In this week’s episode of Legion, Aubrey Plaza took on a new — or old — role, depending on how you look at it. Plaza’s character in season 1, “Lenny,” was later revealed to be Amahl Farouk, or the Shadow King, a parasitic psychic being that was living within David’s mind. At the end of the first season, the Shadow King was driven out of David’s head, but found a new host in Oliver Byrd. Now, Plaza returns to play the real Lenny, whose consciousness is trapped by the Shadow King within Byrd’s mind. Plaza’s new role offers a new dynamic between Lenny and Farouk, and an opportunity for Plaza to explore a new character.
After Legion announced Said Taghmaoui (Wonder Woman) would play Amahl Farouk in the second season of Legion, fans had speculated whether or not Plaza would return. Taghmaoui was eventually be replaced with Homeland actor Navid Negahban. Since the Shadow King only exists within the metaphysical space of the astral plane, Plaza could be replaced entirely with another actor with little to no explanation. Alternatively, given Legion‘s trippy aesthetic, both Negahban and Plaza could have alternated playing the role of the Shadow King.
Previously, it was unclear if Plaza’s Lenny had ever really existed — viewers knew that Syd accidentally killed David’s friend Lenny at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, but since the Shadow King had implanted himself into David’s memories, it was possible that the real Lenny had no relation to Plaza’s character.
As it turns out, the real Lenny shares many of the traits and verbal tics with the Shadow King, including being a a foul-mouthed drug addict. Farouk took Lenny’s consciousness and trapped her within the astral plane so that he can use her ‘face’ to hide his presence. When Lenny isn’t being manipulated by Farouk, she exists in a limbo space that executive producer Noah Hawley describes as “mental space, like an astral plane.”
Lenny’s desires and goals are entirely different from the sadistic Shadow King. While Farouk is controlling, powerful, and power-hungry, Lenny is desperate, groveling, and directionless. She wants to escape, but since she died and her body was encased in a wall, there is no clear way for her consciousness to exist outside of Oliver’s mind.
The separation of the character of Lenny from Farouk allows for there to be a dramatic interplay between the two characters. After Negahban’s Shadow King speaks to David for the first time, Lenny appears and asks Farouk:
You know, I was thinking, now that you’re out of the closet, you and the kid talking again, face to face, that maybe I could go?
Farouk, incredulous, responds, “Go where?” There is nowhere for Lenny to go, at least at the moment. Lenny’s unusual position makes it difficult to predict what role she will play in season 2, but it seems likely that she would be willing to work for anyone who would could promise her a new life and a new body. This could mean that Lenny could be the secret to destroying the Shadow King — or she could be David’s undoing.
Understanding that Lenny’s consciousness exists alongside Farouk in Oliver’s mind helps to contextualize the opening moments of season 2, when Aubrey Plaza appears alongside Jemaine Clement’s Oliver in a swimming pool. Plaza begins to laugh, and when Clement asks her what is funny, she responds, “We’re trapped. We’re trapped.” The scene zooms out from the pool to show actor Navid Negahban, seated in a room in Paris, and then again to show Clement as Oliver at a club. This scene could be confusing if the viewer wrongly identifies that Plaza is Farouk. However, when it is understood that Plaza is playing Lenny, the scene becomes clear: Lenny and Oliver are trapped in a mental-astral plane controlled by Farouk, who sits by himself in his own mental palace, hidden within Oliver’s body.
The fluidity of Legion allows Plaza to play both the powerful Shadow King and the hapless Lenny, even within the same episode. As the season continues to unfold, these roles will give Plaza ample opportunity to show off her range as an actor.
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