Why FX's Legion Will Survive Its Low Ratings

Navid Negahban as Farouk Amahl the Shadow King in Legion

Legion may be struggling to maintain a robust audience in its twisty, mind bending sophomore season, but fans of Noah Hawley's experimental X-Men-adjacent show likely don't have to worry about a cancelation anytime soon.

The FX series follows David Haller (Dan Stevens), the mutant son of Charles Xavier, who possesses near limitless psychic and telekinetic abilities. David and his allies are attempting to thwart the Shadow King, a monstrously powerful mutant that has taken up residence in David's broken mind since he was a child. The show features some of the most striking imagery on television, and delves into the sort of metaphysical and philosophical territory that comic book television shows don't generally explore.

Related: Legion Season 2 Premiere Review: Marvel’s Mutant Mind-Bender Continues To Dazzle

That sort of unusual storytelling has come at a cost. After debuting to fairly strong viewing figures in its first season, Legion's followup year has been decidedly ratings challenged. The season's second episode notched a 0.21 in the key demo, falling out of the top 25 cable series for the week. There's essentially no metric by which that's not a terrible number, even on a cable network like FX. Part of that ratings slide is likely down to the fact that the show is, quite frankly, incredibly weird this season. While the first season wasn't exactly straightforward, season 2 has jumped full on into the realm of time travel, doppelgangers within doppelgangers, guys with baskets on their heads, and disturbing framing devices where Jon Hamm monologues about the nature of existence as deformed chickens crawl out of eggs. At this point, Legion has a lot more in common with Twin Peaks than The Flash.

Admiral Fukuyama in Legion

And yet, fans probably don't need to worry about a cancellation. For one thing, the economics of TV aren't what they once were. Overnight ratings still matter, but they're not the be-all and end-all metric they used to be, and FX has long been out front in the changing ways we measure success on television. FX president John Landgraf has long held to the belief that ratings-challenged series that are critically acclaimed and creatively fulfilling for the network are worth sticking with. Perhaps the most notable example of this ethos is The Americans, the much acclaimed '80s-set Cold War drama that has suffered through microscopic ratings over its run, but has been allowed to finish its story on its own terms. It's currently airing its sixth and final season and has begun garnering Emmy nominations in the back half of its run for stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.

Apart from FX's general practice of letting creatively promising shows endure ratings troubles, the network likely wants to stay in the Noah Hawley business. Hawley was also the mastermind behind Fargo, the network's reimagining of the classic film as an anthology series. Fargo has become both a ratings and awards season winner for FX, with Hawley's vision credited as the main reason for that success. Cancelling Legion wouldn't necessarily mean the end of their partnership with Hawley, but there seems little upside to pulling the plug on a show from one of their most valued collaborators at this point.

Legion seems unlikely to run for a decade like some of its ostensible superhero brethren on the CW. It's too small of a story, and it seems highly doubtful Hawley would keep the show going indefinitely anyway. FX would certainly like to see the overnight ratings a little higher, but the idea that they would kill the show before Hawley is done telling his story seems pretty far fetched. David Haller's bizarre, psychedelic journey may be an inherently niche endeavor, but it's one that probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Legion airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX.

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