The series finale of FX’s Legion opens with a series of title cards letting the viewer know that this is the finish. We are told that, “What it all signifies is not for us to know. It is for history to make a decision. All we can do is play the components as written. All we can know is ourselves.”
Here’s what I know about myself: Legion ought to, in theory, have been really my bag. I like psychological thrillers, superhero stuff, and psychic battles rendered as musical sequences. Legion sometimes nails its tonal balancing act, exploring the flimsiness of human perception mixed with flashy effects and powerful performances, in moments that make me really feel like there’s a thing deeper I’m missing.
But I also know that the show pisses me off, since it sucked.
I am not a fan of creator Noah Hawley’s function, but in the interest of generating certain I came by my most searing opinions honestly, I watched each episode of Legion. And sadly, I discovered a thing: I hated this show since it was so close to every thing I believed would make for terrific Television, and the quite a few strategies in which it falls brief produced me query what I wanted out of the medium.
This is a tv show that replicates silent film as a stand-in for a planet with no time, characteristics lots of shots of a man in a wheelchair who is not Professor X in a show ostensibly primarily based on the X-Guys, and culminates with an inversion of the major Smiths-versus-Neo fight in The Matrix Reloaded. So how is it feasible that it does not really feel like any one involved is obtaining any enjoyable? And how is it feasible that a seemingly hopeful ending has left me feeling absolutely nothing but angry?
In the Legion finale, David Haller (Dan Stevens), the mental patient-turned-superhero-turned-supervillain-turned cult leader, effectively returns to the previous to meet his father: the one particular and only Charles Xavier. With each other, they confront two versions of Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban) aka the Shadow King, a mutant who has actually lived in David’s head for most of his life and served as the major antagonist of the series.
Meanwhile Switch (Lauren Tsai), a time traveling mutant who turns out to be a god of some sort, dies (or transcends her physique, I guess) and serves her narrative function of defending the rest of the cast, who are, in turn, defending the infant version of David from Blue Meanie-esque demons referred to as Time Eaters that, uh, consume time. At some point, the Xavier males and the Farouks attain a detente, a mutual understanding that makes it possible for Charles and his wife Gabrielle to be true parents to David, whose troubles stem in huge portion from each the reality that his parents abandoned him and the presence of a malevolent spirit in his head. With the previous effectively changed, the characters vanish into thin air as they get the possibility to do it all more than. Back to square one particular.
There are extra than a couple of excellent tips right here. The sequence exactly where the Xavier males pull raw telepathic energy out of their ears and shape it into weapons (a mace for David, a bullet for Charles) appears cool, and feeds into the show’s eventual critique of the superhero genre later in the similar scene, Farouk inquiries why the characters’ considerable mental powers are utilized to generate weapons alternatively of actually something else. On the complete, the cast brings a degree of true tenderness to the finish of the characters’ stories, in distinct Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder as the regularly underserved Loudermilk siblings.
But for most of the show’s run, Legion’s aim was to dazzle, the smoke and mirrors and choreographed dance battle sequences hiding the reality that it wasn’t definitely about something at all. This is a show that spent its initial season asking what mental illness even was, man, just before deciding the answer didn’t matter. The second season recruited Jon Hamm to do elaborate narration about delusions for no purpose and staged equally elaborate musical numbers exactly where the complete emotional point was contained in the title of the song. This is a show that, in its third season, became a superhero story about not wanting to kill somebody though claiming that as particular and not the simple premise of Batman.
I responded to moments of Legion since I vibed with its project, but all of the elements of that project ended up functioning greater in other shows. I could have wanted a superhero show to go “dark,” but Amazon’s new series The Boys does that though also which includes jokes about Chace Crawford attempting to bone a dolphin. I could have wanted a show that makes use of lavish metaphorical musical sequences, but The Magicians explores equivalent themes, is extra enjoyable, and appears to truly love getting a Television show. Legion’s commitment to evacuating its bowels of subtext bordered on perverse, culminating in the finale’s astonishing misread of Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” a song that in the context of The Wall is about an unhealthy maternal connection encouraging a youngster to place up walls and close out the planet that Hawley makes use of to somehow cement the reality that David is loved sufficient to, like, win a fight.
Possibly that is not fair. Legion’s ending pivoted away from throwing plates of overpriced penne at the wall to a thing … effectively, to a thing. The story, it turned out, was about empathy, about receiving the possibility to do it more than, to resolve the cycle of abuse and insecurity that afflicted Gabrielle and then David and Syd. In two sequences of memories getting projected onto faces, characters obtain a speedy, total understanding of David: Charles eats a Proustian cake that makes it possible for him to encounter his son’s life, though the older Farouk makes use of his sunglasses to enable his younger self to actually see via his eyes. Each characters are overwhelmed by the sheer which means of David’s life, which is to say they are overwhelmed by the brilliance of Legion itself.
