As I’ve written about before on this website, FX’s genre-defying superhero drama series Legion is far and away my favorite live-action Marvel Comics adaptation, though I admit to not being familiar with the X-Men-family title character prior to watching the show. And I couldn’t be more thrilled that showrunner Noah Hawley’s (of the similarly excellent Fargo TV series) trippy mutant masterpiece returned to the small screen for its third season this week, thought it’s bittersweet to note it will be its last.
“Chapter 20,” as the season premiere episode directed by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, John Carter) was titled, sees the Forces of Division– AKA The Good Guys– hunting down protagonist-turned-villain David Haller (son of Professor Charles Xavier, played by Dan Stevens of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake) in his newly formed cult’s hippie hideout. But it doesn’t really begin that way.
The episode starts with a fifteen-minute introduction of a new character given the nickname Switch by members of David’s cult, and it’s truly a whirlwind head-scratching visual feast in the best Hawley tradition. It’s an earmark of this show to be so bold as to spend almost an entire first act without any familiar faces, instead sending a quirky and curious young woman on an urban scavenger hunt, following clues on flyers and buses that culminate in a kaleidoscopic music video featuring the entire band Superorganism.
It’s the kind of Stanley-Kubrick-meets-Paul-Thomas-Anderson cavalier artfulness that makes me thankful Noah Hawley has found a place for him to do whatever he wants. In fact, the very first image we see is a ten-second long test pattern that had me imagining Hawley daring viewers to change the channel. Legion doesn’t care what you think, but it invites you along for the ride anyway. And a wonderful ride it has been, despite an overlong second season stretching its bizarre body-hunt narrative to its limits.
Trimming the fat back down to eight episodes (from a bloated eleven last year) feels like the smartest move for a show than is and should be best in small doses. I don’t want the art I admire to overstay its welcome, and for that reason I’m glad the powers that be have decided to wrap up this story by returning things to the short and not-so-simple format we got in the groundbreaking first season.
I also love the idea that Switch finds David at the height of his powers– not to mention madness– and sees him as the leader he thinks himself to be. This is a story, unlike most Marvel properties, where good and evil are relative. Characters have shades of gray and we’re not always sure who to trust. Is David really the Big Bad the season two finale made him out to be? Don’t forget, up until very recently Amal Farouk (also known as The Shadow King, played by Aladdin’s Naveed Negahban) was the main Bad Guy, and now he’s working with our heroes to track down and eliminate David before he wreaks havoc across the globe with his incredible mind powers.
As if things weren’t strange enough on this show already, this season’s opener also gives us Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris of A Walk Among the Tombstones) getting installed into his hilariously off-putting new android body after having become trapped in a computer mainframe last season. Plus, there’s an intentionally goofy gag involving a cartoon hook pulling someone off-screen and leaving a levitating, spinning teacup in his place. Legion is apparently unabashedly leaning into its weirdness during its final curtain call, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Also returning are Bill Irwin (Interstellar) and Amber Midthunder (Hell or High Water) as the body-sharing twins Cary and Kerry Loudermilk, Hamish Linklater (The Big Short) as the forever-mutant-hunting Clark, and the phenomenal Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) as the attention-grabbing idiosyncratic former mental patient Lenny Busker. It’s an amazing cast full of ringers, and we haven’t even seen Jemaine Clement (Muppets Most Wanted) and Jean Smart (24) pop up as their star-crossed lovers Oliver and Melanie Bird yet this season. And rumor has it a certain School for Gifted Youngsters headmaster may show his bald head as well before the series ends. It’s an exciting time to be heading down the Legion rabbit hole, and it’s certainly not too late to catch up prior to the remaining seven episodes’ airdates. I guarantee any lover of the more outlandish side of Marvel, or experimental fillmmaking for that matter, will at the very least get a kick out of it.
Legion airs Monday nights on FX.
Mike has been fascinated by theme parks and Disney all his life. He has worked in the entertainment journalism field since 2015, after spending a decade as a film projectionist at one of Hollywood’s most prestigious movie theaters. He resides in Burbank, California with his wife and cat.