Legion’s Final Season Contains Multitudes

Last weekend was very productive for me writing things that weren’t my difficult second novel. I wrote about Agents of SHIELD‘s penultimate season & She-Ra & The Princesses of Power season 2.5 back to back! Now I shall attempt to review the final season of FX’s Legion. (Not to be confused with the angel movie starring Vision, Mockingbird, Speedy, the Blob, & Abe Sapien that was adapted into its own TV show called Dominion?) There’s a reason it doesn’t say “previously on…”

Xavier_ShadowKing.png

Somebody didn’t commit to their Statler & Waldorf couples costume.

Confusing time travel further marks this a legitimutant entry in the X-Men canon. Legion tried to fix the past with disastrous results in “Legion Quest,” so it’s even appropriate. (This David isn’t trying to kill Magneto before he was born, so Magneto doesn’t appear during the courtship of his parents. I was still expecting the conclusion to be David erasing himself from existence by averting his conception.) It makes me yearn for a timeline where Noah Hawley also made Dark Phoenix. (It hurt Disney’s bottom line, so now the big X-Men relaunch is off! At least there’s still The New Mutants to look forward to…) Alas, his Doctor Doom movie has been doomed by the Disney-Fox merger. This narrative device allows my review to jarringly hopscotch through events without notice. The SPOILERS will make more sense if you’ve watched the series, but you’ll get a similar disorienting experience to viewing the program if you’ve not.

Legion’s second season’s ending was controversial. This season is supposed to be about David “off his meds” as a supervillain origin story. I don’t object to this since Legion often fills an adversarial role in the comics, although viewers eager for positive neurodivergent representation may feel betrayed. David building a creepy killer cult of personality around himself is certainly supervillain territory. We’ve spent so much time empathizing with David, however, that it’s hard to see him as irredeemable. Him being hunted by Division 3, a fascist mutant-corralling agency that allied itself with the Shadow King, still makes him look somewhat heroic.

Its premiere was directed by Andrew Stanton of Pixar & John Carter fame. The hook gag was funny all three times. Superorganism performed their own “Something For Your MIND” as dry cleaners. This series is definitely a musical, by the way.

Lauren Tsai did some variant covers for Marvel before becoming Switch. Her character is actually more similar to Tempus, whereas Syd’s is more like a genderbent Switch. (Syd has Blindfold’s love interest role to further complicate comparisons.) When she collapses toothless in the past, David callously dismisses her as a means to an end whereas his dad insists everyone matters. Theoretically they’re both right, as Switch is an anthropomorphized plot device helping David for shaky reasons without needing any telepathic coercion. I guess she’s rebelling against her distant father that loves automatons?

Cary & Kerry Loudermilk are so wholesome & fun. They’re a more distinct manifestation of two personas in one being than David. Cary’s mirror dance gives Bill Irwin a showcase, while Amber Midthunder makes joyously slicing up time demons with a katana look exhilarating.

Mainframe-Ptonomy reminds me of Age of Apocalypse’s M. Rather than being Ptonomy Wallace’s consciousness that we saw escape into Division-3’s mainframe upon his untimely physical demise, it seems to just be the D3 Mainframe in an LMD body that resembles him. So Ptonomy’s character development got cut short, but at least Jeremie Harris still gets paid to show up.

MadHatterLennyBusker

See Legion season one & Ingrid Goes West for her Joker & Catwoman auditions. She’s becoming a one woman Gotham.

Even if Aubrey Plaza doesn’t get to be Catwoman in The Batman, this makes a strong case for casting her as Mad Hatter. (The Sea Hag sounds like her dream role so somebody better make a new Popeye.) She’s been great at projecting bravado to mask Lenny’s fear of becoming obsolete to David. The Breakfast Queen carries a hammer as her scepter like Ronan the Accuser & Lois Lane. Violence Lollipop Busker is a fantastic name for her child. She lives out her daughter’s entire life in a condensed span due to time demons, but then maybe her daughter & wife, Salmon (like the color not the fish), vanishes? Rather than being grateful, it inspires her to spite David’s narcissism by killing herself (& his sister). This could’ve used more clarification. I was kind of expecting to delve more into her sharing a body with Amy Haller.

