and to alienate the viewer. This is a totally new exploration of superpowers as they relate to mental illness, and there is so much going on at once that it could go absolutely anywhere.

On the flip side, everything could be real. Other than the moments in memory work where we are explicitly told that something is missing, the world could be playing out exactly as it appears to be, with the eye-popping effects and strange tone simply representing the way that David is attempting to handle such a bizarre situation.

The most likely scenario is somewhere in the middle. At least one character is bound to be a personality, with the most likely candidates being Lenny and the Devil With Yellow Eyes. Some of David's memories are likely to be faulty, but we are willing to bet that at least one, and probably two, of the current timelines are accurate. The present and the distant past seem to be the most realistic, so Clockworks has a solid shot at existing within David's head. Of course, we are unlikely to find out any time soon, and that is a big part of the series' draw. Like other shows that rely on a certain amount of audience confusion and altered reality (Westworld, Mr Robot), a large part of what we love about Legion so far is that we have absolutely no idea what to believe.

How much of Legion do you think is only happening inside David's head? Comment and let us know!

Next: Split, Legion & Beyond: Mental Illness as a Superpower

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