Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)
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“You should never have come.” This is the magic phrase, the utterance Farouk says held the power to his overthrow of the previous tyrant, the words that can transform the world. They’re a warning to Xavier as he travels to Morocco, uttered by the malevolent Yellow Man incarnation of Farouk as he sits in the mental theater alongside David’s father. They’re spoken again by Farouk in his shadow play, tossed out with a supercilious smile—the only part of it he says in English, as though the phrase were waiting for Xavier to come along and understand it in its full meaning. And they’re spoken once more, psychically, to Farouk himself, by David, giving the Shadow King a fright and letting him know there’s something amiss. Five words, combined to convey a profound threat, or warning, or statement of purpose. And they just so happen to embody David’s own view of himself and the world in which he’s stuck—that it should never have to come to be.

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Back in season one, the main complaint against Legion was that it was all surface-level razzle-dazzle, with no real depth or profundity to it. I never thought that was true (though let’s be clear, there’s also nothing whatsoever wrong with pure razzle-dazzle flash); the show has always had some philosophical heft, albeit of the puzzle-box variety, and the superior cast has continually managed to bring emotional stakes to the story, even when the scripts didn’t always focus on them or treat it with subtlety. But season two seemed to go overboard trying to prove its critics wrong, packing in Jon Hamm’s educational monologues and ending up with a story it didn’t seem quite capable of telling, striving for unearned seriousness and not quite succeeding.

All of which is to say that the third and final season of Legion is actually by far the most emotionally engaging yet in my eyes, treating its main characters with a sensitivity and thoughtfulness that has made them come alive as fully realized people in ways that keep me engaged long after whatever visual wizardry any given episode pulls off has faded from my mind. The show worked so hard last year to hold its viewers at arms’ length, creating a distancing effect from the people that should be the primary pull for an audience; so it’s refreshing to see Legion course-correct this season and double down on character study. I care about these people again, and that’s something I wasn’t sure would be possible after season two’s narrative punished viewers for thinking they knew the folks they were watching. The plaintive and sensitive tone of this season is the best thing about it, and even when plots get wobbly, this renewed focus on the hearts and minds of those struggling to do what they think is right is gratifying.

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Photo: Suzanne Tenner (FX)

That being said: “Chapter 26" doesn’t quite know how to get to the series’ climactic showdown in a moving and effective way. The penultimate episode ends by setting up another all-or-nothing showdown between David and the Shadow King, much like last season; but this time, David’s joined forced with his father, Charles Xavier, who may or may not be fully on board with his son’s plan to kill Amahl Farouk. And the Shadow King has a surprise in store for them, as well: The Time Eaters break Farouk out of the time between time, literally smashing the frame and allowing him to travel through the photograph on Then-Farouk’s wall in order to materialize and aid the younger version of himself.

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It’s enervating stuff, but the road to that setup was messy. There’s an oddness to the way this episode tells the story of Xavier traveling to meet Farouk for the first time, and how their encounter played out—and not “odd” in the sense of, “Hey, it’s Legion, everything’s a little odd.” In part, it stems from the way Xavier and Gabrielle occupy central parts of the narrative as the show rushes to its conclusion. We know them a bit better now, especially Gabrielle, thanks to “Chapter 22,” but it still means we’re spending our final hours focusing on incidental characters—David’s parents—and leaving poor Kerry and Cary Loudermilk to literally stand around frozen for half the episode. And despite the way the show is using the time glitches and astral-plane imagery to break it up, it doesn’t change the fact that the majority of the action here is just characters having conversations that spell out exactly what they mean and want. Even Then-Farouk is so over-the-top with his garrulousness and sinister smiles, he’s basically daring Xavier to see through the act even before David shows up.

The best and worst parts of Syd’s story are one and the same, as she embarks on a plan to try and convince Gabrielle to care for David and keep him safe, thereby (hopefully) altering his childhood from a troubled and tormented one into a healthy and happy one. At first, it seems like an uphill battle: Gabrielle’s not in a good place emotionally, responding to Syd’s entreaties by commenting that people don’t matter and mass graves have rendered the world meaningless. So while it leads to some hoary moments, like the insistence that there’s nothing stronger than a mother’s love (sorry, dads), it also leads to some undeniably effective lines from Syd, culminating with the speech summarizing her mission: “Listen to me: This baby. This little baby. You have to love him, okay? Like his life depends on it. Like the world will end if you don’t. Hold him, and love him. Don’t let the monsters in. Because when he’s grown, it will be too late.” David would agree—as would almost everyone.

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And yet, for a plan that rides on a mother’s love, the other side sure seems to be focused on daddy issues. David brings his father into his mind, giving him a bite of cake that fills the new parent in on everything that’s happened to his now-adult son. “My son,” Xavier trembles, and soon he’s apologizing to David, and quite rightly pointing out that he was supposed to have years to figure this out, to navigate the messy paths of fatherhood and care for his child. Instead, he’s finding out that David isn’t well—that the other personas in his head have too much malice in their hearts to even allow Charles to be a part of things, accusing him of being responsible for their damaged life almost as much as Farouk. But after seeing the mental imprisonment of those Farouk destroyed, Xavier returns to his son, offering to help take down the “monster” that is the Shadow King. Yet his hesitations still seem real: Switch cries out for her daddy, too, and Xavier takes note of the way her “teacher,” David, dismissed her as being “no one.” “Everyone is someone, David,” he gently reminds the man who then abruptly turns from David back into Legion.

With only one episode remaining, Legion seems unlikely to be able to fully address its plethora of characters, subplots, and motivations. (Alas, Switch and the psychological issues symbolized by her father’s robot room appear destined to remain undiscussed.) But the show has bounced back in more important ways, figuring out how to smartly and subtly explore the fallout of David’s transformation in a manner that has brought pathos and gravitas to the series—not that there isn’t still plenty of room for ridiculous Big Bad Mantzoukas Wolves. Whatever (and whomever) is left standing at the end of next week, never let it be said this show didn’t manage to surprise right up until the very end.

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Stray observations

  • A few episodes back, our heroes were wondering if the Time Eaters have self-awareness. I’d say breaking Amahl Farouk out of the time between time and sending him after the one guy who’s proven himself to be more powerful than they are pretty definitively answers that question.
  • Legion significant music cues of the week: Other than the callback to the cult-leader David theme song “Wot” by Captain Sensible that Farouk hears emanating from David’s mind, the only one is Brigitte Bardot’s “Contact,” playing over the opening title sequence.
  • Interesting that even as he’s trying to go back in time to kill him, David needs a moment of help from Farouk to break out of the time tunnel by using his powers to overcome it boxing him in.
  • “What a privilege it is to be see...and be seen.”
  • I appreciated the slight adjustment made by the two Legions when telling Xavier their plan: “Revenge.” “No, justice.” “Right! Justice.”
  • Most quietly heartbreaking moment of the episode goes to Gabrielle, however, after Syd asks her what kind of a baby David is. “He cries a lot. Like he knows something.” Syd: “What could he know?” Gabrielle: “Me.”

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