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The 6 Best And 6 Worst Episodes Of Legion

Noah Hawley's "Legion," a psychologically-minded take on superhero horror, offers viewers a nightmare-fueled exploration of toxic masculinity, delusion, and the devastating consequences of poorly-treated (and misdiagnosed) mental illness. This is all patched together with trippy visuals, playful musical sequences, surrealist animation, eerie scores, and storylines that range from strange to gut-wrenching. Over three rich and narratively satisfying seasons, viewers get to watch David's descent into madness and villainy, as well as Syd's tumultuous journey to become the kind of hero the world really needs.

This dark, comedic, and emotionally complex gem of a show is at its best when it strikes a careful balance between the weird and the traditional while simultaneously embracing its horror elements — particularly when that horror stems from David's mind or the Shadow King himself. It's when "Legion" veers too far into all the whacky madness, or falls back onto straightforward genre fare, that it stumbles and seems to lose its way.

Best: Chapter 24 (Season 3, Episode 5)

"Chapter 24," the fifth episode of the show's final season, sees mutant telepath David Haller (Dan Stevens) embracing his destructive, god-like powers by waging war on Division 3 and his former teammates. Furious over Cary's escape — and that the other man took "Switch" with him — David's no longer willing to play nice, and the result is terrifying. This time, though, the mentally shattered Lenny refuses to stand by his side.

Currently rated over an 8.5 on IMDb, this episode earns its place as one of the series' best because of the terror it evokes and the fact that the ill-fated protagonist has finally succumbed to his demons. As The A.V. Club's Alex McLevy noted, "Watching David unleash his powers ... is nothing if not disturbing, a demonstration of just how far gone he is."

The death toll here is devastatingly high, and you learn pretty quickly that, even with Farouk (Navid Negahban) and a newly-determined Syd (Rachel Keller), D3 stands little chance against the murderous, wrath-fueled mutant who fancies himself a god and believes he can go back in time to fix everything when all of this is over. In case fans had any remaining doubts, the actions David takes in "Chapter 24" — from erasing the long-term memory of Daniel, Clark's partner, to all the cold-hearted slaughter — solidify his status as the ultimate villain of "Legion."

Bonus: this episode also features the title character's most famous quote: "I am Legion."

Worst: Chapter 2 (Season 1, Episode 2)

While "Chapter 2" of "Legion" has a solid rating of around an 8 on IMDb and helps orient viewers to the show's universe, it's a pale follow-up to a pretty explosive pilot. Whereas the playful premiere thrills with mind-bending quirkiness, haunting imagery, dark comedy, and a touch of budding romance, this next entry presents a much quieter, more straightforward, and slower-burning mystery that some might find underwhelming. 

As points in its favor, the episode contains lingering dread, glimpses of the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, and the world's creepiest storybook. It's also an important storyline in that it reiterates that David Haller always has been — and always will be — an unreliable narrator. "All of the visions of the past seem incomplete or distorted to some degree," wrote Nick Harley of Den of Geek. Essentially, viewers can't trust anything David does, says, or thinks because even he can't trust himself.

David meets the mutants who live and work at Summerland, including Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) and Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris) — a man whose abilities involve projecting himself and others into people's memories. As David settles into the facility and the relationship between him and Syd continues to blossom, the Summerland team attempts to help the troubled protagonist understand and control his powers via "memory work." Problem is, there's something evil lurking inside David's psyche. For an added layer of trauma, David begins hallucinating the recently-deceased Lenny — who might not actually be Lenny at all.

Best: Chapter 5 (Season 1, Episode 5)

In "Chapter 5," which currently hovers around an admirable rating of 9 on IMDb, David returns from the astral plane with a new (and strangely confident) lease on life. He even conjures up a lovely illusion for himself and Syd — a white room where they can be physically intimate without the actual physical part. But better control over his abilities has come at a steep cost, and Lenny/Not-Lenny soon convinces David to sneak out of Summerland in the middle of the night to rescue his sister Amy from the clutches of Division 3 on his own.