But for a show that ends with a fantasy of empathy, Legion does not care considerably about its non-David characters. David’s adopted loved ones is gone, which includes his poor murdered sister Amy. The connection in between the Loudermilks is squeezed into a couple of scenes of Kerry swinging her sword. Farouk, a supervillain who has enslaved tens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of people today, and inflicted innumerable suffering on other folks, just sort of hangs out and tends to make jokes about taking more than the planet. He seems to have only gained empathy for David to Legion, that is apparently sufficient.
The whole finale revolves about every person just needing to realize David, to give him a further possibility, even although up to the finish he callously tells his father that Switch is “no one” and basically forces her to go back in time till she dies. Syd tells Gabrielle that she demands to like her son extra, which has the impact of somehow permitting David to win a fight taking place halfway across the planet. At the finish of the finale, Syd vanishes smiling subsequent to David, largely papering more than the reality that he raped her at the finish of the second season. Confident, he apologizes, and certain, she tells him she helped him since of the infant. But, like Walt admitting he liked getting a meth kingpin to Skyler in the Breaking Poor series finale, this is also small, also late. Merely acknowledging that you fucked a thing up — apology with no reparation — is meaningless.
Normally speaking, criticism ought to be about evaluating a function of art by how effectively it did what it attempted to do, not suggesting completely new directions — or, at least, that it is on some level unfair to criticise a thing for getting what it is. Nevertheless, in the spirit of Legion’s insistence on flaunting the guidelines (or pretending they never ever existed in the initial spot), as effectively as its penchant for imagining other possibilities for the characters (one particular episode imagines various feasible lives for David, though a further follows a mythical second childhood for Syd), I would like to say: fuck that.
Tragedy would have been far truer to Legion. The ideal feasible ending for the show would have been one particular dark sufficient to indict the extremely premise of David’s quest and acknowledge that its protagonist was actually beyond saving. The initial time I watched the final two episodes of Legion, I was convinced that Farouk was not initially villainous and David’s trip to the previous, his cruelty toward Switch and Syd, was, in reality, what incited his father to violence, and ultimately to the abandonment of his son. Grim, but the twist wouldn’t let David off the hook.
Items are, at least a small bit, up in the air. Charles is nonetheless going to go do the X-Guys, I guess, which signifies he’ll in all probability be a terrible father. If I’m getting generous, there’s a hollowness to the “Mother” scene that suggests that David obtaining his parents about will just give him a distinct set of troubles, although Hawley never ever tends to make that explicit text. And the finale ends with “Happy Jack” playing more than the final shot of Child David, mirroring the starting of the initial episode, which layers “Happy Jack” more than a montage depicting David’s childhood, diagnosis, and eventual suicide try. It could just be time to do it all more than once again, in the overlapping ending style of The Wall.
On one particular level, this is a ridiculous issue to complain about. The series finale of a tv show will narrow the concentrate. But Legion willingly took on some fairly fucking severe themes — mental illness, sexual assault, consent, the integrity of the thoughts — and blanched just before it could really feel the complete influence of these choices. (Even though Gabrielle describes the term “mental illness” as “such a clinical name for a thing so raw,” it does not enable that we nonetheless do not know the extent of David’s issues, and that the show does not look to care.) It would be fairly straightforward for the show to treat this as tragic, or as a tentative new starting.
So of course Legion ends by considering about what it could have accomplished with the freedom it allotted itself. Possibly David will turn out precisely the similar, but it does not matter since at least he can transform. The astral plane is gone for now, but at least we know it is pure, limitless prospective that could be utilized for all sorts of points, if the show ever got about to it. At some point, the planet exists as David desires it to be. The most crucial issue is not just the thoughts, but his thoughts, not just his thoughts, but his innocent thoughts.
David gets away from all of the points he hates about himself, defending himself and preserving the possibility that he could be a excellent particular person just after all. The finish of Legion is engaged in the similar approach of projection and avoidance — and perhaps in panning the finale, so am I. (Right after all, if I criticize Legion for getting all sound and fury, and masking the lack of a central concept, there’s no way I could possibly be performing the similar issue.) This is some galaxy brain shit, but it is the complete point of the show: As Hawley told Polygon at the starting of the season, “the ending is what offers the story its which means.”
In the finish, Legion valorizes prospective, prospective that has been squandered and will, in all likelihood, be squandered once again and once again and once again. I guess Hawley is ideal: all we can know is ourselves.
Eric Thurm is the founder, host, and all round doofus behind Drunk Education, which began as a celebration at his residence that various people today had to be tricked into attending. He is also a writer whose function has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club, and other publications, and the author of a book on board games forthcoming from NYU Press in October.