As I was watching Legion’s season finale, my husband peered around the corner just long enough to say: “This is kind of pretentious.” That sums up the second season in a nutshell, a lot of style relishing in its own unearned brilliance. And while the season finale was both stylistically and narratively great, even brilliant at times, it also did something unforgivable.
David (Dan Stevens) has officially become the villain of his own story. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t think this would actually happen. But really, it was the only way to make this season’s storyline work. Every episode up through “Chapter 19” has led us to this point.
David has spent the entire season internally justifying his terrible choices, like lying to Syd and torturing Oliver. When faced with the fact that he’s acting more like a villain than a hero, he can’t handle it. The delusion has grown too large. David finally succumbs to the voices inside his head (called Divad and Dvd, according to the subtitles), declares himself God, and whisks away with Lenny from “Blondie” and all the other haters.
There are a lot of things to love about this episode; the incredible musical opening and animated battle of minds between David and Farouk, Lenny chilling in the desert smoking a pipe (as only Lenny can), how Syd finally confronts David in the desert, pointing out all the awful things he’s done before trying to shoot him. Then, that epic courtroom scene that—let’s be honest—we all knew right away was actually for David. The set-up was too perfect.
It was nice to see Syd (Rachel Keller) finally accept who David has become, and come to not one, but two pragmatic solutions. Last week, I was mad that it took men (Clarke and Farouk) to make Syd see the truth. But, given how she mentions details to David that Melanie Bird had never pointed out in the previous episode, I’m willing to accept that Farouk was simply the spark that ignited something she knew all along. Unless, of course, Farouk is manipulating her, or all of them, into turning against David. I mean, Division 3 did free him, even though he’s committed generations of atrocities. It’s possible David is a victim of a larger conspiracy and has chosen a defensive response. This would let David transition back into a hero next season. However, I refuse to let that be an option. For one reason—David raped his girlfriend.
This was the moment the episode, and possibly the series, lost me. Over the course of the last few episodes, I’ve noted how the show has been failing its female characters. “Chapter 19,” in a lot of ways, continued that trajectory. David’s sister is dead, mainly so David could feel sad for a week (in an admittedly touching episode). After being manipulated and dominated by Oliver and Farouk, Melanie Bird is now the perfect doting housewife in her husband’s astral plane (specifically three years later, and not anywhere to be found in present), and I’m worried these characters might have served their final purpose. And Lenny, well, David is her god now.
The only one who was actually breaking free was Syd, as she finally recognized how toxic and abusive her relationship was, and perhaps always had been. It’s a hard thing to admit when someone you love is too far gone—sometimes, we fail to see it until it’s too late. Syd was smart and brave to do what she did. David’s response is to mentally drug her into a stupor and have sex with her. This is rape. David removed her agency and took advantage of her. Syd even recognizes this, calling David out in the courtroom. That doesn’t make it commentary—calling something as it is isn’t brilliant on its own merit.
Sexual assault should never be used as a plot device unless you know what you’re doing. Legion doesn’t. This rape scene didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about David and Syd, or their relationship. Syd had already come to the realization that he was abusing her, and David had faced his internal demons showing how the belief he deserved her was unearned. So, what is this for? If it’s to toughen up Syd, it’s a damaging trope male writers turn to when they don’t know how to portray women, their pain, or their emotional journeys. If it’s to bring David to his lowest point, then Syd is little more than an object, a tool being used by the writer for a man’s storyline.
Legion has a lot of style, and its visual prowess is worthy of praise. But, beauty isn’t enough. Metaphors aren’t enough. And yes, pretentiousness isn’t enough. You have to have a good story. In the end, Legion has failed to deliver a good story. It might have ended this season in the most logical and interesting place, turning David into the villain we feared all along, but it made a lot of mistakes getting there—including one that can’t be easily forgiven. The hunt for Farouk’s body was boring and overstretched. The basket-wearing admiral and his robots felt like an obscurity that never quite meshed with the show’s brand of weird. Ptonomy was dumped into a fate worse than death and is nowhere to be found in the finale. That Minotaur was cool-looking plot garbage. Then, David sexually assaulted his girlfriend, only because he could.
The series might be setting the stage for the rise of Legion, but I don’t see Legion coming back from what it’s done. And honestly, I’m not sure I’m comfortable coming back from it either.