[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Legion” Season 2, Episode 11, “Chapter 19” — the finale.]
First, here’s what “Legion” did very well in its finale, which is a lot:
- Implementing music (if not dance) into the battle between David (Dan Stevens) and Farouk (Navid Negahban) is a nice touch, and their lip-syncing made the meeting all the more ominous.
- Director Keith Gordon’s big, boisterous touches (like the animated beings fighting through the sky) worked as well as his subtle framings (like how the camera pulls back to reveal David floating while talking to the other Davids).
- The time jump — and toying with time in general — aided in the story’s suspense, as audiences clung to every word Melanie (Jean Smart) and Oliver (Jemaine Clement) said, even though the final weight of their choice doesn’t hit until the episode is over. (They’re still living in an ice cube three years from David’s trial?)
- Aubrey Plaza has been crazy good this season, and her (comparably) limited screen time here is still a treasure.
- What David does to Sydney is heartbreaking (as is their gradual split in general), and the world he leaves behind is scary as hell. Farouk is the only one left to stop David, and having that killer as the world’s best hope leaves viewers in a universe without a hero (unless you count Sydney, who appears in no shape to stop David). With no beating heart driving the series and no all-powerful hero to root for, Season 3 could be the darkest yet.
But what’s disappointing about the finale is a bit more complicated to sort out. It involves the very concept Noah Hawley is putting under the microscope: how audiences can be so ready to identify with a hero, they’re willing to root for him when he stops doing good. Though that idea is one worthy of exploring, the execution lurched from scene to scene as David’s transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde never smoothed out.
In Season 2, Hawley toyed with reality a little too much. As delightful as the “educational segments” and general moral musings could be (more Jon Hamm, please), they tied into the narrative more than they aided in character development. If you’re not sure what actions are real and what choices matter, how do you know when someone is changing? That’s the problem with David — and “Legion” — this season, not lucidity. Though it was told in addictively delirious fashion, Season 2 remained tethered to the plot throughout. Rarely was it difficult to understand the escalating objectives, but it could be challenging to comprehend motivation — specifically, in David’s most vile moment from Episode 11: sexually assaulting Sydney.
The build-up to that reveal is almost nonexistent. Even if the audience could see how he was deluding himself, all of the discussion surrounding delusions in relation to David came from fairly untrustworthy sources; be it Melanie warning Syd about what’s hiding inside of David, or Oliver who was working with Farouk. Melanie was baked to the point of detachment for most of the season, and Oliver was under the influence of a bad man. Though his suffering and her argument were enough to convince Sydney that David was on the wrong path, it wasn’t enough for viewers. There were too many reasons to trust David and distrust the others, which would be fine if David was an unreliable narrator, but he wasn’t — not all of the time. The audience shared in other perspectives besides the main character’s.
By the final few episodes, Hawley all but removed the foundation the series was built on: that David and Sydney saved each other in that mental hospital and have been making each other better ever since. While that’s necessary to set up the next phase of the series — David’s broken bad and Sydney has to rein him back to good — it felt a bit like the carpet was yanked out without anything left underneath.
On a metaphorical plane (one of Hawley’s favorite places to work), their dynamic doesn’t feel like an appropriate comparison to toxic relationships. Sure, the duo lost each other in pursuit of something bigger, but what’s been implied this season is that David’s lurking evil has been inside him all along. It’s not Sydney that brought it out, so much as she failed to identify it in the first place. (Even the loss of his sister isn’t explicitly blamed for David crossing a line.) That’s why when Sydney says (straight to camera), “David, you drugged me and had sex with me,” it feels like a gut punch; it’s hard to believe David would do that.
Really, that could have been enough to jar David back to his senses. It’s the antithesis to his recurring quote in the finale: “I’m a good person, and I deserve love.” Hawley, always game to pit faith and facts against each other, does so yet again. That’s a belief he’s convinced himself of, despite growing evidence to the contrary. What Sydney says is an indisputable fact that should override a belief.
But it doesn’t. Instead, he flees with Lenny (or whoever that person is now), giving into his dark side with a devastatingly offhand, “There ain’t no blondie now.” The reversal “Legion” pulled off in Season 2 is admirable; it’s hard to imagine David as the bad guy during Episode 1, and Hawley properly showcased the character’s many sides throughout the season (most notably in “Chapter 14,” which was an acting showcase for Stevens). The concepts of self-delusion and self-perception were deconstructed brilliantly and on a grand scale. He had the structure in place for a last-second switcheroo, but watching a good guy go bad isn’t as fun when it doesn’t feel earned.
“Legion” Season 2 is streaming on FX Now and will soon be available on Hulu.