Clark DeBussy looks like Two-Face, especially the boring redesign without the bifurcated suit. David erases Clark’s husband’s long term memory to circumvent his mental training. (Meanwhile in the comics, his daddy was once foiled by one soldier trained to think about porn around telepaths.) Lenny & Clark, who both happen to be explicitly not heterosexual, definitely die in this timeline.

I didn’t expect Gabrielle Haller’s WWII backstory to be maintained! Hawley says the series is set in “our own alternate reality … where it’s both 1964 and the future.” Instead of a modern series with retro flourishes, it’s a period piece with futuristic elements! So that’s somewhat more coherent than X-Movie continuity. Since David says he’s thirty-two, however, the series must be set in the mid 70’s at the earliest (regardless of anachronistic songs).

Idealistic young Charles Xavier has hair, which is another indication this is closer to cinematic than comics canon. (Those are weirdly fixated on hair origins.) In addition to her wartime PTSD, Gabrielle Haller looks like she’s going to crack from an undiagnosed hereditary mental illness at any moment. When Syd tells her the fate of the world depends upon her loving her son, I get the impression this inspirational speech will have the opposite effect.

Time travel is presented as a haunting. The Time Between Time becomes a music video of still frames with onscreen text dialogue & as Shadow King as a sword swallower fighting Cheshire Cat time eaters. (They function more like the Reapers from Doctor Who episode than Time Wraiths.) The time demons regressed the house around ax-wielding Syd & baby Legion to chilling effect.

Syd says David “turned her around her into the glass” last finale yet doesn’t acknowledge the Shadow King doing the same just before. Why does she not have a problem working with Farouk who’s an unrepentant mind manipulator? This phrase comes from the time Syd stole her mom’s body to have sex with her boyfriend who then got arrested for not realizing he was committing statutory rape because superpowers. (Maybe her mom thought being pushed into glass romantic when she had autonomy over her own body?) Syd doesn’t appear interested in atoning for the violation she committed. When she literally confronts her past self she cavalierly shrugs off the transgression as water under the bridge. Meanwhile David suppressing her short term memory is presented like a rape metaphor but feels far less ruinous. Is she supposed to come off as a petty hypocrite or someone unstable projecting her guilt onto others?  The sexual assault metaphor is very muddled. At worse it feeds into a dangerous false accusation narrative.

Plenty of elements from earlier seasons have fallen through the cracks like Admiral Fukiyama. Whither the chatter virus & delusion chicks? They seemed to be the main avenues of David becoming the Worldkiller last season. Here the threat seems to be replaced by breaking the space-time continuum. So not only are these psychic maladies unexplained, their inclusion appears retroactively pointless. The lunch boxes filled with telepathy-enhanced mood drugs milked from the giant drug-sow seemed like they could factor in but were superfluous too.

Despite time travel, the major mystery from season one remains unsolved. Why did Xavier give up his boy? It’s implied Gabrielle’s instability is a factor, but this empathetic Xavier feels like he’d put in the effort to keep his family together. What’s up with David’s adoptive parents also being named Haller? Did his parents die, leaving him to be adopted by relatives? If so, why was it kept a secret?

Professor X built Cerebro (without Magneto or Beast this time), so where’s the X-Men while his son is making a scene? Not only did season one show us Xavier’s X-branded wheelchair, it might’ve preemptively referenced Dark Phoenix. Is this in continuity with The Gifted, wherein they died fighting The Adversary in Dallas? Probably not, but your guess is as good as mine.

