Usually, when the ending credits roll, it’s a signal to viewers that the story is over. The screen cuts to black, we press “pause” and “delete” on the remote to clear the space on the DVR, and return our focus back to real life. However, we were particularly sad to watch the finale episode of “Legion,” since the FX series has turned out to be one of the most fantastic new shows of 2017.
Maybe it was our denial that it was now over until whenever Season 2 premieres, or the pitch-perfect song cue that played us out (“Children of the Revolution,” naturally), but for whatever reason we had the distinct pleasure of seeing a now-classic movie move come alive — and the very people we’d just gotten bummed about bidding farewell!
David Haller (Dan Stevens) and Syd (Rachel Keller) are standing on the balcony of Summerland, talking about the Shadow King and looking out into the night sky, when a strange flying orb droid comes into view — and a peaceful David happily points at it, like it’s a cute puppy (Not King the Dog). “Is this one of Cary’s new toys?” David asks… Before the object scans his body, zaps him inside itself, and whisks off into the night.
Feelings of what just happened? and has anyone else seen this? flooded our heads. Damn you, Noah Hawley! For what was already a great finale, this extra tag wasn’t necessary to make things exciting — or get us any more excited about Season 2. But Noah Hawley — creator, executive producer, and writer of this particular episode — has proven many times over that he’s not one to play by the typical rules. While shifting the normal scope of how we watch TV can sometimes go foul, and even feel a little unnecessarily self-indulgent at times, most of the time Hawley hits a home run. And it makes for stellar entertainment.
Off the success of his FX smash “Fargo,” Hawley took on this Marvel story in ways that proved both exciting and brave throughout. He forced viewers to think outside the box with his unique artistic vision, masterfully making this series entertaining for not just “X-Men” fans, but for those watching who’ve never picked up a comic book in their lives. He managed to take the not-so-typically fun subjects of psychology and mental health and turn them into water cooler topics… And now, Hawley’s made us wary of ever again skipping the credits.
The finale itself takes a perfect form, following Hamish Linklater’s Division 13 Interrogator, Clark, through an intense and dark recovery period — from his incineration at the end of the pilot, to the unique stresses it puts on his husband (Keir O’Donnell) and their son, and finally to his first day back at work, walking stick and 40 percent-burned body ready to roll. But the seeds of his eventual softening are already implied in that first meeting, when he assures HR he will not be taking a desk job — but starting a war.
David dispatches Clark’s squad of soldiers in seconds, and invites his nemesis inside… And we spend the next 45 minutes trying to crack the essential mutant/human problem down to its constituent bits. For Clark and Division 13 (for whom husband Daniel also works), David and Summerland are the latest threat to humanity, because humanity is defined for them as superiority, in a zero-sum game. Mutants outnumbering humans is a far-off (if highly relevant, currently) threat — but to Clark, even the idea of mutants having children leads inevitably to a sandbox battle for dominance.
Think like a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Think of life as a game where you win only if someone else loses, and you can only see the ways everybody else is going to make you a loser. And if that were the world we live in, Clark might be right: In that childish and brutal sandbox world, a kid with eye lasers is going to beat a kid without them every time. What he can’t see — and continues to resist even after Melanie (Jean Smart) lays it out for him, in her chilling and friendly way — is that there is no end to Legion’s power, and no end to the mutant race:
Therefore, it’s in Division 13 and humanity’s best interest to find a peaceful solution, because if there is going to be a loser, it will be humanity. The entire point of evolution is survival, e is for extinction, and all Division 13 is doing is both futile and short-sighted: The story — and this goes for every possible kind of person for whom mutants have ever been a metaphor — will never be about erasing mutants, in the long arc of justice. It’s always about preserving humans — making sure there’s a space for them, in the world to come. Making sure they don’t get left behind.
In regards to who sent that floating mini-prison where David’s now entrapped, we have a few theories. The series of events that preceded this bonus surprise laid out a few options. Our first guess is that it’s a new enemy entirely. Now that Division 3 has seemingly agreed to work together with the crew at Summerland, their combined power may be intimidating to another secret army or group. Now that David’s in full control of himself, he should be even more powerful — and in the comics, at least, that kind of thing makes everyone in the galaxy nervous. We’ve lost count of how many times, for example, the Shi’ar have come hollering about some Phoenix-related threat or another. Or maybe it’s not a flying jail cell at all, but just a technologically advanced form of travel — he could be heading toward Season 2’s ice-cube equivalent.
On the very outside, it could be David’s biological father, Professor Charles Xavier. Maybe fighting off this evil parasite works like a vaccine, and David’s dad can now be around his son without the worry of infecting him with this horrible phantom menace. In fact, how cool if Season 2 was a flashback to David’s biological parents — a way for viewers to get a firsthand education of how the Shadow King first showed its face, and how Charles was able to defeat him.
No matter what the answer, or whichever journey Hawley leads us on in the future, we are now entering a whole new phase of exploring David’s mind. Free of the parasite feeding off his mutant energy, we can only imagine the heights his power can now reach.
As he says in the beginning of the episode, “If you surrender to the hope and believe it’s real, there’s no coming back.”
But let’s face it, change is scary. It’s going to be overwhelming for him to step into this new world. And to repeat the quote he repeatedly tells Clark (Hamish Linklater), “Do not be afraid.” Because no one ever gets anywhere by being afraid. And every character — Syd, Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), Melanie, Cary and Kerry — all faced their deepest fears in one way or another this past season, and each are still developing their powers, too. Especially Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement), of course — a man out of time, a secret agent-looking rapscallion with the devil on his shoulder. But just as it always is from the outside perspective, so easy and clear, that transformation will be beautiful to watch.
Eventually, even Clark — through an exquisite sequence of emotional and logical twists, it’s totally earned — comes around. He doesn’t say it, but we see it.
Once Cary (Bill Irwin) begins his steampunky exorcism of the Shadow King from David’s body, Sidney (Rachel Keller) is invited back to the white room reality, where a spooky Beetlejuice of a Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) explains that you can’t “unmake soup,” and that David is going to die one way or the other. As Division 13 argues for a surgical strike that will kill Clark along with everyone else, Sid calls an audible — kissing David’s convulsing form like a backwards fairytale and bringing the Shadow King into herself. From there, he slips into Kerry (Amber Midthunder), who is still very traumatized and angry with her other half, and sprints for the outside… Only to be confronted by a fully empowered, no longer diseased, practically whole David Haller.
In their final explosive meeting, the King is driven into Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement) — heartbreakingly, as he’d just finally remembered his beloved wife — and before you know it, Shadow Oliver has escaped to the south, Lenny riding shotgun. But it’s in this moment that the show confirms the story it’s been telling us all along: David leans down to help Clark, who’s already essentially admitted that he cares about and likes David, despite having to do his duty, and in that moment the story changes. With a malevolent entity on the loose, Division 13 has every reason to get onboard with the Summerland crew and fight for something other than mutually assured destruction — but David’s instinctual kindness and bond with his former torturer, helping him up, caring for him: That’s the future of mutantkind. And ours.
If you surrender to the hope, there’s no coming back. Only ever moving forward.
“Legion” has been renewed for two more seasons on FX.