While the team races after the telepath on what they assume will be a doomed rescue mission, Cary discovers David's been the unwitting, 30-year host of an ancient, parasitic creature. From there, everything descends into an outright horror show, featuring a dark house, eerie silence, creaking doors, The Angriest Boy running through the hallways wielding a knife, and a near-catatonic Amy and David.

Den of Geeks' Nick Harley commended the "brilliant character development littered throughout" this episode of "Legion." Much of the reason the story works so well is because it gives fans intriguing character insights — like the root of Syd's complete aversion to any kind of touch, the delicate dynamic between mutant siblings Cary and Kerry, and Melanie's grief over a husband lost to the astral plane. The other reason? It leans into the horror.

Worst: Chapter 6 (Season 1, Episode 6)

As demonstrated by the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos," some notable shows have incredibly successful bottle stories. But while "Chapter 6" of "Legion" enjoys a solid rating of around an 8 on IMDb, it doesn't quite make the cut. At least, that's the view of Empire's James White, who gave the installment a 3 out of 5 stars, claiming, "the whole episode feels self-indulgent and dull compared to anything that has come before." The entry's basic story concept has become something of a cliché in the genre world. As a result, it's a relatively straightforward and traditional narrative.

Following their confrontation with the parasitic mutant that's latched itself to David, the Summerland team is thrust into a shared hallucination on the astral plane — and none the wiser regarding their predicament. In the illusion, they're all patients at Clockworks and under the care of Dr. Lenny Busker. Unlike the others, Syd sees through the cracks of this false reality. And her reward for her perception and growing awareness that this isn't real life? Bugs in her cherry pie. Worse, she can't seem to convince anyone else, and when she tries to tell David things aren't right, he talks of how much the routine at Clockworks helps him. How much he needs it. Meanwhile, an increasingly frustrated Lenny finds herself bored of playing doctor, but also incapable of taking full control of David.

Best: Chapter 20 (Season 3, Episode 1)

Boasting a rating of around a 9 on IMDb, the season three premiere of "Legion" finds David playing the part of a hippie cult leader, with best friend Lenny right by his side. But he has another, deeper agenda on his mind — and for that, he needs a time traveler. Enter Jia-Yi (Lauren Tsai), who Lenny soon dubs "Switch:" the character viewers spend the first chunk of the narrative with.

When Jia-Yi finds a cryptic flyer, she embarks on a surrealist scavenger hunt, eventually stumbling upon a house full of weirdly serene hippies. There, she meets Lenny, who proudly confirms she and David are running a cult. After an increasingly uncomfortable exchange with Lenny, Jia-Yi's introduced to an unnaturally pleasant David, but the meeting is soon disrupted when D3 raids the safehouse and Syd shoots the psychic down. Lucky for David, Switch is, indeed, a time traveler.

Den of Geeks' Nick Harley nails the reason Switch is so easily persuaded to help David in this dread-inducing installment: "Dealing with an emotionally and physically distant father who's more interested in robots than his daughter, Switch is exactly the sort of person that would be susceptible to a cult." By the end of this episode, viewers get the D3/Summerland team's visceral reaction — a mix of quiet shock and cold terror — to the discovery that David now has a time traveler in his grasp.

Worst: Chapter 21 (Season 3, Episode 2)

Ready.Steady.Cut.'s Jonathan Wilson calls this episode, which presents David as a sort of mutant version of Charles Manson, "refreshingly slight," pointing to the "human" conversation between David and Syd and commenting on how David feels more dangerous than ever before. As The A.V. Club's Alex McLevy puts it, that's perhaps the "most meaningful sequence" of "Chapter 21." In fact, the IMDb ratings for this episode dip below an 8, marking it as one of the show's worst. This particular narrative wavers because it leans a little too far into all the trippy weirdness.

