“It’s hard to hate someone you understand.” – Charles Xavier
The third season of FX’s X-Men spinoff series Legion (which concluded with a climactic series finale last night) was undeniably its weirdest. Which puts it high in the running for weirdest season of dramatic television ever produced. But that didn’t make it any less entertaining. In fact, Legion season three ran like clockwork– fitting given its dependence on time travel and its underlying commentary on the nature of change.
Down to eight episodes after an overlong eleven-chapter second season, the final batch of Legion installments had one specific goal in mind: get protagonist/antagonist David Haller (Dan Stevens of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake) back in time to prevent the incident that made him go insane as an adult– his infant body’s possession by Moroccan super-mutant Amal Farouk AKA The Shadow King.
If that sounds confusing to you, well… you don’t know the half of it. Despite, or perhaps because of, this season’s singular central plot thread, series creator and showrunner Noah Hawley apparently felt the freedom to lean in to his more off-beat instincts. There were more divergences into the lives of supporting characters, more ruminations on the human condition, and even more clearly-Paul-Thomas-Anderson-inspired musical numbers (Have I mentioned that on top of everything else, Legion is often a musical?) All this and more in a TV show about Professor X’s telepath son.
Speaking of which, it’s particularly admirable how Legion never relied too heavily on its X-Men roots. Though Xavier did show up in a significant supporting role this year (played by Game of Thrones’ Viserys Targaryen actor Harry Lloyd), the would-be founder of the School for Gifted Youngsters was portrayed as a young newlywed– called only “Charles”– prior to losing his ability to walk and a full head of hair. Were it not for the use of a home-brewed Cerebro, I could imagine casual fans watching this show and not realizing which comic book icon this character was meant to represent.
That said, watching the finale I got a big kick out of seeing David team up with his father in the 1930s as the two went head-to-head against dual Farouks using telekinetic weapons such as literal mind bullets (paging Tenacious D). But my absolute favorite episode this season was a pretty big departure from Legion’s usual modus operandi, if there is such a thing as “normal” for a show this bizarre.
That episode– “Chapter 25” for those keeping track– saw body-swapping mutant Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller of Hawley’s Fargo TV series) transported as a baby to the Astral Plane, where her former mentor Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart of FOX’s 24) had settled down with her previously missing husband Oliver (Jemaine Clement of What We Do In the Shadows). There, in a picturesque fantasy world preyed upon by comedian Jason Mantzoukas (The League) as a metaphorical version of the Big Bad Wolf, Syd learns how to grow up all over again while being raised by her new adoptive parents.
“Chapter 25” was a gorgeous, strange, outside-the-box episode in a show that had become known for regularly accomplishing all those things and more, and its meditation on the loss of innocence was rivaled only by Clement’s third-act rap battle against Mantzoukas for sheer memorability. But this season we also got to spend time with David’s mother Gabrielle, a Romani Holocaust survivor who meets Xavier in a post-war mental institution– parallelling David and Syd’s psychiatric hospital romance– and then thinks she’s losing it once again when her idyllic home becomes haunted by time travelers and disembodied mutants.
We got to bid farewell to the enigmatic Lenny Busker (Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza) far earlier than I had expected, saw the body-sharing Loudermilk twins (Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder) embrace their destinies, and met the appealing fourth-dimensional time-hopper Switch (Lauren Tsai). But the real hero of the season– and probably the series– is Syd, who tracks David through the decades, battles time demons (surely both the silliest and creepiest addition to season three), and delivers one of the greatest last lines in television history. I won’t ruin that moment here, but it’s a great, poignant button on a show that I believe will only become more rewarding with each rewatch.
In a recent interview, visionary writer and producer Noah Hawley said he considers himself Marvel’s research and development department, meaning he’s willing to take chances, to push the boundaries of what live-action Marvel content can be. Across three years and twenty-seven episodes, Legion proved that said content doesn’t need to conform to the basic good-vs.-evil tropes and the standard, frequently predictable structure that has made the MCU so successful in movie theaters. Now, I’m not saying that Legion could rake in the same amount of cash that the Avengers films have on a large-scale release, but it’s nice to know there’s room for a different take on the material.
Now that Disney has acquired movie and television rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four families of Marvel Comics characters, I would absolutely love to see more from Hawley in this universe, be it the Doctor Doom script he famously announced at San Diego Comic-Con a couple years back (which would get my vote in a heartbeat) or more mutant mania. From the beginning of the Marvel Age of Comics, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and other creators infused a sense of weirdness and experimentation into their output, and I would unquestionably love to see that tradition continue.
Legion is available for viewing on DVD, Blu-ray (shamefully only season one), and FX’s streaming app.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.