June 13, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Legion”


In its second season, Noah Hawley’s FX series LEGION largely became a delivery system for set-pieces.  Some of these sequences, to be sure, were dazzling:  Hawley has become a whiz with aspect ratios, split screens, stylized sets, skewed camera angles, eccentric music choices, and all manner of visual and aural devices–at one point, he recreated an entire scene from A Clockwork Orange, apparently just because he could–and Legion is always worth looking at and listening to.  That kind of show-offery had been a part of Legion from the start, but in Season 1, Hawley grounded it in a compelling emotional story about David Haller (Dan Stevens) and whether the reality he was experiencing was genuine or a product of his mental instability.  In Season 2, Hawley (who wrote most of the scripts himself, often with Co-Executive Producer Nathaniel Halpern) seemed to misplace Legion‘s humanity and comprehensibility, piling on spectacle and filigree instead, a particular disappointment from the man behind TV’s brilliant version of Fargo.

The opening of the Season 2 finale (written by Hawley solo, directed by Keith Gordon) reflected all of that.  The climactic showdown between David and his nemesis The Shadow King (Navid Negahban) was presented as–oh my God, it’s a musical number, with the characters advancing toward each other singing The Who like the Baz Luhrmann version of a Marvel movie we never needed to see.  That segued into animation.  Then, after a superpower-dampening giant tuning fork (yeah) brought The Shadow King down, there was more trickery, as we cut to what may have been a flash-forward labeled “Episode 10” (although this season finale was titled Episode 19), set 3 years in the future, in which Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) and her long-lost husband Oliver (Jemaine Clement), who spent most of the season as The Shadow King’s minion (Melanie was as well in recent episodes), appeared to have retreated into the ice cube that was Oliver’s portion of the astral plane.  The next scene took place inside David’s consciousness, as multiple versions of him argued among themselves while one of the Jon Hamm-narrated scientific rumination sequences from an earlier episode played on many televisions in the background.

For all that, once all this introduction was over with, the finale was one of the more lucid hours of the season.  The show finally confronted the idea it had been dancing with for the past stretch of episodes, that David might actually be the show’s villain instead of its hero.  His apparent soulmate Syd (Rachel Keller) had traveled from the future and at one point told The Shadow King as much, saying it was David whose unleashed powers had created the apocalypse of her timeline, and those fears were confirmed in the present when David wiped Syd’s memories of her doubts about him, then engaged in what amounted to the superpower version of date rape.  By the end of the episode, David had embraced the self-pitying, narcissistic, dangerous view that he was entitled to use his powers as he saw fit because of what he’d gone through via The Shadow King’s psychic invasion, and he’d escaped with his morally bankrupt old cohort Lenny (Aubrey Plaza).

This raises the possibility of a Season 3 that could be more coherent and focused than this past one has been, able to lean into the characters as people rather than as figures in a stylized landscape.  The actors have done all that Hawley has asked of them this season, and can certainly do more, and while ratings are sharply down, Legion has enough hardcore support to justify FX’s renewal.  But Hawley needs to tone down his appetite for visual excess and reintroduce drama to his story, as he did in this season’s beautifully constructed alternate-timeline episode that presented the potential other lives of David Haller.  The series should take a pointer from its own protagonist, now sunk so deeply into his own head that he’s in danger of losing what made him a hero.  That’s an engrossing saga for David Haller, but not for his creator.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."