August 13, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Legion”


There was hardly a toy in the filmmaking nursery that Legion and its hugely talented creator Noah Hawley left unplayed by the time its third and final season was over:  aspect ratios, color, camera angles, musical numbers, stop-motion, slow-motion, miniatures, repetitions, multiple exposures, stylized sets–everything short of 3D Imax.  And like many a child with a surfeit of playthings and time, Hawley and Legion ran themselves beyond exhaustion into incoherence before they finally faded out, a tribute both to imagination and its practical limits.

Legion began with a fascinatingly subversive premise.  Working within a corner of Marvel’s grand comic book territory (but not the MCU), Hawley explored the blurry line between the delusion of having superpowers and actually having them.  Eventually it was revealed that David Haller (Dan Stevens) did have incredible powers–he was, it turned out, the son of X-Men leader Charles Xavier (played in a youthful incarnation by Counterpart‘s Harry Lloyd)–and his madness was the result of a literal demon living in his head, usually visualized as Farouk (Navid Negahban).  In a further metaphorical twist, David’s true love Syd (Rachel Keller) had her own powers, which prevented him from touching her outside of a self-created astral plane.  Various secret agencies fought over David and his gifts, with the usual conflict about which of them was good and which was evil.

As the series went on, Hawley’s ambitions didn’t flag, but the characters became abstractions unto abstractions.  David, we were told, would destroy the world if left unchecked, and by Season 3 he was a sort of cult leader/supervillain, with the goal of reversing time, with the help of Switch (Lauren Tsai), to stop Farouk from getting into his baby brain and to stop himself from assaulting Syd in Season 2.

The final season had plenty of remarkable, distinctive sequences, but it was virtually drained of any recognizable reality, and the actors became mere coathangers for Hawley’s concepts.  David had little contact with the other major characters, Farouk appeared in a mystifying variety of timelines and personas, and Charles Xavier and David’s mother Gabrielle (Mr. Robot‘s Stephanie Corneliussen) were around to be perturbed without quite understanding why.  There were self-contained pieces that were wonderful, like an episode that had Syd raised in a counterpart dimension by Melanie (Jean Smart) and Oliver (Jemaine Clement) in order to nurture her into the hero she’d have to be to defeat David.  Those highlights, however, never built into a comprehensible or emotionally involving whole.

Tonight’s series finale, written by Hawley with Co-Executive Producer Olivia Dufault, and directed by Hawley and John Cameron, was fittingly both busy and anticlimactic.  Multiple David’s attacked multiple Farouks, a Switch who was no longer human reversed time, and apparently Charles persuaded one of the Farouks to stay out of baby David, which would allow him and the world to live different lives, as the series looped all the way around to the song that had played in the opening sequence.

Few TV auteurs are able to take their blank checks to the extreme that Hawley did with Legion, and it was exhilarating to watch him take Marvel material and invoke artists like Kubrick and Lynch.  Along the way, though, he lost track of storytelling and character.  Hawley became a bit like his own protagonist, hopelessly lost in his own head.


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."