clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

In Its Third Season, ‘Legion’ Is Weirder Than Ever

With the X-Men being absorbed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the show will probably be the last mutant series of its kind. Enjoy it while it lasts.

FX/Ringer illustration

Appearing on The Graham Norton Show last week, Gwyneth Paltrow talked about the pitfalls of becoming famous at a young age—and why being famous, in general, is a negative and unnatural thing for a person to endure. Fame, as she explained, means other people will remove all types of obstacles for you in life. And obstacles, whether big or small, are an essential part of the human experience—without them, there are a lot of life lessons that you don’t learn. Or, as Paltrow’s dad told her in the midst of her stardom: “You’re kind of turning into an asshole.”

This might seem like a weird segue into a dissection of the third and final season of the FX series Legion—but then again, strange and bizarre tangents are intrinsic to the show’s DNA. At the end of Legion’s second season, David Haller (played by Dan Stevens)—an all-powerful mutant with telekinetic abilities and an unstable mind—finally broke bad, brainwashing his then-girlfriend Syd (Rachel Keller) and sexually assaulting her after removing her short-term memory. (David justifies his behavior by saying, “I deserve love.”) Leaving Syd and the rest of the government agency Division 3 behind along with his quirky sidekick Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), David is powerful enough to bring forth the end of the world—as a future version of Syd previously foretold.

While the third season, which premiered Monday night, doesn’t jump into an apocalyptic future world decimated by David’s powers, it does create a new environment that heightens his sense of overwhelming narcissism. David has, effectively, founded a hippie cult, with primarily female followers who heed his every word, call him “daddy,” and are hooked on a cerulean serum derived from his psychic powers. (I didn’t know mutants could make their own drugs, but I’m cool rolling with it.) Crucially, the blue stuff doesn’t just inspire good vibes: It’s a medium for brainwashing. And David creates a second protective measure for himself by openly reading everyone’s minds, often without consent, to understand their true motivations. With no limitations on his powers, David has turned into an asshole.

He’s also created a small ecosystem where he’s basically a god, with a legion (sorry) of followers subservient and incapable of deception. He certainly doesn’t have any obstacles in his way—other than Division 3, of course. Syd and Co. are still hot on his tail, and even successfully kill him a couple of times in the premiere. The snag? David’s discovered a young time traveler, Switch (Lauren Tsai), who warns him of the impending danger, allowing him to improvise and live to fight/brainwash another day.

As a series that frequently unloads trippy visual flourishes, Legion becoming a race through time in its final eight episodes feels very on-brand. (To find David’s cult in the premiere after uncovering a series of coded messages, Switch crawls through an otherworldly rabbit hole that takes her through bustling skyscrapers and natural landscapes. Legion’s gonna Legion.) The show revels in its own unreliability: Instead of saying “previously on Legion,” the beginning of each episode opens with “ostensibly on Legion.” Time constantly folding over itself while theoretically creating myriad parallel timelines is a mindfuck in and of itself that would give the Three-Eyed Raven a migraine; thankfully, Legion isn’t as concerned with the logistics so much as setting up a psychedelic vibe worth investing in.

Narrative, of course, hasn’t always been Legion’s strong suit: after a strong freshman outing that matched a compelling and thoughtful deep dive into mental illness with lurid imagery, the second season devolved into deceptively simple and occasionally languid storytelling masked by visual flair. On the whole, though, the two seasons were able to unveil two critical truths about David. Instead of a mutant whose telekinetic powers are somewhat reminiscent of a mental illness, or a mental illness that makes David believe he’s got mutant powers—it’s a combination of both. And rather than accept his own flaws, get the proper help, or own up to sexually assaulting his girlfriend, David wants to go back in time to prevent any of his misdeeds from happening. Changing the past, in David’s mind, will make him a good person again.

It’s a flawed notion, and that’s the point. David’s fragility, coupled with extraordinary powers, makes him disconcertingly volatile. Later in the third season, when something irritates David, the blue fluid that runs throughout his cult’s HQ suddenly turns crimson—in turn, his followers become rabid. It’s a stunningly rendered moment, emblematic of what makes Legion such an arresting series in miniature, and David such a terrifyingly unstable figure.

There are enough hallucinogenic thrills in Legion’s third season to keep the rest of it from falling apart, even as time travel threatens to force the characters to do that very thing. The sort of redundancy that’s plagued other Marvel series—namely the ones released in partnership with Netflix—has never been a problem for Legion. Even at its worst, the show is admirable in its undeniably singular vision. Noah Hawley’s series has always been perfectly content to be its own weird little thing.

Legion ending on a high note (through the first four episodes, at least) is a relief, too, considering what the final season of the series portends: a seeming end to the weird, offshoot X-Men projects previously sustained by 20th Century Fox. With most of Fox’s assets acquired by Disney, the X-Men movie franchise has come to an anticlimactic end—presumably so that mutants can be installed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the future. Similarly, with the streaming service Disney+ on the way in November, MCU characters like Bucky Barnes, Loki, and Scarlet Witch are getting their own miniseries. Marvel corporate synergy isn’t just hitting streaming, it’s coming for the X-Men writ large.

So, it’s likely that Legion is the last of its kind. It’s hard to picture two mutants in the MCU duking it by having a dance-off or a wrestling match in the astral plane. Love it or hate it, Legion has rarely felt like any other superhero property—X-Men included. If it’s still up your alley, enjoy the show’s musical numbers, trippy images, and overarching weirdness while you still can. With Disney now at the wheel for the foreseeable future, Legion may soon feel like an artifact from a time when Marvel-adjacent content wasn’t afraid to get a little strange.