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Legion series finale and the unrealized potential of David’s story

The collection finale of FX’s Legion opens with a collection of title playing cards letting the viewer know that that is the tip. We’re informed that, “What it all means is not for us to know. It is for history to decide. All we can do is play the parts as written. All we can know is ourselves.”

Right here’s what I find out about myself: Legion ought to, in concept, have been extraordinarily my bag. I like psychological thrillers, superhero stuff, and psychic battles rendered as musical sequences. Legion often nails its tonal balancing act, exploring the flimsiness of human notion blended with flashy results and robust performances, in moments that make me really feel like there’s one thing deeper I’m lacking.

However I additionally know that the present pisses me off, as a result of it sucked.

I am not a fan of creator Noah Hawley’s work, however within the curiosity of creating certain I got here by my most searing opinions actually, I watched each episode of Legion. And sadly, I realized one thing: I hated this present as a result of it was so near every little thing I thought would make for excellent TV, and the various methods by which it falls brief made me query what I needed out of the medium.

This can be a tv present that replicates silent movie as a stand-in for a world with out time, options numerous photographs of a person in a wheelchair who isn’t Professor X in a present ostensibly based mostly on the X-Males, and culminates with an inversion of the massive Smiths-versus-Neo combat in The Matrix Reloaded. So how is it potential that it doesn’t really feel like anybody concerned is having any enjoyable? And the way is it potential {that a} seemingly hopeful ending has left me feeling nothing however offended?


A well dressed Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban) standing in a black void in the series finale of Legion

Suzanne Tenner/FX

Within the Legion finale, David Haller (Dan Stevens), the psychological patient-turned-superhero-turned-supervillain-turned cult chief, efficiently returns to the previous to satisfy his father: the one and solely Charles Xavier. Collectively, they confront two variations of Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban) aka the Shadow King, a mutant who has actually lived in David’s head for many of his life and served as the first antagonist of the collection.

In the meantime Swap (Lauren Tsai), a time touring mutant who seems to be a god of some type, dies (or transcends her physique, I guess) and serves her narrative operate of defending the remainder of the forged, who’re, in flip, defending the infant model of David from Blue Meanie-esque demons known as Time Eaters that, uh, eat time. Ultimately, the Xavier males and the Farouks attain a detente, a mutual understanding that permits Charles and his spouse Gabrielle to be actual mother and father to David, whose points stem largely from each the truth that his mother and father deserted him and the presence of a malevolent spirit in his head. With the previous efficiently modified, the characters vanish into skinny air as they get the prospect to do it throughout. Again to sq. one.

There are various good concepts right here. The sequence the place the Xavier males pull uncooked telepathic energy out of their ears and form it into weapons (a mace for David, a bullet for Charles) seems to be cool, and feeds into the present’s eventual critique of the superhero style; later in the identical scene, Farouk questions why the characters’ appreciable psychological powers are used to create weapons as a substitute of actually the rest. On the entire, the forged brings a level of actual tenderness to the tip of the characters’ tales, specifically Invoice Irwin and Amber Midthunder because the often underserved Loudermilk siblings.

However for a lot of the present’s run, Legion’s goal was to dazzle, the smoke and mirrors and choreographed dance battle sequences hiding the truth that it wasn’t actually about something in any respect. This can be a present that spent its first season asking what psychological sickness even was, man, earlier than deciding the reply didn’t matter. The second season recruited Jon Hamm to do elaborate narration about delusions for no cause and staged equally elaborate musical numbers the place the entire emotional level was contained within the title of the tune. This can be a present that, in its third season, turned a superhero story about not eager to kill somebody whereas claiming that as particular and never the essential premise of Batman.

I responded to moments of Legion as a result of I vibed with its undertaking, however the entire features of that undertaking ended up working higher in different exhibits. I may need needed a superhero present to go “dark,” however Amazon’s new collection The Boys does that whereas additionally together with jokes about Chace Crawford making an attempt to bone a dolphin. I may need needed a present that makes use of lavish metaphorical musical sequences, however The Magicians explores comparable themes, is extra enjoyable, and appears to really get pleasure from being a TV present. Legion’s dedication to evacuating its bowels of subtext bordered on perverse, culminating within the finale’s astonishing misinterpret of Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” a tune that within the context of The Wall is about an unhealthy maternal relationship encouraging a baby to place up partitions and shut out the world that Hawley makes use of to in some way cement the truth that David is liked sufficient to, like, win a combat.


Charles Xavier (Harry Lloyd) wearing an early incarnation of Cerebro in Legion

Suzanne Tenner/FX

Perhaps that’s not truthful. Legion’s ending pivoted away from throwing plates of overpriced penne on the wall to one thing … nicely, to one thing. The story, it turned out, was about empathy, about getting the prospect to do it over, to resolve the cycle of abuse and insecurity that stricken Gabrielle after which David and Syd. In two sequences of recollections being projected onto faces, characters purchase a speedy, complete understanding of David: Charles eats a Proustian cake that permits him to expertise his son’s life, whereas the older Farouk makes use of his sun shades to permit his youthful self to actually see by means of his eyes. Each characters are overwhelmed by the sheer that means of David’s life, which is to say they’re overwhelmed by the brilliance of Legion itself.

