March 30, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Legion”


The Matrix is one of the many pop culture properties that have influenced Noah Hawley’s LEGION, and Legion has been something of a matrix itself.  Behind its surface and around its edges, the shape of a much more conventional Marvel comic-book adventure story has lurked from the start, and with the final two episodes of the season, viewers started to be fed the show’s red pill.

Last week, we learned that the demon in David Haller’s (Dan Stevens) head wasn’t mental illness, but an actual villain, a physical parasite (played in its more humanoid manifestations by Aubrey Plaza) named Amahl Farouk aka The Shadow King.  In tonight’s season finale, written by Hawley and directed by Michael Uppendahl, David was full-on cured, Farouk transferred by means of David’s love Syd (Rachel Keller) and several intervening hosts to the recently defrosted Oliver (Jemaine Clement).  He was last seen merrily driving south with “Children of the Revolution” on the soundtrack.  In an even more Marvel Universe touch, a mid-credits sequence continued to set things up for Season 2 by having David mysteriously abducted by an orb of unknown origin.

All of which is to say that Legion, for all its wildly imaginative storytelling magic and teasing subversiveness, turned out to be more of a standard-issue comic-book saga than it initially seemed to promise, and that with David’s mind now relatively unclouded, Season 2 will likely be even more conventional.  (There has already been a broad hint that David’s birth father will turn out to be the central X-Men figure Professor X, as was the case in the comics.)  This isn’t by any means necessarily a bad thing:  comic-book stories are coin of the realm these days because at their best they can be enormously entertaining, and Hawley has demonstrated every step of this season that Legion will find original angles on familiar tropes.  There’s very little chance that even a more comic-book-ish Legion will be interchangeable with a show like Arrow or Agents of SHIELD.

Cultural revolution, though, doesn’t seem to be on tap.  The episode suggesting that all the powers wielded by David and his mutant friends might be evidence of psychological damage resolved the issue by having its mental hospital setting be a Farouk-caused hallucination, and the conclusion of Legion leaves little doubt that the events we’re seeing are happening in the show’s version of the real world.  Unlike Hawley’s remarkable Fargo, which has the luxury of remaking itself every season due to its anthology structure and can thus go in almost any direction, Legion ultimately has to fit into an extremely valuable IP universe, and even as it tests the limits of that mythology, it also establishes the permissible borders.

So Legion isn’t going to fundamentally alter pop culture as we know it.  It’s nevertheless been a terrific piece of television, adorning even the most routine expository dumps with style–the animated blackboards in last week’s lecture hall sequence were a brilliant touch–and dependably featuring at least one bravura set-piece per episode.  (The most jaw-dropping was probably last week’s Inception-ish multiple storyline action sequence, which for some reason included Plaza-as-Farouk assaulting some of our heroes as a silent movie villain, complete with hair and make-up that recalled Edward Scissorhands and printed dialogue cards.)  Stevens, Plaza and Clement were the cast highlights, but there was solid work as well from Keller, Bill Irwin, Amber Midthunder and Jean Smart.  The out-of-time-period, often surreal production design and costumes were outstanding, as was the mix of score by Jeff Russo and licensed songs.

One advantage of a more “normal” Season 2 is that with a plot that isn’t mostly located in David Haller’s brain, there should be room for more character development, which was limited in Season 1 for many of the protagonists.  (Season 2 will also be 10 episodes vs. this season’s 8.)  Hawley has proven that even within the signposts of an established genre, a great deal of originality is still possible, and now that it’s finally told us what it is, Legion can further that distinctiveness as it unfolds its saga.

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."