Without any explanation of any kind, Tuesday’s latest episode of Legion dives face-first into a multiverse of possible timelines for David’s life. Rather than overwhelm the viewer with too many alternate realities to count, the episode instead hones in on only a few radically different ones, each more horrifying than the last. The end result is a nuanced dramatization of multiverse theory that outshines even that of Rick and Morty.
Spoilers follow for Legion Season 2’s “Chapter 14.”
What if David became homeless and never got help for his condition? What if he instead learned how to channel his powers and used it to control the world? What if his loving sister Amy medicated his “condition” until his death? In any of these timelines, he could lose control, kill, or be killed. Or maybe he’d be fine. Whereas most of the Ricks and Mortys we’ve seen in Rick and Morty merely slap a different coat of paint on what’s essentially the same core character, Legion hones in on how divergent timelines could drastically shape a person’s life and personality. All of these are David, yet none of them are the David we know. This is the true face of the multiverse, and it’s as horrifying as it is enticing — especially when we get to see David use new powers.
In one timeline, David spends most of his adult life homeless, shuffling the streets and murmuring at voices. By the time he’s older, his beard and hair grow so long that he’s unrecognizable. When he’s randomly attacked by a small group of men in the middle of the night, he curls into a ball as they hit him with sticks and clubs. His body glows with a sun-like energy before he emits a pulse of energy that instantly vaporizes them. Eventually, he’s such a threat that Kerry Loudermilk (here some kind of leader in Division III) has to slice him in half. So it goes.
In yet another timeline, David spends his adult life looked-after by Amy, overmedicated into a vegetative state by a loving sister that just doesn’t know any better. In one version of this, he never gets off his medication, growing old as a vegetable alongside Amy. But in another, he goes off his meds, sees the Devil With Yellow Eyes, and folds a police officers body up with his mind before getting gunned down.
There’s even one pleasantly mundane timeline in which David marries and has children. Maybe his powers never developed. Maybe he always had control of them.
In perhaps the scariest timelines, he starts as a fretful intern delivering coffee to an intimidating boardroom. But after his telepathy accidentally makes a company a ton of money, he goes down a ruthless, business-driven path that makes him the single richest man in the world. He becomes a total megalomaniac saying that “god blessed [him] with a gift,” and he fancies himself “the great uniter” above mankind. He’s a monster that’s learned to thrive in a symbiotic relationship with the Shadow King — or maybe this is the Shadow King fully controlling David? Can we even know?
Here, in this world, Amy comes to David looking for a handout in the form of a new house. He even makes her nose bleed as a threat. You might look at this and think, “That’s not David!” or “Amy would never turn out like that. She’s always been so good-natured.” But the truth is, we don’t know how any of us might turn out if our lives has been different.
If Rick and Morty does one thing perhaps better than Legion in terms of dramatizing the multiverse, it’s in how Rick constantly expresses that the multiverse in infinite, which means that there are enough worlds that anything is possible. There are quite literally no limits.
Rick and Morty shows us dozens and hundreds of Ricks and Mortys between the show’s Citadel and so many more in the Pocket Mortys mobile game. But because this is a comedic veneer, the show hardly ever explores the broader implications, at least not with this kind of gravity.
So what is the point of all this? By the end, we learn that the “real” timeline was tucked in among these spliced vignettes, another variation on the Amy timeline in which David wears striped shirts, tries to hang himself with an extension cord, and gets admitted to Clockworks. We then get a full recap of every major thing that’s happened since the beginning of the show, accentuated by a callback to what Amahl Farouk told David earlier this season: “You decide what is real and what’s not — your will.”
Perhaps this is to remind us that, at the end of the day, perhaps none of this is real in any sense of the word? Reality, it would seem, has always been subjective.