Legion sequence finale and the unrealized potential of David’s story
The sequence finale of FX’s Legion opens with a sequence of title playing cards letting the viewer know that that is the top. We’re instructed that, “What all of it means isn’t for us to know. It’s for historical past to resolve. All we will do is play the components as written. All we will know is ourselves.”
Right here’s what I find out about myself: Legion ought to, in principle, 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 powerful 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’m 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 believed would make for excellent TV, and the various methods wherein it falls brief made me query what I wished 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 a number of pictures 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 large Smiths-versus-Neo battle in The Matrix Reloaded. So how is it attainable that it doesn’t really feel like anybody concerned is having any enjoyable? And the way is it attainable seemingly hopeful ending has left me feeling nothing however offended?
Within the Legion finale, David Haller (Dan Stevens), the psychological patient-turned-superhero-turned-supervillain-turned cult chief, efficiently returns to the previous to fulfill 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 sequence.
In the meantime Swap (Lauren Tsai), a time touring mutant who seems to be a god of some kind, dies (or transcends her physique, I suppose) and serves her narrative perform 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. Finally, 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 possibility to do it throughout. Again to sq. one.
There are quite a lot of 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 an alternative of actually anything. On the entire, the forged brings a level of actual tenderness to the top of the characters’ tales, specifically Invoice Irwin and Amber Midthunder because the continuously underserved Loudermilk siblings.
However for a lot of the present’s run, Legion’s intention 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 purpose 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 desirous to kill somebody whereas claiming that as particular and never the fundamental premise of Batman.
I responded to moments of Legion as a result of I vibed with its challenge, however all the elements of that challenge ended up working higher in different exhibits. I may need wished a superhero present to go “darkish,” however Amazon’s new sequence The Boys does that whereas additionally together with jokes about Chace Crawford making an attempt to bone a dolphin. I may need wished a present that makes use of lavish metaphorical musical sequences, however The Magicians explores comparable themes, is extra enjoyable, and appears to really take pleasure in 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 “Mom,” 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 beloved sufficient to, like, win a battle.
Possibly 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 possibility to do it over, to resolve the cycle of abuse and insecurity that Gabrielle after which David and Syd. In two sequences of reminiscences being projected onto faces, characters purchase a fast, 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 way of his eyes. Each characters are overwhelmed by the sheer which 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 a number of scenes of Kerry swinging her sword. Farouk, a supervillain who has enslaved tens, if not lots of, if not 1000’s of individuals, and inflicted innumerable struggling on others, simply form of hangs out and makes jokes about taking on 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 know David, to present him one other likelihood, regardless that as much as the top he callously tells his father that Swap is “nobody” 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 battle 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. Certain, he apologizes, and certain, she tells him she helped him due to the infant. However, like Walt admitting he preferred being a meth kingpin to Skyler within the Breaking Dangerous sequence finale, that is too little, too late. Merely acknowledging that you simply fucked one thing up — apology with out reparation — is meaningless.
Typically talking, criticism must be about evaluating a murals by how nicely it did what it tried to do, not suggesting solely new instructions — or, no less than, that it’s on some stage unfair to criticise one thing for being what it’s. Nonetheless, 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 attainable lives for David, whereas one other follows a legendary second childhood for Syd), I want to say: fuck that.
Tragedy would have been far more true to Legion. The absolute 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 used to be satisfied that Farouk was not initially villainous and David’s journey to the previous, his cruelty towards Swap and Syd, was, in actual fact, what incited his father to violence, and ultimately to the abandonment of his son. Grim, however the twist wouldn’t let David off the hook.
Issues are, no less than slightly bit, up within the air. Charles remains to be going to go do the X-Males, I suppose, which implies he’ll in all probability be a horrible father. If I’m being beneficiant, there’s a hollowness to the “Mom” scene that implies that David having his mother and father round will simply give him a unique set of points, although Hawley by no means makes that express textual content. And the finale ends with “Joyful Jack” enjoying over the ultimate shot of Child David, mirroring the start of the primary episode, which layers “Joyful Jack” over a montage depicting David’s childhood, analysis, and eventual suicide try. It would simply be time to do it over again, within the overlapping ending fashion of The Wall.
On one stage, this can be a ridiculous factor to complain about. The sequence finale of a tv present will slim the main target. However Legion willingly took on some fairly fucking critical themes — psychological sickness, sexual assault, consent, the integrity of the thoughts — and blanched earlier than it may really feel the total influence of these selections. (Although Gabrielle describes the time period “psychological sickness” as “such a scientific identify for one thing so uncooked,” 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 enthusiastic about what it may have executed with the liberty it allotted itself. Possibly David will prove precisely the identical, but it surely doesn’t matter as a result of no less than he can change. The astral aircraft is gone for now, however no less than we all know it’s pure, limitless potential that may very well be used for all kinds of issues, if the present ever acquired round to it. Finally, the world exists as David needs it to be. A very powerful factor is not only the thoughts, however his thoughts, not simply his thoughts, however his harmless thoughts.
David will get away from all the issues he hates about himself, defending himself and preserving the likelihood that he is likely to be a very good particular person in any case. 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 dearth of a central thought, there’s no approach I may probably be doing the identical factor.) That is some galaxy mind shit, but it surely’s the entire level of the present: As Hawley instructed Polygon in the beginning of the season, “the ending is what provides the story its which means.”
Ultimately, Legion valorizes potential, potential that has been squandered and can, in all chance, be squandered many times and once more. I suppose Hawley is correct: all we will know is ourselves.
Eric Thurm is the founder, host, and total doofus behind Drunk Training, which began as a celebration at his home that a number of folks 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 creator of a e book on board video games forthcoming from NYU Press in October.