FX’s Legion has offered a number of memorable images and sequences leading up to the season 1 finale. The show was a dream come true for any aesthetically inclined viewer, but it also made good use of some subversive mechanics when it came time to dole out the plot and make an actual story out of what, at times, seemed ready to be a self-indulgent trip into the imaginative whims of the series’ creator Noah Hawley. That proved to be true on occasion, but whenever the series stumbled, it picked itself up somewhere else, delivering energetic moments of exposition – like when David explained the plot to himself (literally) through a series of chalkboard animations – or through an hour of television that rivaled anything currently on TV in terms of flat out weirdness.
Unlike its premiere, however, the Legion finale – ‘Chapter 8′ – was tasked with bringing the story full circle, while also delivering the sort of visuals the series has, for better or worse, come to be known for. The result was a finale that aimed to satisfy by giving David a reason to move past his insecurities and questionable sanity by confirming again – mostly through Syd, the series’ most reliable and heroic character – that his powers are real, and that he is in real danger of being erased by the Shadow King.
That’s no small order for a series that’s played fast and loose with what is real and what is not, but to the writers’ credit, Legion has, in all its fantastical weirdness and surrealistic moments, never really suggested that what the audience was seeing wasn’t grounded in some meaningful way. The show may have waded into the pool of absurdity at times, but its intentions were never to drown the narrative by having it all be a dream or throwing the audience off a dreary high dive by telling them everything they just saw existed only in the mind of David Haller.
As a way of assuring the audience what they’re seeing is real, the Legion finale spins off from the penultimate episode’s cliffhanger by spending time with Division 3’s mysterious interrogator, Clark. Hamish Linklater hadn’t been seen since the premiere, where he was presumed incinerated in his run-in with Summerland’s rescue team. As evidenced by his appearance in ‘Chapter 7’, though, Clark escaped, but not unscathed. The finale’s opening sequence, then, is dedicated to getting caught up with Clark as he recovers from his horrific injuries in the company of his husband and son, while presumably dreaming of the day he can get back into the field and continue waging war against mutantkind.
Clark’s hostility toward those who scarred him is understandable, but Legion uses his fear of mutants as the “other”, a collection of god-like anomalies that will one day realize they don’t have to listen to the people currently in charge, to make a larger point about the ugly side of human nature and to underline David’s characteristic humanity. With the Shadow King on a different frequency thanks to Cary’s halo device, David sees the world more clearly. He’s in control of his faculties and his immense powers – eliciting a funny “s**t” from Clark when he realizes his storm troopers are no match for Melanie’s world-breaking mutant – but in that brief period of time when the psychological fog lifts, David makes an important choice, to be more human than the human. In other words, David could have snuffed out Clark and gone on a rampage, like the Shadow King did earlier in the season, but instead the telepath chose to extend a hand to his enemy, assuring him (repeatedly) that he didn’t have to be afraid.
It’s fascinating to see the series shift gears like that, essentially upending the concept of “the one” by turning David into the living embodiment of a nuclear option that doesn’t want to be a weapon or a deterrent; he wants to be the world-breaking peace broker. In the midst of everything that’s going on, the episode cuts to a discussion between Syd and David wherein the weight of his time at Clockworks and his disorientated aimlessness that got him put there in the first place comes to the forefront. David isn’t necessarily showing Syd all his cards – she already has a pretty good bead on her fella – but rather this is Hawley (who get sole credit for writing the finale) positioning an all-powerful mutant at his most human for the audience. The big reveal is that David just wants to demonstrate his newfound autonomy by being of some use to the people around him.
Positioning David, Syd, Melanie, Ptonomy, and the Loudermilks between Amahl Farouk’s last-ditch effort to erase his host’s mind completely and the somewhat passive but no less threatening aggression of Division 3 readies the series’ characters for their most important display of who they really are. Legion is an extravagant series, but it makes a series of smaller, subtler displays of character throughout its finale that point to it being more than an exercise in mind-bending excess. The finale makes good use of David’s overtures toward Division 3, especially after the Shadow King absconds in Oliver’s body, by helping Clark to his feet, telling him they need to work together against a common foe. At the same time, ‘Chapter 8’ also underlines again just how smart, determined, and heroic Syd is. Her resourcefulness in using her powers to yank the Farouk from David’s mind is heightened by the way director Michel Uppendahl pauses briefly to show Melanie thinking twice about stepping in between Syd and her distressed beau. It’s the sort of moment that might normally call for a confrontation between the two, but like Melanie, Legion sidesteps this relatively unimportant convention, giving additional weight to Syd’s actions and further imbuing Ms. Bird with the sort of perceptiveness one expects from a leader.
In defining the characters by the choices they make rather than the powers they wield, Legion satisfies as both a television drama and a comic book adaptation. Though it often flouts conventions of comic book TV and movies, ‘Chapter 8’ is perhaps the closest Legion has come to asserting its comic bona fides. With Oliver playing host to the Shadow King and the series set to send David, Syd, and the rest of Summerland’s mutants in search of them, the finale assures (and maybe rewards) those watching by including an out-of-left-field mid-credits sequence that throws a wrench in the idea that season 2 will be a more straightforward affair.
David’s kidnapping by a flying orb of unknown origin is both superbly weird and an expectedly unsettling way to cap off what has been an exhilaratingly unusual season. The moment is decidedly low-key, marked only by the sounds of David’s distress and Syd’s obvious bafflement at what just transpired. The character has never been more of the audience’s proxy than in that season’s closing moments, and yet her reaction only enhances the weirdness of it all. No doubt the internet speculation machine will go into overdrive, picking the scene apart frame by frame until a perpetrator – villain or otherwise – can be named.
That’s one way to approach it, but for those who found Legion entertaining more for its willingness to distance itself from the usual trappings of live-action comic book adaptations, they can be like Lenny in the episode’s other final moments: simply content to be along for the ride.
Legion will continue with season 2 in 2018 on FX.