Movies · TV

‘Legion’ Concludes Its First Season an Open (Comic) Book

By  · Published on March 30th, 2017

Last night’s finale literally drove off into the unknown.

It’s not the best comic book adaptation of all time, nor is it a perfect superhero screen story, but Legion might be the greatest attempt to produce something of this genre for actual grown ups. As its own source material (Marvel’s X-Men comics) also leads the new trend toward R-rated superhero movie fare, the FX series reminds us that swear words and graphic violence and nudity don’t make something more suited to adults. That would be smart storytelling, which is Legion’s currency.

It’s complicated, though, because the show is, at its heart, still just a silly comic book tale of super-powered mutants and weird science and often cartoonish action. But it’s intelligently structured, challenging its audience mentally as it takes us literally into the minds of its characters. Sometimes plots are made more complex like this in order to hide flaws in the story, and there’s surely some of that going on here, but regardless, the way Legion plays out is probably the most apt for who and what it’s about.

There have been many surprises throughout the the show’s first season, but its finale was shocking for how plain and conventional it was compared to the surreal ride of especially the last few episodes. These are the days of relatively closed-book TV seasons, the best series lately consisting of anthological stories – perfect example being Legion producer Noah Hawley’s Fargo – or confined, conclusive narratives, which feel like long, segmented movies and if continued promise something akin to a sequel rather than an ongoing whole. This show ends while still it’s in motion.

Frankly, that’s fine, especially if the initial parting shot of Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) and Oliver (Jemaine Clement) driving off, the latter now possessed by the former, aka Amahl Farouk, aka the Shadow King, isn’t exactly a cliffhanger. For that, Legion has, perfect for its genre, a mid-credits sequence that leaves us wondering where David (Dan Stevens) is being taken after he’s whisked away and imprisoned inside a miniaturizing drone doohickey. Maybe Season 2 can primarily deal with where that leads and not repeat the same villain, at least not for a while. If we can stand Plaza’s absence.

But an even bigger question than what is Legion without Plaza is what is Legion without Farouk and all the subconscious and astral plane stuff that goes along with the concept of a schizophrenic telepath with a parasitic monster in his head. Does the show have reason to keep up with what’s most visually and narratively interesting about itself? If not, should it maintain that design anyway, or else become the equivalent of a Nightmare on Elm Street franchise without Freddy and the dreamscape? Will it continue on the same path just in Oliver’s mind instead?

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves with concerned speculation. As far as the season and episode that just aired, “Chapter 8” had the usual confusing stuff of David in a lab, a lot of fantasy science happening to him, and the fragmented depiction of the inside of his brain. What occurs during Farouk’s departure from David through Syd (Rachel Keller) and then Kerry (Amber Midthunder) before winding up in Oliver and what’s going on with the red vs. blue clash of David and Farouk-in-Kerry – that stuff isn’t as important as how it’s brilliantly explained as “unmaking soup.” What an idea! Sure, this is a visual medium, but the visuals don’t have to be on screen when you’ve got a metaphorical implant into your imagination like that.

The other noteworthy part of the Legion finale is its opening sequence, which backs up to show what’s been going on with the interrogator from the first episode, now known to be named Clark (Hamish Linklater), since David’s rescue party nearly killed him. He’s revealed to be a family man, with a husband and adopted son, and he’s horribly scarred from burns, looking more mutant-like than the mutants. He never seemed like a real bad guy anyway, but now he’s shown to be a kind of regular government employee just doing his job. Yet his bosses still look fairly nefarious.

What’s up with those guys in their situation room? Maybe we’ll find out another time. Looking back on the first season now, there’s a lot left unknown or underdeveloped, and so it’s for the best that Legion is taking a more traditional forward direction as a series and can keep stringing us along in our wanting of answers or more character arcs – the first season could have used one for Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), that’s for sure. Alas, it’s hard to criticize the series for things it may not be finished with.

‘Legion’ is An Evolution in Superhero TV

While I can’t make much of a conclusion on a show that hasn’t made much of one itself, yet, Legion remains a series that’s constantly stimulating on many levels and is really tremendous in specific moments and episodes – like the standout “Chapter 6” – with phenomenal performances and exceptionally envisioned and communicated ideas about mental illness, memory, strange super powers, and more. It’s maybe the most clever and by far the most unique show on TV in years and will hopefully continue to be.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.