Legion’s closing credits resurrect the musical cue that began the montage depicting the life of David Haller way back in the very first episode: “Happy Jack” by The Who, a song almost fairy-tale-like in its simplicity, about a man who responds to the cruelty and alienation of the larger world with a smile, who refuses to let it get to him and maintains his positivity regardless of what he may encounter. Back then, it seemed like an ironic choice, as we watched a boy become a man in a series of slow-motion tableaus depicting what a troubled, damaged mess his world had become. Now, much like the finale to which it serves as a coda, it almost feels too earnest and pat, a not wholly earned note of sincerity at which any possible challenge is barely hinted. Yes, Legion went out with a profound optimism and sense of hope for the future, ending even its most underserved storyline with a bit of deus ex patriarch that rescues our protagonists from darker fates and opens them up to a potential future in which anything is possible. We few, we happy few.
The sense of uplift and moral simplicity argued for by the ending is so genuine, it feels churlish to point out the ways in which it might be compromised. And yet the world created by Legion has been so murky and full of messy ambiguities, so touched by the very notion that nothing as simple as “a clear answer” could ever sufficiently account for any philosophical or existential question about what it means to live a good life, that to suddenly end on a note that tries to sweep the board clean and say “Let’s do it all over, but better” with hardly an implication of the too-broad generalities implied (and some conclusions not even related to David’s reset that similarly make everything okay) comes across as rushed, at best. After an entire season of David trying to undo his entire life—and restart everyone’s existence in the process—he succeeds. Rather than killing Farouk, he comes to terms with his nemesis, and with a smile and handshake, they initiate a do-over of the past few decades, while Switch looks on approvingly. It’s not quite the Wayne’s World “mega-happy ending,” but it’s not far off. No one dies. Everyone grows, or begins again, seemingly of their own choice. And yet.
This uneasy conclusion might be best embodied by the climactic performance of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” when it looks as though Then-Farouk has captured David on the astral plane and bound him in a straitjacket, the ancient mutant finally responding to David’s insistence that, “I’m a good person, I deserve love,” with a firm, “No. You don’t.” David screams, and suddenly we’re treated to the song, David singing to his long-distant Gabrielle, asking her all the worried questions about his life that had never been answered before. But the song allows her to reply, and suddenly (so we’re meant to understand) David is filled with love, with the feeling of safety and warmth that had been missing. She assures him that she’ll always be there—we even see Gabrielle singing this to baby David, as Syd stands freeze-frame beside her, fighting the Time Eaters—and it’s all the succor adult David needs to break free from his straitjacket and turn the tables on Then-Farouk, just before Xavier and Now-Farouk stop him and explain that, hey man, war isn’t the answer, it’s the problem.
Now, this might be a case where “Mother” fits effectively enough into what Noah Hawley and company wanted to convey. After all, it’s a song where a scared young man asks his mother for reassurance, and she’s there to say everything is going to be ok. That’s a tall order, and it works wonderfully in the show, as David’s (or Legion’s, really) other selves cut loose in an exuberant mosh pit of release, a sense of being freed. Because Farouk’s scornful reply to David’s cry for love is only an affirmation of what the troubled psychic secretly suspected this whole time—that he wasn’t worthy of love. Now, with his mother assuring him that his most fundamental need is met, he can break loose of internal and external bonds. But you’d have to be pretty naive to look past the meaning of the lyrics: This is a song about seeking reassurance in a world of uncertainty and danger, but the source of that reassurance and authority is also putting their own fears into him, and building a protective wall so high that it might prevent him from ever growing and connecting with others. It’s a dark double-edged sword, in other words, and leaving aside the Cold War metaphors, it could be read as saying that even with a mother’s love, the next iteration of David is going to end up troubled in a wholly different way. That would be a bleak reading.
Nothing in the rest of this episode really supports that read, however. It’s a happy ending if ever there was one, where even our most malevolent and violent characters realize the error of their ways and band together for a peaceful resolution. I couldn’t have imagined Legion capable of crafting an ending like this, especially during the turbulent times of the past two seasons, so there’s a cathartic sense of uplift here that even my criticisms of this hasty conclusion can’t drag down, which is nice. It’s like watching World War II end with soldiers from both Axis and Allied sides joining hands and singing “All You Need Is Love.” You know it can’t last, but it’s a hopeful thought embodying the best of humanity.
Yet it’s still too pat in places. This is especially apparent in Switch’s storyline. Lauren Tsai did her best with a seriously underwritten role, but the character was never really more than a small collection of tics standing in for a whole person. The premiere hinted we might get a fuller portrait of Jia-Yi—the monotony of her routine, her longing for adventure, the fear of her father’s roomful of robots that infected her sense of self—but aside from a nightmare sequence and a few lines here and there, Switch never developed into anything more than a plot device. It’s why she could be pushed and pulled by David and Division throughout the season, and nothing she did ever seemed out of character—because there wasn’t enough character there for her actions to go against. So when her father literally appears out of nowhere, and reveals that she’s a “four-dimensional being” who simply needed to shed her human skin (and her baby teeth) in order to ascend to a higher plane of existence, it’s an airless reveal, with no gravity to the outcome. I’m glad Switch didn’t just end up ripped apart by Time Eaters—that would have felt unnecessarily cruel, but it also would have felt of a piece with the show we were watching up until now—yet it doesn’t pack much emotional weight.
