For those who followed the series from its inception, a happy ending is not what fans expected from the Legion series finale. Yet, in a way, that’s what audiences got. Arguably the most surreal superhero show ever attempted ended with a very straightforward comic book ending. Of course, for comic books, “straightforward” can include things like time-travel, psychic fights on the astral plane, and an acknowledgement from the universe itself that individual people matter. Taken as just an episode of television, the Legion series finale exceeded all expectations. Characters reached the culmination of their series-long arcs. There were consequences, but also the hint of new beginnings. All of the strife and heartache and trauma from the past 27 episodes led to a conclusion that both saved the world, our heroes, and the villains, too.
To explain what happened both involves spoiling the series and interpretations of vague story elements. Like all good surrealism, Legion fans can both see what IS there but what it all means can be left up to individual interpretation. Yet, clear themes are present. Mental illness and how it affects people, with or without powers, is the largest. Although, parenting and love also play large roles in the Legion series finale, especially when it comes to defining what “victory” looks like. This show never shied away from reinvention, and the final season seemed to pit two of the “heroes” against one another. Yet, without giving too much away, it was the “villain” who actually saved the day. This might be the most important message from the Legion series finale and the show as a whole. But to understand that, we have to understand what the show is.
Some spoilers below
Legion Takes On the Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks is a classic television show that advanced the genre by being both beautiful and strange. On a scale of one to Twin Peaks, Legion ranks squarely on Twin Peaks: The Return. The long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks resembled David Lynch’s strange surrealist beginnings more than the show that bore its name. The eighth episode of that third season of Twin Peaks reveals a great deal about the mythology of the show. Yet, to follow its narrative you have to do a lot of the work (and some reading from people more attentive than you, usually). While Legion is not, essentially, a series of vignettes with some overlapping characters, themes, and plot points. It’s trying to tell a conventional story. It just wants to tell it in the most unconventional way possible.
You can like Twin Peaks (or, for that matter, Legion) or not, but you can’t deny that it’s very deliberate. Like the work of David Lynch, it’s hard to really say it’s “good” or “bad.” If you’re being honest with yourself, those terms are synonymous with “I understand it (or I think I do)” and “I’m not smart enough to figure this out.” Only time will tell if Legion’s effect on superhero, action television will have a similar effect as Twin Peaks did for TV. It took a concept with which audiences are all familiar. Then, it built a narrative around that concept that audiences would have to really work at to understand. In fact, season two seemed almost designed to frustrate viewers really trying to put in the work. As we think about the Legion series finale and the show as a whole, it tells a very straightforward story.
What the Legion Series Finale Gets Right
Image via Marvel Television
Instead of leaving viewers grasping for meaning at the end of the show, Noah Hawley and company present a clear ending. For all their triumphs and failures, the Legion gang reset time. Everyone gets blank slates and a new shot at living a worthy life. Charles Xavier, Dan Haller’s father, doesn’t abandon his son nor does the villainous telepath Amal Farouk possess him as a boy. He likely never goes on to live in a mental asylum, meeting Lenny, Syd, or any of the other characters who populated the series. Thanks to the element of time-travel, they get to have their dramatic cake and eat it, too. The characters change, nearly die, and then everyone gets to start again. If the story continues, it will be in the minds of fans imagining what will be in the new, better future the heroes fought for.
And that this is all Farouk’s idea is revolutionary. Instead of pitting the so-called Shadow King against Professor X, the two have a beer and talk about how to really affect change. Putting aside Farouk’s journey, that the villain and a hero like Charles Xavier chose an alternative to fighting sends a powerful message. They acknowledge each other’s right to exist and promise no more hostilities. Thus, because of time-travel, this means the hostilities never happened. But instead of battle, death, and vengeance, the Legion series finale sends a message about peace and hope that only it could. The time-traveler character, Switch, even speaks for the universe itself, acknowledging that the characters (about to be erased) mattered. What they did, how they lived, and their sacrifices all meant something.
Legion Stumbled On Their Sexual Assault Message
Image via Marvel Television
For all the revolutionary ways Legion tried to be visually unique, even up to the series finale their use of sexual assault as a device is very ordinary. In season two, we explore Syd’s backstory. We see how she uses her powers to hurt people and ruin their lives. It’s one thing to hear the story about swapping bodies with her mother to sleep with her mother’s boyfriend. It’s entirely another thing to see it play out. Later, when David does the same thing to her, Syd and all his friends try to indefinitely detain and ultimately kill him. Again, this all gets “undone,” but if the good things they did still matter in the grand scheme of the universe, so does the bad things they did. That this narrative unfolded in a time when society’s attitudes about sexual assault are evolving, complicated matters.
How Legion ultimately handled this issue is something only viewers can decide for themselves. Yet, arguably the series could have achieved the same effect via the metaphor of how telepathy works. Characters like David, Farouk, and even Charles all violate people repeatedly. They listen in to private thoughts and, in some cases, change what people see or believe. Using telepathy instead of telepathy-aided sexual assault, offered more narrative freedom. They storytellers can still draw what comparisons they want, but the specific violation (and its resolution) would not be so directly comparable to the real world. The idea that David or Syd now get a chance to live life anew and not commit sexual assault may not satisfy some viewers. At a time when society only just begins demand that such real-world villains be held accountable, this end could feel like a cheat or, worse, a story downplaying this trauma.
Legion Nailed Their Message About Mental Illness
Image via Marvel Television
Mental illness becomes a huge part of the series narrative from the pilot episode, especially because we first meet David in an asylum. However, this isn’t a typical “is it mental illness” or “is it superpowers?” narrative. To paraphrase a classic meme, this show asks, “why don’t we have both?” David’s mother, Gabrielle, suffered from mental illness that Charles cured with his telepathic magic. Yet, seeing her struggle with the strangeness around her as the result of superpowers or mental illness strengthened David’s earlier story. To David, Farouk personifies his mental illness. If he can just kill the Shadow King, he believes his life would be perfect. Yet, while Farouk’s actions never helped David, the show also takes great pains to reveal that his mental illness is also a part of him.
David’s friends also work as a powerful metaphor to how family, friends, and society reacts to mental illness. When they perceive David as the victim, he deserves help. When they perceive David as the villain, they want him destroyed. There’s no going back in real life. So, the time-travel solution signifies that we get one chance to help people (especially kids) face that burden. Instead of looking at Legion like a story about what not to do where the mentally ill are concerned, it asks viewers to recontextualize what they think it means to be mentally ill. Ironically, the message the Legion series finale sends is not one about how to fix what’s already broken but rather how to make sure that “next time” you, me, society, all do the right things instead.
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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.