The season finale of Noah Hawley’s super-spectacular fizzles, but doesn’t quite catch flame.
You’re gods, and someday you’re going to wake up and realize you don’t have to listen to us anymore.
The truth is that following the gonzo “Bolero” sequence of last week’s “Chapter 7,” which featured everything from silent film cue cards to The Eye folding in on himself to Jemaine Clement conducting like a man who thinks he can conduct to Aubrey Plaza acing her audition for the Beetlejuice reboot, just about anything would have felt like a letdown. So when I say that “Chapter 8” was, in fact, a letdown, I don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t mean that this series isn’t my favorite thing to air on television in this young 2017. Both of those things are true.
But unlike on, say, Game of Thrones, which makes a habit out of climaxing in its penultimate episode then using its finales as denouement, Legion’s season-ender was a bit shruggier. For once, the slow-motion sequences felt as slow as they looked; we spent ten dreary minutes catching up with Hamish Linklater’s now Two-Faced interrogator; the resolution of the David/Farouk relationship was simultaneously pat (they run towards each other!) and confusing (but David can still sense Farouk, because the show hasn’t told us yet he’s Mr. X’s son). Since we’ve spent eight episodes working through the puzzle of David’s psychological history, that hasn’t left a lot of room for real character development — not that the season needed to be any longer, of course, you just want these mutants to be more than their quirks and abilities. In fact, it’s the Interrogator (Clark!) who came out of this episode the best, having traded “sinister” for “endearingly in over his head, and knows it.”
What’s kept us engaged is the show’s trippy style, the height of its highs (again, Bolero, or Oliver’s ice cube of solitude) and the appealing performances. I didn’t need to understand Dan Stevens’, Rachel Keller’s, Plaza’s, or Bill Irwin’s characters because they were just so damn fun to watch. But at the end of the season, you want to have told a coherent story and get more than style points, and I’m not sure Legion got all the way there.
That’s enough negative, though. This first section was mostly for Chase Branch, who has been playfully jousting with me over Legion’s shortcomings (while still watching every episode), and I want him to know that his criticisms aren’t without merit. Yet even the obvious flaws in the storytelling aren’t enough to really bring me down on the show itself, which was as bold and experimental as you’d ever want a comic book series to be. And despite the ever-expanding workload of Hawley, I look forward to what he can bring to a second season free of the heavy expository lifting that was required this year.
After trapping Farouk/Lenny inside his subconscious via Cary’s handy halo device, David is basically Neo now. When confronted by the Interrogator and Division 3, he casually piles the soldiers into a tower. “He’s a world-breaker,” Melanie says. Both she and the Interrogator were wrong about David’s potential. “Better learn to fly like a bird, because the age of the dinosaur is over.” Jean Smart delivers that line with the confidence of someone who has powers herself, but the jury’s still out on Melanie’s abilities. David puts it even more simply: “War is over, if you want it.” Dan Stevens continues to balance madness with pure charisma.
Yet there’s a division between the divisions of this shadowy organization; the Interrogator’s Division 3 wants to study David further, and the more gung-ho Division 1 (including the Interrogator’s long-suffering husband) just wants David dead. It doesn’t help that David is being extra creepy as Lenny continues to try to burst back to the surface: “You don’t have to be afraid,” he keeps repeating, to the point of madness. But who’s talking, and to whom?
It’s at this point, as Cary figures out how they can erase Farouk once and for all by using a science-y laser field to suck out the parasite’s brainwaves, David himself starts to get second thoughts. He’s been with Farouk — as his dog King, as the Angriest Boy Hitler head, as Lenny — for all of his life. “What am I like without you?” he asks the shell-shocked, twitching demon. The central question of the series — are David’s powers feeding his schizophrenia, or the other way around? — is about to be answered. But Lenny isn’t going to go down that easily. She manifests herself to Syd as a filth monster, dripping tar all over Syd and David’s love nest, with a simple compromise: help me escape David’s mind, and I won’t kill him.
It would have been nice for Syd to have been written with more nuance than we’ve been given to this point, because while it’s good for her to be making her own choice in what transpires at the episode’s climax, she’s still defined more by her mooney romance with David than anything else. So of course she gives David the True Love’s kiss, transferring he and Farouk to her own body, which then gets transferred again to the unfairly abused Kerry, and then again to Oliver just as he remembers, really remembers, who Melanie is. In order to save her boyfriend, she accidentally costs Dr. Bird her shot at reuniting with her long-lost husband. Yet this isn’t really discussed at the end of the episode, so I have to think that the book hasn’t been closed on Bird & Lenny. I hope not, anyway. Both Clement and Plaza (especially Plaza, the series MVP) are too much fun.
And…that’s pretty much is for “Chapter 8,” save the mid-credits bonus scene where David gets kidnapped by an orb. (I’ll leave it to my more comic-savvy brethren to discuss the significance of that). I’d like to write a lot more about Legion’s strengths, because it’s absolutely in the upper echelon of comic adaptations, but I’ll save those thoughts for a my mid-year TV piece. Until then, whether you’re a defender or more critical of the series, come at me in the comments.