David uses his powers of suggestion on a jealous Lenny, and Jia-Yi walks David through her time traveling skills. Utterly dismayed when he learns he can't travel in time with her, he tells her his ultimate goal is to widen her scope, because his plan to save the world hinges on his ability to go back and change things himself. In addition, the D3/Summerland team devises a plan to re-capture Lenny by using Squirrel, a cult member they picked up during their failed raid. But viewers soon learn she's three steps ahead of them when she dons a top hat and plays the part of the Mad Hatter in her own twisted, drugged-out version of Alice in Wonderland in order to extract information, evade the attack, and make her own move: capturing Cary for David (who needs the man's skills to help enhance Jia-Yi's powers).

Best: Chapter 23 (Season 3, Episode 4)

"Chapter 23" begins with Ptonomy checking out his new robot body while Kerry (Amber Midthunder) comments on his new robot personality — until a temporal anomaly disrupts the conversation, that is. Concerned, Kerry tracks down Syd, who's convinced David's the culprit. But David and Jia-Yi are, in fact, experiencing their own terrifying issues with time. To make matters even worse, it's a problem that's entirely out of Jia-Yi's control.

Switch reveals that the hallways she uses to travel through time also house Time Demons, and it doesn't take long for these little devils to swarm David. When he wakes, he's in what appears to be a concentration camp — imprisoned in a cell and in the company of his mother. As David begs the desolate woman to not let his father (AKA Professor X) go off on a business trip in the future, Syd has drinks with her younger self, Cary teams up with Jia-Yi to escape David's demon-infested house, and Lenny's pregnant partner gives birth.

Hovering around an impressive rating of 9 on IMDb, "Chapter 23" manages to strike a playful but horrific tone, earning its place as one of the show's best because it leans wholeheartedly into its horror elements. "Amongst the horror movie vibes and German Expressionist influences, there are some tender and revealing moments to be had," observed Den of Geek's Nick Harley, who also praised the "heartbreaking performance" from Aubrey Plaza.

Worst: Chapter 25 (Season 3, Episode 6)

Rated over a 7.5 on IMDb, "Chapter 25" is essentially the "Legion" version of "The Three Little Pigs." In this take on the fairy tale, viewers see Syd growing up in a foreign land (the astral plane), with Oliver and Melanie Bird acting as her parents after Oliver stumbles upon the infant Syd while wandering the "countryside." The baby's arrival piques the interest of Jerome (the "Wolf," played by Jason Mantzoukas), who would like nothing more than to get his paws on her. While he's soon shooed away from the straw cottage by Melanie, she frets that he'll blow their house down, and suggests that they move.

As the years pass, Syd ages, and the family relocates into the city. The Wolf, for his part, continues to lurk, haunting Syd with whispers about real-life horrors like the Holocaust and warning her of sexually-transmitted illnesses. On top of that, she begins dreaming of reality. Turns out, Melanie and Oliver have been raising her to be the kind of hero the world needs. The one who just might be able to save it.

Den of Geeks' Nick Harley considered the episode almost "too cute," lamenting that "everything is cloaked in a coat of whimsy so thick that it feels suffocating." Though this entry backs off on the horror in favor of leaning a little too far into the weird, it does feature a rap battle between Jemaine Clement and Jason Mantzoukas. And that makes it worth watching.

Best: Chapter 19 (Season 2, Episode 11)

IGN's Ryan Matsunaga praised the visuals in "Chapter 19," and Den of Geeks' Nick Harley described the installment as a "gripping" and "heart-wrenching" narrative "about mental illness, ending unhealthy relationships," and "sexual assault." In contrast, Vox's Emily St. James lamented that the heavy foreshadowing makes the "twist" of David's descent frustrating and unsurprising (but also slapped together).

This storyline treats fans to a playful rendition of The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes," as well as fun, surrealist animation representing the confrontation between David and the Shadow King. Lenny watches the battle through the scope of a giant sniper rifle before viewers are abruptly catapulted into the near-future where a forgetful Melanie and Oliver, living in relative contentment in the astral plane, talk of missing their coworkers and of David's betrayal. Not long after, back in the present, a Syd fires a bullet.

Currently rated over a 9 on IMDb, this episode features David arguing with different versions of himself, desperate to salvage his relationship and insisting he's a good person — not a powerful god. But his determination to prove he deserves love leads him to commit an unforgivable act without the influence of the Shadow King, sealing his fate as a villain.

