This review contains spoilers for the series finale of Legion, aka Season 3, episode 8, “Chapter 27.”
It’s hard to know what to say about a series like Legion ending. There’s an impulse to wax nostalgic on the sum of its parts; to gloss over the bits and bobs that do not work in order to consider whether the plane was or was not well-landed. Does it all just come down to the ending, after all the complicated, wildly outlandish, and totally kookaroo stuff we just watched over the last three seasons? Did any of it matter? Was that entirely the point?
Legion’s goals were always simultaneously simple and wildly complicated. Series creator Noah Hawley wasn’t interested in telling a typical comic book origin story — he just wanted to have some trippy, existential fun with a bunch of incredibly game actors. This is why the story of David Haller appealed to him: the son of Professor X/Charles Xavier is the most powerful mutant of all time, but no one knows where his powers truly originated. Were they because of his father, the monster in his head, or the mental health issues that seemed to swirl around the lot of it? It wasn’t so cut and dry. It was a dissection of creative talent and mental health: how much of the control over these things actually belongs to us? In this world, the usual social binaries need not apply because our hero was actually a superpowered villain who really just wanted to be good. And so…our deliriously tripped-out journey into David’s mind began, and began again, and restarted, and got turned over on its head and sent on a quest for control and dominance between a “bad guy” and a “good guy” who were slowly trading places.
Let’s summarize what happened in Legion’s final hour: David and his father were forced to battle two versions of Farouk — his younger and older selves — while Syd, Cary, and Kerry simultaneously tried to protect baby David and his mother Gabrielle. All of this happened in the past, while their reason for being there, Switch, was laid out for the count. Very quickly, David and Charles were separated with Farouks that matched their mentalities — David with the younger, Charles with the older. Their perspectives were everything, informing one about the other – with Charles and Farouk ultimately coming to an understanding, giving them a chance to break a long cycle of pain. This resulted in David ultimately “winning” (maybe) by choosing peace instead of violence and receiving a long overdue apology from his father for giving him away.
As a result, David’s baby self and the people whose lives he affected received a new future, unencumbered by Farouk — who also thought of himself as David’s father, in a way. As the series stated in its opening moments: this is the end, the beginning, or maybe nothing, or maybe everything. How could anyone really know?
After watching Kerry fight off monsters that turned out to be little more than creepy pests easily controlled by four-dimensional persons (a.k.a. what time travelers become after they die, like Switch), the metaphor remained plain: we’re scared of what we don’t know and we work hard to try and control it. Our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses if we don’t make ourselves aware of them. And yes, people can change, if we let them.
Is there more to this life than what meets the eye? Are we all just scared babies looking for our mother/father figures while dancing around this life in a cloud of unknowable, external whimsy? In so many ways, Legion pushed this conversation forward. Which is what made its obsession with a particular binary so very frustrating (to say nothing of the many excellent characters who ultimately had no closure in this final season, like Ptonomy Wallace, or Amy Haller, or Melanie Bird, et al).
We’re referring to Hawley’s seeming commentary on the relationships between women and men. For all that Hawley deftly deconstructed human nature, our limits and abilities, and how fear plays into our choices, it was incredibly frustrating to see how one-dimensional many of the women in David’s life became. The way the series ended seemed, at times, to romanticize the idea of sacrificing your life to fix a brilliant, tortured man. Syd’s ending felt more like lip service than anything else, especially since we didn’t see how her life turned out without David’s interference. (Although she at least got an apology.)
David has always used the women in his life, and blamed them with equal measure. Sure, the series did a fair amount to show why this was short-sighted and wrong, but it also sharply reinforced those ideas by returning to them over and over. Syd and Gabrielle were both constantly forced to shoulder responsibility for a man whose problems were ultimately of his own creation, with or without the demon that took up shop in his brain when he was a kid. Once removed, David only got worse. And with so much of the impetus for his behavior placed on those two women in particular (though Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny hardly got a fair shake either), the final two seasons felt especially incongruous.
Why were we singing songs about mothers suffocating their babies and women ruining men in the series’ final installment? Why did we spend a whole season watching Melanie Bird get high and wax angrily without agency? How did Amy Haller feel inside Lenny’s mind throughout any of this? And why was “Mother” by Pink Floyd David and Gabrielle’s eleventh hour number? Lyrics like “Mamma’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true / Mamma’s gonna put all of her fears into you / Mamma’s gonna keep you right here, under her wing / She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing,” don’t exactly inspire confidence about what the series and its creator were presenting as a major source of David’s problems. Charles got his chance to tackle David’s issues head-on, but Gabrielle remained on the periphery.
Still, there were many positives throughout Legion’s three-season trip – in earlier seasons (before they seemed to become a substitute for actual character development), its musical moments were a dazzling treat, and throughout its run all of its actors were incredible, imbuing the series with heart and humanity in spite of its inherent theatricality. And Plaza’s Lenny exploded from the screen every second she was on it, literally a Mad Hatter in an earlier episode from this season, but also metaphorically speaking throughout the show.
But far and away the highlight of the series was Navid Negahban. Over the course of the show, the actor embodied a role previously meant for someone else (Wonder Woman’s Saïd Taghmaoui was originally cast) so beautifully and effectively, he stole the show right out from underneath its titular star. If anyone has come out on top, both in the series and overall, it is Negahban/Amahl Farouk. When the Shadow King was initially introduced, it was through Lenny — and Plaza was incredible in that role, easily stealing the first season. Negahban had big, weird shoes to fill once the hunt for the Shadow King’s original body — that of Amahl Farouk — began, and he absolutely crushed it. I’ve yet to witness a more captivating, nuanced, terrifying performer in a superhero project, full stop. Let’s have more Navid Negahban in everything, and all types of roles (romantic comedy musical, anyone?).
Legion was a series I watched from the beginning, rapturously enamored with its flights of fancy and bizarre-o world storytelling. In so many ways, it was the most comic book-y thing on TV — it managed to do things with its villains and visual language that felt as close to approximating the artform, in both style and appeal, as one could get in a different medium. And, ultimately, it did stick the landing on the story I think it was ultimately trying to tell – a tale of perspective, loss, and redemption.
The phrase “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” is both a song lyric — ”Closing Time” from Semisonic — and, essentially, the thesis of the show: there’s a lot we don’t know, and something we thought was an ending might actually be something brand new. Or, at least, a chance for a re-do. Though it dragged a bit more in its final season, layering on more gimmicks and cheese and far too many musical interludes instead of actual emotional storytelling, the series mostly managed to be a fun watch. But will its mixed signals and preference for style over substance be enough for it to stand the test of time? I guess that’s sort of relative to your place in it.