Division 3 working with the Shadow King was a bad call, not just because it completely broke the unstable David’s trust in his support network. They’re as bad at interventions as Jessica Jones. None of David’s former allies even mention how weird it is that Farouk is working with them now. It’s not clear whether he’s been given a free pass because he’s doing further mind meddling or they honestly think he’s the lesser evil. Navid Negahban is so charmingly duplicitous that either is likely. When they finally outmaneuver David by heading into space, he declares “Your plan is dumb, & I’m gonna sabotage it!” He directly summons Legion aboard their dazzle-camouflage airship to snatch defeat from the jaws of their victory. You just can’t trust Omega level mutants! (Shadow King & Shadow Weaver would be the ultimate toxic parent power couple.)

After Lenny’s sudden suicide/murder of Amy, David ruthlessly tears through Divison 3 to get to Switch & Cary’s time travel augmenting bracelet. (Who expected Lenny to be holding him back?) He figures the carnage won’t matter because he’s going to reset the timeline anyway. His surviving former pals believe rewriting the past will essentially murder them anyway. That’s something that’s glossed over in most time travel stories about fixing mistakes. They’d be having even more existential crises if they lived in the CWverse where the timeline getting broken is a regular occurrence. Since most are miserable about how the series has turned out for them so far, maybe they would be happier getting a collective Mulligan on their lives? There’s a corpse karaoke scene regardless of which side you fall on.

We don’t see Legion with the flattop promised by last season finale’s flashforward. Why couldn’t he run his cult dressed like that? This is just like how the prequels cheated us out of movies featuring Magneto’s classic helmet & comparatively colorful X-Men costumes in the last scenes of the prior movies! Way to get my hopes up, stupid alternate future that got averted too far in advance! I was hoping to see how Syd loses her arm too.

Not only do we see David having an argument with his alters in the season premiere, his neurodivergence circumvents Syd’s power. While she’s able to displace David’s driving consciousness again, swarms of backup personalities that all resemble him exile her mind from his body to the Astral Plane. There she gets a new childhood under Melanie’s & Oliver Bird’s wings to restore her empathy. Oliver’s rap battle with Jerome the wolf reminds me of the poetry slam in The Sandman. (Along with The Invisibles, this is another DC/Vertigo book the show seems more directly indebted to than the Marvel one it’s ostensibly based on.) So she gets a do-over on her childhood as David attempts his. While making a strong case for nurture over nature, this fairy tale is the most disposable episode.

According to closed captions, his alters are named David One, David Two, Diavd, and DVD. I couldn’t tell you the difference between each though, which is a big misstep compared to the source material. They don’t necessarily have to cast a new actor for each personality, just let Dan Stevens give each a distinct flavor like Doom Patrol’s Crazy Jane & Iron Fist’s Mary Walker. It feels like more time should’ve been spent on that. Of course there’s the theory that the entire cast are just David’s personalities, which may come off as a cop-out if actually confirmed. (It’s not, but it’ll still be popular.)

Amahl Farouk is king of shadow puppets. He’s finally got a fez in the flashback! The wicked king in his play is a horned giant slain buy smaller armored man so I’m going to take that an allusion to the comic book duel between Farouk & Xavier. “You should never have come.” Farouk apparently turned a real Moroccan king (it’s unclear which one) into a monkey, stole his palace, & trapped his loyal subjects insides the minds of orphans. (David can also literally teleport people’s bodies into his mindspace.) That seems like it ought to have made some international headlines. Storm was robbed of an opportunity to cameo as an urchin.

The Xavier vs. Farouk fight on the Astral Plane is one of Professor’s best moments in the comics. Him stepping up to save youngling Storm from Farouk’s thrall may even be the most heroic in his career. Not only does it have cool gladiator armor, it leads into a game of creative one-upmanship. It’s only when the inexperienced Xavier stops playing Farouk’s game & focuses his psychic power that he’s able to vanquish him from his body. With all the trippy visuals this show has given us, it’s conceivable the show could’ve done something to match this. The series has been alluding to the battle for three seasons, yet we sadly never get to see the Shadow King’s demon armor.