At least the conclusion of Kerry and Cary’s arc gives them a simple ending that feels both earned and justified narratively. Cary’s last-second suspicion that the two of them joining together again (to create “twice the temporal identity”) would confuse the Time Eaters enough to fight them off was one of those abrupt “oh, okay” explanations you just have to roll with, but it was undeniably stirring. Similarly, watching Kerry age as she fought doesn’t necessarily make sense on a logical level, but it felt emotionally true—all her years of protecting the “old man” finally catch up to her during what she assumes will be her last stand. And when they embrace at the end, him no longer “old man” but “brother,” it’s poignant and profound.
Still, all of this means everything and nothing, right? Because here comes the do-over. Meaning, all of this gets erased (well, Switch presumably remains a higher entity), so the progress may or may not be in vain when the new iterations of all these characters develop. Not everyone, perhaps—the assumption here is that Then-Farouk won’t return to being a monster, the glasses of enlightenment passed to him by Now-Farouk remaining in his consciousness, just as Gabrielle and Xavier will presumably remember this strange sequence of events that led to them recommitting to a life together, caring for their child. (Also, hi: When did Now-Farouk become this mellow, enlightened chap? Wasn’t he psychically raping Lenny, over and over, as recently as last season? It speaks to the idea that season two of Legion didn’t think its next season would be the last.) Regardless, it still creates a tonally odd ending, in which ends somewhat negate means. To wit: If David had killed then-Farouk, would it have changed anything about the reset, other than one less powerful psychic in the world? He had already received the reassurance of affection and security from his mother, after all, implying she had now committed to loving her son. Even with a season that has been at least in part about the importance of doing right in the absence of any greater meaning (to cite my analysis from a previous episode, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do), it’s hard to feel the same emotional stakes we would’ve, had this whole story not been building to a “once more, with feeling” reboot.
But Syd and David’s final scenes do convey some of the melancholy ambiguity of this otherwise very happy ending. “I bet you’re gonna turn out extraordinary without me around,” he tells her. “Yeah, I am,” she says, and in the space between that exchange lies everything that hurts about this goodbye. Because it entails Sydney losing her second childhood, the one that means so much; it means she loses all the pain that David caused her, but also a defining experience which, as she told her younger self, is the linchpin of life: “You fall in love. And that’s worth it”; it’s the disintegration of self that, just a few episodes back, she was worried would hurt. But as she makes clear, there’s a more innocent soul who deserves a better chance than any of them: Baby David. Syd agrees to give up everything that has happened to create her, the strong and powerful woman she has become, because that’s a life lived. And someone else now needs the same opportunity to get the kind of better childhood that she received from Melanie and Oliver.
Legion is ultimately a show about the need to make simple, fundamental choices in the face of overwhelming confusion. (That opening crawl about how “what it means is not for us to know” is a bit disingenuous—they’re writing this damn thing, after all—but certainly in keeping with the show’s themes.) We rarely know the best thing to do in any given situation, but we usually have an idea of what the right thing to do would be. Or one of the right things, anyway: There’s a universe of options out there, and despite our general helplessness when confronted with the forces of history, we have enough agency to choose safety and love. We can choose protecting others, rather than leaving them exposed to the vicissitudes of fate. And we can sure as shit not choose war. But we do all this against a backdrop of our lives that is never as orderly and coherent as time would make it seem. This is the firmament of Noah Hawley’s worldview. It’s one he arguably makes most clear in his novel, Before The Fall: “Because what if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?” The opportunity to tell a story like Legion must’ve seemed like a gift to someone who understands life in this way, a chance to really discuss our existence in the manner it’s experienced: disjointed, fragmented, curling back in on itself and returning to key moments over and over, in different ways, until we have enough to call it our story. Such a messy, expressive stab at meaning surely deserves a happy ending. Or at least the attempt at one. So David, and all other Davids out there (because you—we—are legion in number): Be a good boy.
- The episode may have ultimately been about undercutting the battle, but that didn’t make it any less exhilarating when all the Davids came racing out of the doors to surround and overwhelm Then-Farouk, a visually and thematically resonant moment the show had been building to from the start.
- A key theme of the series, elegantly stated: “Nothing of value is ever lost.”
- In “Chapter 24,” I mentioned that David always turns to pop music to express his deepest emotions, because he’s incapable of articulating them himself. “Mother” was the capstone to this facet of his personality. Wes Anderson is probably looking on approvingly.
- Another key theme, one that becomes more or less challenging depending on which character—and which action of theirs—you’re attributing it to: “It’s hard to hate someone you understand.”
- It’s always a welcome moment when Kerry Loudermilk gets to kick some ass. “I love my job.”
- And Kerry thinks her new look makes her appear sophisticated. Syd: “I was gonna say wise.”
- Thanks, everyone, for reading along. It’s been a trip (and I definitely mean trip) watching Legion with all of you, discussing and dissecting all the little elements of this fascinating show. And as the new parent of a little guy, hoo boy you better believe this affected me.