Leading into the series finale of Legion, I couldn’t help but ponder just how a show like this could be concluded. With so many time-traveling hallways and visions of the future what possible ending is there that not only gives closure to these characters and the story they live in but also celebrates the very unique and beautiful viewing experience. I watch a great deal of television and I’m hard-pressed to think of a show that compares to Noah Hawley’s mutant opus. To say Legion has been an ambitious experiment in how we the viewer digest storytelling or how said storytelling is presented would be an understatement. In a number of ways, Legion changed the game as it combined unorthodox narrative methods and used them to enhance the story it was telling. Sure, dance battles and people who live in an ice cube could be distracting but in the world that Hawley built, they somehow made sense. They became the norm. Legion was a strange world that presented strange events as if they were everyday occurrences almost as if this is how Hawley wished the world would be. In any other universe, this show would seem bananas or a hodgepodge of cool ideas thrown into a story for the sake of it, but Legion not only embraced these unique narrative structures but made them feel commonplace. Is a Legion episode without the trippy weirdness even a Legion episode or is that the commentary that that particular episode is trying to make?
Every episode of Legion became an adventure. A puzzle to be solved. Because underneath all the strangeness and all of the unorthodox, there were characters worthy of our exploration. Characters who were searching for their place in the world just as hard as we were searching through all the complex narrative structure to figure out what the hell was going on. To watch and understand Legion was one of the most rewarding experiences in television. There’s just something satisfying to being presented something so clever and intelligent and working through it to come to an understanding of what is being said. I imagine it’s how people feel when they see the hidden image in a 3D picture or when you find Waldo’s cup in the Where’s Waldo books. Legion wanted this story to feel gratifying but it also didn’t want it to be easy. Much like David, we had to earn this and if you stuck through until the end, Legion concluded on a very satisfying note that not only respected the characters but the audience that has traveled this far.
The life of David Heller has been a trying one. Abandoned by his parents, one of which just so happens to be one of the world’s strongest mutants, tortured by the Shadow King, suicide attempts, drug addictions, the voices and manifestation of powers he didn’t understand, the endless search for love and the pursuit of being a good person, David Heller has been through a lot. Through his journey we’ve seen him at his highest, finding acceptance within Melanie’s group and with Syd, all the way to his lowest, the suicide attempt and his betrayal of Syd. All through this journey, we have questioned, just like David, whether or not he’s a good person. Everyone is deserving of love, but David is unable to separate the idea that being loved also means he’s a good person. A great deal of that comes from his inability to understand emotions and for the majority of this third season, David is the villain. A lost little boy who holds a vendetta against the world because his parents gave him up throwing his life into this out of control whirlwind filled with all types of mental anguish. It’s a tragic tale, no doubt, but David often uses it as a crutch to explain away his actions. Nothing is black and white, David kind of lives in the grey, and the audience is tasked with forming their own point of view on who David is. Just because he’s the main character doesn’t mean he’s our hero or worthy of our admiration. We can root for him but at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves, is he worth it?
David’s season three quest has been to win back what he’s lost. Isolated from his friends. On the hunt from Division Three. Having ruined his relationship with Syd and not understanding why David finds solace in a manipulated cult filled with young women who call him “daddy” filling the void of what he’s lost as he pursues time travel in the hopes of fixing the things that he’s broken. David at least understands the ramifications of his actions even though he doesn’t fully comprehend them. In David’s mind if he changes the past everything will be better. It’s a complete do-over but he fails to understand that he will still be the David we’ve followed for three seasons. He’ll carry over the weight of his past decisions and uses them to his future advantage. It’s another lie and another betrayal to those he supposedly loves. It’s like resetting a video game before you die. The way David perceives time travel is a cheat and shows that David hasn’t grown up at all, and as Syd and his race to change the past both go about in very different methods.
David believes by killing the Shadow King before he makes a home in his mind it will allow him to become a good person without burden or incredible psycho trauma baggage. In a lot of ways we’ve been made to believe that this is the answer to David’s pain and all roads have lead to this. A showdown between the Shadow King and David Heller. The sake of the world hanging in the balance. Yet, it’s Syd that holds the true answer to the saving of David’s soul. It’s not about killing your pains it’s about creating a world where maybe they don’t exist. Syd implores David’s mother to stay with him and give him a loving life. A life David never had. It becomes clear that through everything that she’s gone through, Syd believes that David deserves this chance. That this is a man who can be good, who has even displayed flourishes of that good nature but has been manipulated by the voices in his head and those around him. There is no question David has been dealt a crap hand in life and if he’s put in the right environment maybe that could be the change the world needs to survive. It’s the Boys From Brazil argument. If you put the world’s greatest villain in a different home environment will they still grow up to be the world’s greatest villain?
In the end, it’s David’s two father figures that bring understanding to his story. Charles Xavier, his actual father, and Farouk (Shadow King) give him the opportunity that Syd was seeking. A world where Charles doesn’t abandon his son that coincides with a world where the Shadow King doesn’t torture David. Empathy is the key here. Xavier may not understand why he gave David up but he understands the impact of his actions. The Shadow King, through the memories of the future version of himself, witnesses the impact of his actions and feels for David. Mirroring sequences that resonate. Both father figures have failed David, and they are now being given an opportunity to amend that. Through Switch’s new god-like time travel abilities, she resets the timeline giving everyone a fresh start. An experiment in seeing if David is a product of his environment or actually a good person. All that hangs in the balance is the future of the world we live in. No big deal.
For all the trippiness and highly complex visuals and narrative structure that we’ve become accustomed to when watching this series, Legion chose to end the series on a more quiet, hopeful note. That’s not to say that the tropes that made this show such a standout weren’t there. The Pink Floyd’s “Mother” sequence was not only mesmerizing, haunting, emotional, and full of meta-commentary but might be the first time I’ve actually heard the verse of the mother sang by a woman. A scene that resonated hard and might be one of my favorite Legion moments of all time. In the end, though, it’s the conversation between Syd and David that solidifies the journey for me. All too often in time travel, the device is used as a way to negate the experience. Almost making it seem that the story was a waste of time because it was destined to be changed anyway. That’s not the case here with Legion. Everything we’ve viewed counts. Without it, these characters would not be given the opportunity to start fresh. And don’t get it wrong, this isn’t just a restart for David but for everyone. Syd gets a chance to feel less isolated. The Kerrys a chance to feel whole. Melanie a life with Oliver. True Detective showed us that time is a flat circle and round and round we go.
The hope that hangs in the air as Syd turns to David and tells him to be a good boy is infectious. Syd has every reason to hate David and yet they share this beautiful moment in the end. It seems at last David understands the gravity of it all and the serene nature of the moment they share before vanishing is quietly beautiful. A moment that registers like the sigh after a long journey together. If everything works out the two will never meet in this new timeline. David will be loved and free of the Shadow King and Syd will be able to live a life she once thought impossible. Neither will be committed at the same time making it appear that their paths won’t cross. The romantic in me wants to believe that maybe they’ll find each other again and things will work outright, but I think their story is over. Despite how their relationship worked out they saved the world, and although they’ll never remember that, it’s enough. They should be able to start completely over in a world that is filled with more optimism than the world they leave behind… providing David is a good boy.