Curse AMC’s scheduling for overlapping with the last episode! (Lodge 49 had THE BEST COLD OPEN.) The series finale was anticlimactic. Onscreen text prevaricating about beginnings & endings is never a good omen. Switch’s body dies but she becomes a temporal being just like her dad. He reenters the picture as a Deus ex machina to tell her she can control the time demons. If he’d done so earlier, she could’ve prevented them from wreaking havoc throughout the season. So the moral quandary about David sacrificing Switch is moot since she was destined to ascend to a higher plane beyond her physical shell.

In the time traveling telepathic tag team brawl for it all, Legion takes on past Shadow King. David pulls what may be a Babelfish out of his ear, followed by a glowing flail. He believes he has the upper hand because all his alters are united in their animosity. Exemplifying conservation of ninjutsu, they unstrategically pounce at Farouk individually. Even when they finally dogpile him, Farouk traps David in a straitjacket of despair over not deserving his parents’ love. David sings Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” which seems to be an act of surrender until a maternal duet motivates him to break free? This may be psychic bleed from Syd encouraging Gabrielle to love her baby, but the lyrics are more in line with how David feels oppressed by the insanity he inherited from her.

Past Xavier squares off with future Farouk, who finds the psychic duel ludicrous. Instead the two hammer out an accord. This is a good example of pacifism succeeding, but it doesn’t feel satisfying because we never got to see their original battle that ended up backfiring. Future Farouk truly wants to mend his evil ways, which is a bit of a cheat since his character has been so ambiguously opaque. (Not to mention all the offenses he cavalierly made along the way to reclaiming his body.) This duo prevents David from killing past Farouk, although that seems like it would’ve caused the same outcome. Since Farouk no longer has to latch onto infant David, everyone parts as allies before the future shifts. It’s unclear whether Farouk relinquished reign over Morocco too, but his future self does give him a kaledidescope of expired spoilers via his sunglasses.

Syd’s & the Loudermilks’ actions in the past turn out to be irrelevant. Time demons wouldn’t have been a threat to infant Legion had they not accidentally arrived there pursuing David via portal. It’s arguable that Syd had a positive impact on Gabrielle. I just don’t believe that a stranger giving love ultimatums to a mother with postpartum depression is a viable solution to parenting woes.

So not only was David was successful in altering his own past, it’s implied that it’s been universally improved. That undermines the conflict for the season. The threat of David ruining everything with his selfishness turns out to be much ado about nothing. It means Division 3 brought unnecessary suffering upon themselves by trying to stymie his efforts. They all get their pasts rebooted anyway. This is vindication for everyone rooting for David to be the hero of his own story.  The moral is that instead of moving on from mistakes, definitely undo the underlying trauma with time travel.

Before they evaporate into the ether, Syd & David briefly reconcile over his crib. It’s supposed to be a bittersweet moment since they’ll never fall in love while institutionalized, except they weren’t a great match. Since the new timeline is presented as being so overwhelmingly positive, it’ll probably provide them with even better partners. Or they could develop a healthier romance as X-Men.

Could this eight episode season have been even shorter? Sure! I’m glad it was committed, however, to making each intriguing. Its array of directors (John Cameron did the most this year) were unified in surrealism. Unlike the assorted Marvel Netflix series, I was savoring its superfluous moments. Even when it’s not psychedelic, every scene is sumptuous. The contrast between this & the X-Movie mandate to make everything as bland as possible is stark. Even its ads are fantastic.

So Legion was flawed. For such a short-lived character study, I expected it to be more cohesive. The series finale fizzles out. Optimism & pacifism are inspiring notes to end on, but they feel unearned given the moral complexity throughout. Somehow both the supporting cast & David’s psyche got short shrift. A few more episodes might’ve helped. Resolving everything through time travel removed David’s accountability. Even in its failings, however, it was still more gripping than the bulk of Fox’s other mutant media. It’s worthwhile overall for its numerous transcendent sequences. It may not have been entirely successful experiment, yet it was an intriguing breath of fresh air.

~

That was a lot of words, possibly signifying nothing. Next week I want to blog about cats or customs.

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