However for a present that ends with a fantasy of empathy, Legion doesn’t care a lot about its non-David characters. David’s adopted household is gone, together with his poor murdered sister Amy. The connection between the Loudermilks is squeezed into just a few scenes of Kerry swinging her sword. Farouk, a supervillain who has enslaved tens, if not tons of, if not hundreds of individuals, and inflicted innumerable struggling on others, simply type of hangs out and makes jokes about taking up the world. He seems to have solely gained empathy for David; to Legion, that’s apparently sufficient.

Your complete finale revolves round everybody simply needing to perceive David, to present him one other likelihood, although as much as the tip he callously tells his father that Swap is “no one” and primarily forces her to return in time till she dies. Syd tells Gabrielle that she wants to like her son extra, which has the impact of in some way permitting David to win a combat taking place midway the world over. On the finish of the finale, Syd vanishes smiling subsequent to David, largely papering over the truth that he raped her on the finish of the second season. Positive, he apologizes, and certain, she tells him she helped him due to the infant. However, like Walt admitting he favored being a meth kingpin to Skyler within the Breaking Unhealthy collection finale, that is too little, too late. Merely acknowledging that you simply fucked one thing up — apology with out reparation — is meaningless.

Usually talking, criticism ought to be about evaluating a murals by how nicely it did what it tried to do, not suggesting totally new instructions — or, not less than, that it’s on some stage unfair to criticise one thing for being what it’s. Nevertheless, within the spirit of Legion’s insistence on flaunting the foundations (or pretending they by no means existed within the first place), in addition to its penchant for imagining different prospects for the characters (one episode imagines a number of potential lives for David, whereas one other follows a legendary second childhood for Syd), I wish to say: fuck that.

Tragedy would have been far more true to Legion. The very best ending for the present would have been one darkish sufficient to indict the very premise of David’s quest and acknowledge that its protagonist was actually past saving. The primary time I watched the ultimate two episodes of Legion, I was satisfied that Farouk was not initially villainous and David’s journey to the previous, his cruelty towards Swap and Syd, was, actually, what incited his father to violence, and finally to the abandonment of his son. Grim, however the twist wouldn’t let David off the hook.

Issues are, not less than a little bit bit, up within the air. Charles continues to be going to go do the X-Males, I guess, which suggests he’ll most likely be a horrible father. If I’m being beneficiant, there’s a hollowness to the “Mother” scene that implies that David having his mother and father round will simply give him a special set of points, although Hawley by no means makes that specific textual content. And the finale ends with “Happy Jack” taking part in over the ultimate shot of Child David, mirroring the start of the primary episode, which layers “Happy Jack” over a montage depicting David’s childhood, analysis, and eventual suicide try. It would simply be time to do it once more, within the overlapping ending model of The Wall.

On one stage, it is a ridiculous factor to complain about. The collection finale of a tv present will slender the main focus. However Legion willingly took on some fairly fucking severe themes — psychological sickness, sexual assault, consent, the integrity of the thoughts — and blanched earlier than it may really feel the total impression of these choices. (Although Gabrielle describes the time period “mental illness” as “such a clinical name for something so raw,” it doesn’t assist that we nonetheless don’t know the extent of David’s issues, and that the present doesn’t appear to care.) It might be comparatively easy for the present to deal with this as tragic, or as a tentative new starting.

So after all Legion ends by fascinated by what it may have achieved with the liberty it allotted itself. Perhaps David will prove precisely the identical, nevertheless it doesn’t matter as a result of not less than he can change. The astral aircraft is gone for now, however not less than we know it’s pure, limitless potential that could possibly be used for all types of issues, if the present ever received round to it. Ultimately, the world exists as David needs it to be. An important factor isn’t just the thoughts, however his thoughts, not simply his thoughts, however his harmless thoughts.

David will get away from the entire issues he hates about himself, defending himself and preserving the chance that he could be a superb individual in spite of everything. The tip of Legion is engaged in the identical strategy of projection and avoidance — and perhaps in panning the finale, so am I. (In any case, if I criticize Legion for being all sound and fury, and masking the shortage of a central thought, there’s no method I may presumably be doing the identical factor.) That is some galaxy mind shit, nevertheless it’s the entire level of the present: As Hawley informed Polygon at the start of the season, “the ending is what gives the story its meaning.”

In the long run, Legion valorizes potential, potential that has been squandered and can, in all chance, be squandered time and again and once more. I guess Hawley is true: all we are able to know is ourselves.


Eric Thurm is the founder, host, and general doofus behind Drunk Training, which began as a celebration at his home that a number of individuals needed to be tricked into attending. He’s additionally a author whose work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Membership, and different publications, and the writer of a guide on board video games forthcoming from NYU Press in October.

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