As the second season of Legion devolved into a race to retrieve the physical body of the Shadow King (Navid Negahban), the series’ main characters journeyed to a mystifying desert. The desert itself was reactive, constantly shifting as the characters traversed it—like the Earth’s tectonic plates on steroids. As a result, the Shadow King’s corpse was continually just out of reach, and a trip that should’ve taken a couple of hours stretched into a much longer affair.
Unfortunately, this multi-episode desert odyssey was a pretty apt metaphor for Legion’s second year. When the glorious, often psychedelic visual panache of Noah Hawley’s series is put aside, Legion is a deceptively simple show that frequently moves at a languid pace. No one’s asking for rushed story lines à la Game of Thrones Season 7, but when the show takes the better part of 10 episodes to set up the retrieval of a body in a universe where certain mutants can teleport, it could definitely stand to pick up the speed. The narrative stagnancy hasn’t always been a bad thing, especially when it’s been compensated for with stunning, lurid imagery or imaginative fight sequences—the Season 2 premiere’s dance-off remains one of the most aesthetically impressive and batshit things I’ve seen this year. But more often than not, Legion has been spinning its wheels, to the detriment of a declining viewership and its own one-dimensional characters.
Yet for all the stumbles and inconsistencies of this second year, Legion bought itself a fair share of goodwill with the thrilling and unsettling season finale that aired Tuesday night, and that sets up a much more exciting journey moving forward—one that may finally allow its main character to live up to his monstrous comic book potential. Here’s where things stand after the finale, and how the show can reward viewers’ patience in the third season and beyond.
David’s Heel Turn Is Complete
Lead character David Haller (Dan Stevens) was always a powerful mutant, befitting a comic book character who is the canonical child of Professor Charles Xavier (in Legion, it’s heavily implied that his dad is also Professor X, but we have yet to see him appear onscreen). In the comics, David is also a menacing supervillain—the “Legion” moniker refers to the multiple personalities that manifest inside his mind—but the show’s taken its time to develop that darker side. Season 1 keyed in on the literal demon inside his head, blaming some of David’s more sinister actions—like a massacre of Division 3 soldiers midway through the season—on the Shadow King’s control of his mind.
In Season 2, however, David received a prophetic warning from a future version of his girlfriend, Syd (Rachel Keller), imploring him to save the world from an apocalyptic force by allowing the Shadow King to reenter his body. What was unclear to David, but clear to the audience (and eventually, we were told this outright), was that David himself was this future existential threat, and that he was unwittingly fighting to destroy his own future. Legion was toeing a tricky line to get to this point, needing to eventually provide David a villainous arc that felt earned without stigmatizing the character’s perceived mental illness, which the show had previously treated with restraint and maturity.
Instead, the final two episodes of this season used toxic masculinity to bring out David’s hidden, nefarious nature. In the penultimate episode, Syd—with the aid of the telepath Melanie (Jean Smart)—looked through David’s actions in the past and present. She eventually came to realize that that David enjoys hurting people, and that his previous spates of violence weren’t just an extension of the Shadow King’s temporary control.
In the season finale, Syd was prepared to shoot David and end his life herself. She actually pulled the trigger, but David was saved thanks to a last-minute assist from Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), who stopped Syd’s bullet with another bullet from some type of futuristic, superpowered sniper rifle. (In typical Legion fashion, it’s not really explained what that gun can do.) With Syd briefly rendered unconscious from the bullets’ impact, David used his powers to brainwash her into forgetting their confrontation, as well as her feelings of resentment toward him. When they returned to the headquarters of Division 3 with the Shadow King in custody, Syd was still feeling discombobulated. David visited her that evening via a telepathic projection of himself, and the two had sex.
For a show that routinely brings unnerving thrills through nightmarish imagery and psychedelic mutant powers, Legion’s most disturbing moment felt uncomfortably grounded. As Syd bluntly put it later in the episode: “David, you drugged me and had sex with me.” It’s the biggest betrayal of the series, and one that’s given the emotional resonance such a devastating moment requires. It also cements David’s status as a villain—one who’s more than willing to brainwash the self-professed love of his life in a desperate attempt to save their relationship. If we’re to believe superhero stories are only as compelling as the villains that drive them, Legion’s set David up to become an unforgettable one.
New Battle Lines Have Been Drawn
While Legion used multiple actors (Negahban, Plaza, and Jemaine Clement) to make the Shadow King one of Marvel’s most electric villains, the show has failed to properly develop most of its secondary characters. You can boil most Legion characters down to their archetypes: the scientist-type who creates cool gadgets (Bill Irwin’s Cary), the one who likes to fight (Amber Midthunder’s Kerry), and the one who’s good for exposition dumps because his mutant power is having a really good memory (Jeremie Harris’s Ptonomy). (Ptonomy is such a good exposition machine, in fact, the show literally killed the character this season and transferred his consciousness into Division 3’s computer system … hooray?)
But with David now established as the series’ main villain going forward, these characters might benefit from no longer serving as his sidekicks, but rather becoming his adversaries. Syd, in particular, will get a big boost from this storytelling shake-up—she’s no longer the love interest, but the leading protagonist squaring off against someone she once deeply loved who grotesquely betrayed her truth. A Greek tragedy, retrofitted with mutant powers.
Lenny will also benefit from Legion’s future direction. Aubrey Plaza continued to impress in Season 2 as the show’s underrated and underutilized MVP, even when Legion wasn’t entirely sure what to do with her. Lenny’s at her most entertaining when she’s an agent of chaos—shout-out Season 1’s Evil Psychiatrist Lenny dance—and that’s exactly what becoming supervillain David’s wacky sidekick should necessitate.
An Apocalyptic Future
Legion is no stranger to time jumps—a full year passed between the events of the first and second season, and David had several conversations this season with Syd while she was in an unknown time in the future. Another time jump heading into Season 3 isn’t out of the question; in fact, it might’ve already been foretold.
Season 2’s penultimate episode opened with a brief glimpse into the future. It was dark and desolate, the only light coming from a hut adorned with skeletal remains. As Lenny rolled around euphorically on a fur carpet (she was holding her stomach so she might be pregnant?!), David sat on a throne, looking impeccably douchey with his hair spiked up. He was holding an orb in his hand that appeared to contain Syd’s soul. It was a haunting image, and one with an array of possibilities. The primitive setup of David’s hut implied that perhaps his ruination of Earth sets civilization back hundreds of years—fires replacing electricity; huts replacing modern infrastructure. Alternatively, maybe the future is some kind of Mad Max–esque hellscape, with David serving as its superpowered Immortan Joe.
Legion, the villain, is frequently described in the comics as the “world-killer.” Once Legion, the show, gets to that point, its possibilities are as limitless as its visual imagination.
While Legion has sometimes lacked purposeful and coherent direction, the completion of David’s sinister transformation has given the series a clear focus moving forward. No longer is the series the origin story of a supervillain—it can now explore the possibilities of that villain operating at the height of his godlike powers. Going forward, Legion can still provide what it does best—a cornucopia of visuals that coalesce into something equal parts beautiful and horrifying—and add in a story that’ll finally be worth investing in.