‘Legion’: Time Travelers Float Down Psychedelic Streams in Surreal Final Season

FX’s “Legion” remains part thriller and part acid trip. Its final season premiere advances the plot while swimming in pure psychedelia. Trippy but not senseless, for Marvel Comics fans the real fun is in deciphering the plot puzzles, verbal games and visual clues as the storyline hurtles towards finally doing some time travel.

“Chapter 20” introduces us to Switch (Lauren Tsai), who walks around with headphones while listening to a recording made up of “Lessons in Time Travel” tutorials, or more like mantras. But as Switch walks through streets and past buses, strange messages begin to appear everywhere with instructions to “Find the Orange Fish” or a “Pregnant Virgin.” After tagging along with a group of what look like partying hippies, she finds herself inside a hallucinatory department store which leads to a portal which then leads to some neon glow, smoky realm where Switch meets Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), who tests her time travel abilities. It soon becomes clear that this is all a semi-cult following our main character, David (Dan Stevens). Dressed like a 60s guru, David offers Switch some tea and then makes it known he needs a time traveler. Why? It’s a bit hazy, but it’s all soon interrupted by a Division 3 team that breaks in, and a katana-wielding assassin goes for David’s arm. This prompts Switch to go back a few minutes in time to meet David again, warn him about what’s coming and try to get answers. Meanwhile, well-dressed arch nemesis the Amahl Farouk, also known as the Shadow King (Navid Negahban) is also after Switch because of his own plans to destroy David.

“Legion” is the kind of show you can watch twice in one night, first for the sheer visual experience and then for the plot itself. With dialogue written like Jim Morrison lyrics, multiple viewings might be beneficial to grasp just what’s going on. That’s part of the immersive appeal. It makes sense that “Chapter 20” is directed by Andrew Stanton, who has written visually rich Pixar movies like “Wall-E” and “Finding Nemo.” The colors are alive like classic pop art.  A musical number breaks out inside the department store. Switch literally crawls to David’s realm through a transparent tube that traverses different landscapes, oceans and vistas. David’s commune features hippies in smoked out bliss, some lounging around a giant pig. The production design features architecture straight out of some druggy dreamscape, with walls and rooms leading into endlessly diverse backgrounds. Lording over it all is David, who needs Switch for her abilities. The episode then brilliantly combines its visual flare with the actual points of the plot, as Switch travels back in time by walking through halls with electronic tickers, displaying how many minutes or hours she has ventured either away from or closer to her meeting with David. This is probably how time travel itself would actually work.

As for the storyline, it is edging closer to what made the David a.k.a “Legion” character so notable in the “X-Men” comics, namely his traveling back in time which then alters the present. Farouk and the threatening forces of Division 3 know this will have serious consequences and so they wish to stop David before he can cross any timelines. This makes developments quite complicated for Farouk’s collaborator Syd (Rachel Keller), who obviously still has lingering feelings for the psychic powerhouse. Farouk tries to lure Switch over, making the observation (and the show’s feminist wink) that all time travelers tend to be women. Switch turns away the Faustian Farouk. The episode has fun messing with our perceptions of time’s flow as Switch keeps going back to the Division 3 raid that nearly kills David. We’re merely at the beginning of the season of course, so the episode closes with Syd and the raiding party again coming to the house where David holds his commune, only to find all that’s left is a crater. 

All signs point to “Legion” preparing a grand showdown for its final bow. David and Farouk will now face off across time and space. The real allure however, will continue to be how this show stands out by telling familiar stories of mutants and dimensions, but with the dreamlike touch of surreal creativity. We’re not just enjoying the thrills, but the trip. 

Legion” season three premieres June 24 and airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.