Legion perfectly balances an untrustworthy hero you can’t help but love, making David Haller both a protagonist, and an antagonist too.
As someone who is unfamiliar with the source comics, and saw zero promotional videos, I started watching Legion with no preconceptions of characters, plot, or themes. I quickly fell in love with David, Syd, and Amy, and easily became suspicious of Walter/The Eye and Division 3. But as sweet and troubled as David seemed, I also realized how often I pause to question if things David says (or thinks) are true.
As it turns out, what’s keeping me invested in Legion is not the villainous Division 3, who, comparatively, don’t feel like that much of a threat. I’m glued to the screen because of David. It’s not just because I like David though, it’s because David himself feels like the biggest threat on the show. Considering David is Legion‘s protagonist, he is incredibly untrustworthy. He constantly lies to others and to himself, though the trickiest part is that it’s often unclear if he even knows he’s lying.
When we’re introduced to David in episode 1, he’s in a psychiatric hospital being treated for mental illness. Right away we question his sanity and reliability. Then we’re led to believe Syd doesn’t exist and he made her up.
From the start we’re meant to doubt David, and even though it’s revealed he has powers and isn’t crazy, the seed has been planted. In fact, by the end of the episode, we still see that he can’t be trusted. First he says that the Interrogator was the one who picked him up from the hospital, then he remembers it was actually Melanie Bird. Am I the only one that still wasn’t sure which memory was true? Since that moment, I’m never certain of anything David says.
Ptonomy states that most people’s memories are unreliable, but when it comes to David, it’s hard to tell the difference between unreliable and deceptive. What’s intentionally inaccurate or missing, what’s unintentional, and by whose device are those memories altered or missing?
In subsequent episodes, we delve deeper into David’s mind, courtesy of Ptonomy. Yay, we’re finally going to start getting answers! Right? Wrong. We consistently come up short, as David consciously and/or subconsciously keeps Ptonomy and us, the viewers, out. Barricaded by the Angry Boy and the yellow eyed demon, David is prevented from remembering certain details of his past. But it’s also possible he put these walls in place himself, and he just can’t remember.
As the Summerland crew continue trying to access David’s memories for both his sake and theirs, it’s becoming more apparent that the real antagonist of Legion is actually David. Division 3 are certainly villains of this story, but they are not the driving force of conflict. An antagonist is that which opposes the protagonist(s), and the biggest opposition facing David, Syd, and the rest, is David.
Summerland need David to fight off Division 3 (and whatever other Divisions that might arise), but it’s impossible until David can control his powers. Except it also seems impossible for David to do that, since he/his mind has locked parts of itself away. There’s so much of David’s past that’s yet to be revealed, and even more is unknown of his power’s capabilities. How can you trust someone who continues to hide his past from you? How can you trust someone who doesn’t even know what he’s hiding? Once parts of his past are unlocked, who’s to know if he’ll still be the same person?
As far as we can tell, David is not a villain; he has no intentions of harming the people of Summerland. However, David is untrustworthy and unpredictable, and it’s causing inner conflict with himself and those around him who want to help. Look at one of the tensest moments of the show up to this point. While in David’s mind, Syd and young David run from the Angry Boy. The chase may have only been in David’s head, and (probably) nothing would have happened to Syd, but it was still the most on edge I’ve felt in the show so far.
The David we know now is a good guy, but he’s a good guy who’s hiding things, some of which are bad things. Remember when David showed us that he stole from his doctor? A crime, yes, but not that bad. Then we find out he didn’t just steal, he violently beat Dr. Poole too. Bird brought in someone she’d hoped could help them, but he’s ended up causing more problems than they had previously. Until the good guys can win the battle on their own front, they’ve no chance of winning against Division 3.
So who is David Haller, who was David Haller, and what does he want now?