I have to admit, the first time through I wasn’t a fan of Legion’s series finale. It wasn’t the cinematography or sound design, which were consistently excellent. It wasn’t the soundtrack, which was compulsively Shazamable until the end. It wasn’t even the dialogue, although that did rattle through some clunkers. It was that David got what he wanted, and all it cost him was the life he didn’t want.
Consequences Matter to Me, because our stories reflect our values and my values include karmic goddamn comeuppance. If I want to see assholes get away with being assholes, I can load up Twitter. Letting David start over seemed to shrug off dozens, maybe hundreds, of dead. It elided Syd’s point that even if David could un-murder and un-torture and un-rape, he’d still be the person who did those things. Even worse, he’d be a person who got a second opportunity to do those things.
So I was rooting for David to be hoisted by his own petard. I wanted him to learn the same painful lessons the rest of us learn, about living with the damage inflicted on you, facing the damage you in turn inflict on others, and moving forward anyway. I wanted time to pull him through the same tides of trauma and longing and regret as the rest of us. I wanted him to learn how to be a fucking human being.
But Syd was right; that was not possible for this David. Legion could only end one of two ways: One was apocalypse, for time to leach out of the world until everyone was stranded in a hopeless eternal now. The other was a reset, for a diseased timeline to be lopped off so something healthier could grow in its place. Either way, everyone in the past three seasons’ timeline was screwed.
What I misunderstood about Legion was that in spite of the comic book trappings, this was not a story about good vs. evil. It wasn’t even a story about powers vs. powers. Legion was a story about storytelling, about the tension between the familiar and the imagined.
This season’s characters construct their realities out of the familiar—usually the safe. For Cynthia, the former carved a counterintuitive and destructive path to the latter: She only feels safe with people who hurt her, because she has experienced safety only as a longing unsatisfied by people unconcerned with her well-being. Switch tries to leave her comfort zone but winds up serving a man whose remoteness echoes her dad’s. Syd lives without the expectation of safety. Before her second childhood with Melanie and Oliver, most of what Syd knows is her broken places. She is a sentience bound in a network of scar tissue and determination. Farouk plays the cocky predator, perhaps long after predation has lost its savor. He has played the predator so long that he has to relearn how to be anything else. And David flat out denies the reality of anything that hurts or hates him. He constructed a reality out of the familiar delusion: He was a good person who deserved love at any cost. The familiar is not necessarily true or best; it’s just what we’re accustomed to think about ourselves and others. In this respect, the familiar—and in our experience, the real—is also a product of our imaginations.
Imagination is powerful and dangerous. It can make art or drive anxiety, engender utopias or dystopias. It is so natural and seductive that we’re not even always aware of it: Ask any two people with divergent experiences of the same conversation. Gabrielle fears her imagination, fears that it is not entirely under her control, that she cannot trust herself to construct a reliable reality. David’s imagination could manipulate reality for others, but instead of confronting that, he refused to accept any reality that didn’t support his delusion or gratify his childishness. Charles Xavier succumbs to the siren song of connecting with another telepath, all the while lacking the imagination to consider possible hostility. But when older Farouk suggests a way forward without violence or domination, Charles evinces imaginative powers beyond his wayward son’s. Having seen the reality of war, Charles can imagine victory without bloody triumph.
Legion is about power and dislocation, but it’s also about the dangers of never having to be honest with yourself. And in spite of the hyper-saturation of its colors, its clever use of music (how much of the music was diagetic, anyway?), and the superhuman powers at play, Legion is as much a parable as The Good Place. David’s parasitization and his illness explain some of his bad behavior, but neither excuse it. I’ve compared Legion to Greek tragedy, and the hubris and inevitability and body count added up to one right up until the moment the original timeline’s denizens faded away. Greek mythology didn’t give mulligans, but Switch is kinder than the Moirai. None of them would have taken the time to reassure Syd that this reboot wouldn’t diminish the significance of her suffering, or her life.
In doing so, Switch delivers Legion’s ultimate moral lesson: The human importance of seeing and being seen. Farouk tried to teach David to see others as less than—less worthy of consideration and self-determination. But we can only know ourselves in relation to others. David didn’t know himself, but still wanted to remove himself from the tedious reciprocity of human relationships. To replace them he fractured himself into a hundred selves; self-knowledge only through him, with him, and in him. Godlike power wielded with subhuman awareness: Of course his exercise of his powers was always going to end in disaster.
Legion’s truly moral actors are those who both see and are willing to be seen. When Cary and Kerry face each other, the beauty and purity of their relationship is that each knows the other, warts and all, and they love each other anyway. Syd sees herself and David with painful clarity, and does nothing to conceal what her love has cost her or her friends. Lenny sees David as he is, and is content with how he sees her until the moment she glimpses another reality. Lenny is the first one who finds the strength to walk away. The second one is Farouk, whose arc is only complete once he steps out of the shadows and admits he did David more harm than good. Instead of a superweapon or a superpower, the key to unbreaking the world is the strength to give up. Older Farouk accepts his own obliteration—at least, the erasure of the self he’s been for the past thirty years—to save a defenseless child. He bears witness to his crime, and asks Charles to bear witness to his crime, and it is this shared vision that gives David a second chance.
Which is a roundabout way of saying Legion’s final season grew on me. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it was the ending the story and viewers and characters all needed. This trippy journey was worth it, in spite of the vodka martinis.
I hope it was for you, too.