Heading into Tuesday’s Season 2 finale, FX’s Legion remains one of the most visually inventive and ambitious shows anywhere on television. But as a fan, after nearly full two seasons, I’m left wondering: What are all those mind-bending visuals adding up to, exactly?
I was a huge fan of Legion from the very first episode — enough to give it an “A” grade in TVLine’s original review last year. I loved creator Noah Hawley’s offbeat, psychedelic take on the standard comic-book drama, and was instantly hooked on David Haller’s transformation from troubled mental patient to telekinetically blessed mutant. Season 1’s eight episodes were a bit confounding at times, yes, but they told a complete story, and set up an intriguing universe that was ripe for exploration in Season 2. Legion‘s hopelessly fragmented, damn near impenetrable sophomore run, though, has felt more like it’s running in circles.
Season 2 started out promisingly enough, with an entertaining premiere that gave David a simple task: Find Amahl Farouk’s original body before the Shadow King himself does. Great, I thought! A straightforward, linear goal that will provide Season 2 with some much-needed structure. But the race for Farouk’s body was quickly set aside in favor of a series of self-contained episodes about David and his Summerland crew. These episodes did feature some standout acting — Dan Stevens was terrific in “Chapter 14,” as we saw the many paths David’s life could’ve taken, from homeless man to billionaire — but they didn’t really tell us much about the characters that we didn’t already know. And meanwhile, Season 2’s narrative languished, waiting for someone to push it forward instead of sideways.
It’s not easy to keep up with who’s who on Legion, either. Oliver is Melanie’s long-lost husband, but he’s also inhabited by the Shadow King. Syd is David’s girlfriend in the present, but she’s also a one-armed warrior sent back from the future. Lenny is back (with unsettling blue eyes), but she’s also a grotesque transformation of David’s sister Amy. It’s undoubtedly fun for the actors to play all these different identities, but as fans, it keeps us from investing in any of them as characters. And while Navid Negahban has performed admirably as Amahl Farouk this season, there’s not much here for him to work with. Farouk is too enigmatic and ephemeral to be a great villain; all he does is toss off cryptic statements in French and then vanish into thin air like a ghost.
No matter what’s happening in the story, Legion is always gorgeous to look at, and it’s loaded with a superb ensemble of actors. (Any show that has Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement in its regular cast demands my full attention.) But too often in Season 2, the surreal visuals seem to be the only point — weirdness for weirdness’ sake — and any actual progress in David’s journey gets pushed to the back burner. (The interludes with Jon Hamm’s Narrator are the season’s most glaring bit of wheel-spinning. Just because you can get Jon Hamm to give us five-minute lessons in psychological phenomena… doesn’t mean you should.)
This past week, Legion delivered maybe its bold storytelling stroke yet, making us think that the all-powerful David might actually be the villain of this story after all. Either way, though, that feels like a grave misstep. If it’s true, then it betrays everything we thought we knew and destroys the David/Syd romance, which is the emotional bedrock of the show. And if it’s just a mind trick from Farouk, as I suspect, it’s yet another narrative head fake from a show that’s already cried “wolf” too many times. If there are absolutely no rules to this story, then nothing matters and none of it means anything… so what are we even watching for?
It’s tricky, because the things that are frustrating me about Legion this season are the things that made me fall in love with the show in the first place. The last thing I want is for Legion to lose its edge and turn into another basic, hero-versus-villain action fest; we have plenty of those already, and this show started out as a refreshing antidote to that. But two seasons in, I’m starting to lose patience, and we already know there’s a third season on the way. So perhaps some reining-in would be nice… before it goes off the rails completely.
What’s your take on Season 2, Legion fans? Hit the comments to share your thoughts.