‘Legion’ Series Finale: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
This post contains full spoilers for the series finale of FX’s Legion.
As Professor X himself, Charles Xavier (Harry Lloyd), confronts the powerful telepath Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban) on the astral plane late in the Legion series finale, Farouk scoffs at Xavier choosing a military knife as his weapon. The astral plane is “an arena of infinite promise,” Farouk notes. “Surely, we have more imagination than that?”
Legion creator Noah Hawley treated these three deeply strange, often riveting, occasionally indecipherable seasons as his arena of infinite promise. Coherence — both narrative and emotional — always came across as secondary to presenting the wildest and most memorable imagery possible. Why fight with a knife when you can transform into a samurai, or a tank, instead? Why explain things when you can stage a rap battle? Bigger, more colorful, and more bizarre was always the order of the day, particularly as the series’ facility with digital effects increased over time to make the powers of title character David Haller (Dan Stevens) appear disturbingly casual and real.
This philosophy could lead to remarkable images, like this season’s introduction of a race of time demons that appeared as steampunk shadows with crooked smiles and apelike hands. But Hawley and his collaborators had a tendency to get high on their own supply, and to weigh the style so much more heavily than the substance that even the cool visuals could become numbing. The first season felt just coherent enough for the garish depictions of superpowers and mental illness to feel like a thrilling bonus. But Season Two wandered aimlessly until not even the pretty pictures were enough to justify the muddled storytelling.
This third and final season mostly returned to that original, effective balance. At only eight episodes, and with one clear story arc — David, now a cult leader, uses the time traveler Switch (Lauren Tsai) to try to rewrite his own damaged life story, while ex-girlfriend Syd (Rachel Keller) and her team try to stop him — it was easy enough to follow. Little time was wasted on supporting characters who had never really come to life, like Jeremie Harris’ Ptonomy, who spent part of this season in a robot body with an interesting hairstyle, or Hamish Linklater’s Clark, who was thrown out of a blimp after losing his narrative usefulness.
It was Legion playing to its strengths and largely avoiding its weaknesses, and the characters who had always mattered got fitting send-offs. Aubrey Plaza’s ruthless grifter Lenny, for instance, finally developed genuine, tragic emotions when a time hiccup caused her to spend an entire lifetime in a day with the daughter she never knew she wanted. Syd got to hang out with her teen self, each giving the other emotional closure, before this final adventure rewrote her timeline altogether, effectively killing off this version of her. Mutant twins Cary (Bill Irwin) and Kerry (Amber Midthunder) experienced one last role reversal, as Kerry’s furious, thrilling battle against the time demons aged her into the older of the two siblings after a lifetime of calling Cary “old man.” (Never mind that the rewriting of the timeline should have fixed that problem, too; even at the end, Legion didn’t want you to think too closely about anything that was happening.)
Most interesting of all was what the final season did with the show’s most problematic character: David himself. Stevens had seemed miscast in the first two years, but he did very well as this new villainous iteration of the character. And the adventures in time allowed us to get to know both his dad, Charles, and his mother, Gabrielle Haller (Stephanie Corneliussen from Mr. Robot). Back in the first season, characters kept debating whether David was a powerful mutant or just mentally ill, before the answer turned out to be “both.” This season provided further nuance. In depicting Gabrielle as someone with her own sickness, the season made clear that Farouk didn’t make David ill, but only exacerbated a condition he’d inherited from one parent (just like he inherited superpowers from the other). It added a welcome level of poignance and depth to a character who had previously been a pencil sketch in a show with stunningly colorful backgrounds. When David’s core personality sang “Mother” from The Wall — one final nod to Pink Floyd, one of the series’ creative touchstones — as his other personae fought Farouk, it felt like the steak and the sizzle had come together again, and David seemed like enough of a person for the extended music video sequence to matter.
This final chapter even winked at the show’s own fondness for gibberish. It opened with a series of title cards explaining, “This is the end. Then, the beginning. Then, the end. What it all means is not for us to know. It is for history to decide.”
How will history view Legion? From the start, it was already something of a footnote to our current era of comic-book dominance of movies and TV: a marginal X-Men character, on a channel not generally known for superhero properties (though it was the once and future home to Hawley’s Fargo), presented in a radically different style from any other Marvel or DC property on the big and small screen. It didn’t even get to hold the unofficial title of weirdest show on TV for very long, because Twin Peaks: The Return debuted a couple of months after Legion Season One ended, and David Lynch’s inscrutability left Hawley’s work seeming like Law & Order in comparison. There was a fair amount of critical buzz about the first season, particularly when we got to the “Bolero” montage, but Season Two cooled that enthusiasm and seemed to chase away all but the diehards.
When it was good, Legion offered imagery the likes of which I never could have imagined seeing on television. (And which would have seemed awfully trippy even if they were on a comics page drawn by Haller’s co-creator, the very psychedelic Bill Sienkiewicz.) It offered spectacular supporting performances by the likes of Keller, Plaza, Irwin, Jemaine Clement, and more. And periodically — including in this very satisfying finale — all its mismatched pieces held themselves together just long enough to create something more beautiful than their sum total.
The end takes us right back to the beginning: baby David Haller, now freed of Farouk’s stain on his life, but still with many challenges to face thanks to the gifts and deficits his parents have given him. The Who’s “Happy Jack” plays, just as it did in the series’ opening moments. Will this version of David grow up happier and healthier than the one depicted across these psychedelic 27 episodes of television? We’ll have to leave that up to our own imaginations. But for his sake, I want to imagine something a bit more prosaic for his new life than his old one turned out to be.