This review contains spoilers for the Season 3 premiere of Legion and spoiler-free impressions of the following five episodes, which were provided to critics in advance.
It’s hard to write a critique of Legion’s final season premiere while knowing what’s to come. Having watched the first six episodes and spent some time on set during episode 7, we’ve experienced the cognitive dissonance of what’s ahead. While this first episode Season 3 is delightfully fun and filled with everything you love about Legion (plus time travel!), its subsequent installments — though compelling to watch — can’t help but feel hollow.
In its final season’s premiere, the stage is set for a showdown: David Haller (Dan Stevens) wants to change the past to prevent a world-ending future (at his hand). He’s made mistakes and old friends are now foes. But to fix it means time travel, and a new set of bad guys who really don’t like when you mess with time (because they want to eat it).
Thankfully, the newest addition to the team, Switch (played by Terrace House star Lauren Tsai in her first scripted role, and doing a fantastic job to boot) has the powers David needs, using a transdimensional set of hallways and doors only she can enter. This puts a lot of the onus for David’s survival on yet another woman; even if he seems well-intentioned, he’s still falling into his same old patterns. (Only now, Syd wants him dead.) Season 3 starts off simply enough: we’re going to be time traveling now, so we’ve got to set the stage for what that looks like in the Legion universe. Switch must train and learn about her gift, to do the physical (and emotional) labor of getting David to where he needs to be. It’s a cycle that always seems to repeat. He still operates as a victim, despite having more power now than anyone.
In the time since last season ended, David’s upped the ante on his god complex, adding a (mostly female) commune full of blissed-out hippies high on his mental supply. The subsequent scenery is a visual and aural feast. In the premiere episode, the use of popular earworm “Something For Your M.I.N.D.” by Superorganism (the moment even features the band itself) brings a welcome cheekiness to the series that’s often veered darker. It’s a playful, trippy re-immersion into the brain of the titular Legion/Haller, our lovesick and mentally ill son of Professor X, who also happens to be the most powerful mutant alive.
But after two seasons of slowly doing it wrong, his old friends have joined forces with those they previously deemed baddies and are out to get him before he brings about the end of the world. Having a time traveler under his spell just makes everything move much quicker. What was once a quirky slow burn is now a rollercoaster ride of visual whimsy as Division 3’s fantastical airship (and in turn, the show) tries to nail the landing, bashing us on the head with commentary on outsiders and queerness and mental illness. As the story heads towards its climax, the platitudes and subtextual ruminations are eyeroll-inducing at best.
Because while the show has always been about a superhero/villain (and the thin line between the two), it’s also been about mental illness and how we deal with it within the context of society. So it’s a shame that what ultimately happens in later episodes feels so derivative and one-dimensional.
The hollowness of later episodes was, at first, hard to pinpoint. Was it the introduction of new characters? The addition of time travel (something already so overused in pop culture)? Or the way that showrunner Noah Hawley seems determined to overuse one of his favorite tropes (musical numbers) instead of doing the harder work of interrogating his characters’ relationships.
Listen: I love a musical number. I love a creepy cover. I love the two combined, and I especially love the way they’ve previously been handled on Legion. Sparingly, but effectively. Season 3, however, is chockablock with them. Some of the series’ most pivotal moments go full Glee. Where other prestige shows would likely sit and ruminate in the complexity of the story through conversations between characters, Hawley has instead opted for singalongs and musical covers. (There’s even a mid-season rap battle.) And while, yes, music is the universal language of feelings, to overuse it completely removes the poignancy and emotional gratification the show is obviously aiming for. The way Hawley uses music this season compared to years past — so aggressively and constantly, with the showrunner even singing a cover himself at one point during the series — comes across as both overindulgent and lazy.
As does the place the story seems to be headed, particularly when it comes to its female characters. We’re meeting Professor X and David’s mother this year — but to a satisfying end? We’re not sure based on the six episodes we’ve seen, though the actors (Game of Thrones’ Harry Lloyd and Mr. Robot’s Stephanie Corneliussen) are both fantastic. It’s just infuriating to see powerful women like Syd (Rachel Keller), and Switch, and even Lenny, fall all over themselves in the name of saving David. Their motivations feel so wholly wrought from the gaze of men. (For a more nuanced take on mind-control as metaphor, the Legion team would have done well to take a few notes from the first season of fellow Marvel series Jessica Jones.) Sure, we know that this is all an allegory for bad guys, victim complexes, and mental illness, but it’s weird to feel like Hawley, previously celebrated for his nuance, is hitting us over the head so heavy-handedly with the endgame of it all.
In the end, FX’s Legion will end far more coherently than how it began, for better or for worse. The most streamlined season in the show’s history, this tale relies heavily on the introduction of new characters and time-travel mechanics to keep everything moving. As innovative and thoughtful a physical production as ever, Legion continues to delight with its visuals, even if its words often feel empty. Your mileage may vary on whether or not its aesthetic is enough to save it — for me, it was disappointing to realize it was not.