Worst: Chapter 16 (Season 2, Episode 8)

The eighth episode of the show's sophomore season hovers around a 7.5 rating on IMDb. Critic Russ Fischer called it "a grab-bag of ideas arranged into something that looks like an episode." The A.V Club's Alex McLevy viewed it more favorably, ranking it a B, but also acknowledged that the John Hamm voice-overs had gotten stale.

A lot happens here — arguably to the narrative's detriment. The Summerland team races against Farouk, trying to locate the Shadow King's body before he can. As Oliver, Farouk turns Melanie into his puppet. Future Syd attempts to convince David to help — rather than destroy — the Shadow King, because the parasitic mutant will be pivotal in saving the world, but David's still reeling from the murder of Amy. A physically dead but mentally alive Ptonomy uncovers Admiral Fukyama's origin story — and the location of Farouk's body. On top of that, Syd confides in Clark, receiving perhaps the worst advice regarding her fracturing relationship, and David recruits a vulnerable and newly-alive Lenny to his cause.

Syd and Clark's bleak and haunting conversation, in which he basically tells her she must preserve her relationship, lest David destroy the world, serves as one of the moments that solidifies David's true narrative trajectory. "The pressure that puts on Syd, to endure being with a man for the sake of his feelings at the sake of her own, is dehumanizing, unfair and poignantly uncomfortable in the #MeToo era and while teenage boys are currently mowing down classmates who didn't reciprocate their feelings," wrote Den of Geeks' Nick Harley.

Best: Chapter 7 (Season 1, Episode 7)

The first season's penultimate episode boasts an impressive score of over a 9 on IMDb. Here, an amnesiac Oliver Bird helps the Summerland team escape from their "Clockworks" prison while a trapped David has a chat with his "rational mind." More significantly, the true identity of the parasitic mutant is revealed: Amahl Farouk AKA The Shadow King. Viewers even learn why the ancient mutant buried itself inside baby David's mind and infected his life.

"What I enjoy a lot about 'Legion' is that even though it's telling a superhero story, it doesn't bow to superhero convention," explained Vox's Alex Abad-Santos. "The show could have easily staged a big superhero battle against the Shadow King, but instead turns the battle pursuit sequence into a vintage silent film, complete with title cards." "Legion" does indulge in horror conventions — in all the right ways. In fact, "Chapter 7" is laced with notable horror homages, from "Suspiria" to John Carpenter's "They Live."

With critics like Uproxx's Alan Sepinwall calling the episode "crazy and gorgeously-executed," the core characters working together amidst all the surrealist, nightmarish madness, and the story itself serving as a perfect example of why this is called a horror series, is it really any surprise "Chapter 7" currently stands up as the show's very best?

Worst: Chapter 17 (Season 2, Episode 9)

Though The A.V. Club's Alex McLevy rated this a B+, claiming "it provides much-overdue insight into Melanie Bird's actions" and compelling social commentary regarding all these destructive men, Vulture's Oliver Sava gave the entry a dismal 2 out of 5 stars.

Barely surpassing a 7 rating on IMDb, and ranking at the very bottom of the show's sorted list, "Chapter 17" pivots from the season's main arc to trace the events that led to Melanie knocking Clark out before he could complete his part of David's plan. Mourning her husband once more — and to a degree, herself — viewers see Melanie self-medicating with hallucinogenic Vapor while spiraling into an existential crisis. That is, until the sudden appearance of Oliver disrupts her apathetic, depression-fueled wallowing. Unfortunately, it's not actually Oliver. It's the Shadow King. Worse, Farouk gets straight to work on manipulating her fragile state by leveraging her love for Oliver.

Meanwhile, Cary and Kerry have a heart-to-heart, and Lenny, thrilled to be in the real, physical world again, returns to old habits as the piece of Amy who's still alive inside of Lenny asks for her body back. While not successful on that front, Amy does at least convince Lenny to get her act together long enough to enact their part of the mission — which involves picking up a giant weapon from a sketchy parking lot and being transported to the desert.