Legion's Heady Series Finale Brought Its Time Traveling Story Full Circle

Amal Farouk learning about the chaos his future self has wrought.
Image: FX

Despite Legion’s visual flair and the quartet of powerful telepathic mutants the show began focusing on as it entered its endgame territory, its season finale was a relatively quiet, contemplative reflection on the emotional experiences that define people.

“Chapter 27” features moments of stylish action and revelations about characters that make Legion’s larger world feel more fantastical than most any other live X-Men adaptation to date. But the episode wants you to understand that for all its sci-fi trappings, Legion’s always been David’s story—a story about a broken man trying to put himself back together by fixing mistakes that he didn’t make.

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The labyrinthine, mind-bending nature of the show’s storytelling makes the concept of trying to tie together all of its dangling plot threads in a single hour of television seem like an impossible feat. But the series finale makes an earnest go of it and surprisingly, it manages to stick the landing by leading with an epic meeting of the minds.

“Chapter 27” opens with a sequence of nature shots playing in reverse that are each overlaid with simple, but important things to bear in mind about the episode. It’s the end of Legion, but it’s also the beginning, and viewers aren’t meant to fully understand what all that entails because we’re watching everything play out from an emotional and existential distance unlike all of the show’s characters. No matter how hard we try to pick David (Dan Stevens), Syd (Rachel Keller), Xavier (Harry Lloyd), or Farouk (Navid Negahban) apart or how they try to understand one another, the finale posits that because a person can only truly know themselves, all there is for anyone to do is play their parts in the grand narrative their lives are a part of.

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Before a time-displaced David and Xavier make their way to meet younger and older versions of Amal Farouk for what they all initially assume will be a battle, we’re presented with a montage of moments from David’s life as if to remind us where this all began and how truly out of control David’s always been. As David and Xavier manifest psychic weapons, he mentions how good it feels to team up with his father, and it’s interesting to consider whether David feels as if he’s taking ownership of his own fate not because he plans to murder Farouk, but because he’s finally in a position to begin building the kind of father-son relationship he’s always longed for.

Because David gave Xavier the ability to see the whole of his life earlier in the season, one imagines he understands David’s outlook on the father/son dynamic—potentially even better than David does. As a Marvel character, Xavier has an expanded canonical history of being a bit of an asshole, but Legion’s demonstrated that in this telling, all of the choices he made regarding David and his wife Gabrielle were driven by his sincere desire to protect them.

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Charles Xavier watching David create a psychic flail.
Image: FX

While the psychics are busy confronting one another, the rest of Legion’s cast spends the bulk of “Chapter 27” dealing with chronological anomalies and the horde of time demons swarming Gabrielle and baby David. As time continues to fracture around them it doesn’t really seem as if there should be all that much that Syd and Kerry (Amber Midthunder) can do to fight the time demons, given how their powers don’t exactly lend themselves to fighting interdimensional beings. But the episode uses this B plot to showcase Legion’s signature fondness for imaginative action sequences that make you realize how bland many other “grounded” cape shows end up being.

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By merging together with Cary (Bill Irwin), Kerry’s able exist as a singular being with twice the “temporal identity” (that’s some peak comics shit right there), confusing the time demons and allowing for her to slice through them with her sword as they glitch through space. For her part, Syd posts up with a shotgun and dispatches the demons as a terrified Gabrielle tries to comfort her equally alarmed baby. The sequence is messy and chaotic and only makes sense if you just give yourself over to the show’s wild logic. But as it plays out, Gabrielle comes to the conclusion that mutants like Syd, Kerry, and Cary are gods rather than mortals, which in the moment feels as if she’s inadvertently recognizing how mutants are destined to change the world.

Legion’s established that Farouk is an Omega-level telepath, but “Chapter 27” instead ends up exploring Gabrielle’s statement about mutants-as-gods through Switch (Lauren Tsai) with a fascinating and very rushed-feeling end to her story that follows as she finally pushes herself to her limits and seemingly dies. Out of all Legion’s characters, Switch was ultimately its most underserved, which is disappointing given how crucial a role she plays in the third season’s time travel plot.

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In almost every moment she’s been on screen, Switch was either in some sort of danger she stumbled into accidentally, or was pushed by David to use her powers in ways that severely hurt her. And unfortunately, the series never gets around to addressing her mistreatment. We watch as she walks through the hallway of time, her remaining teeth fall out, and her body shuts down, but in truth what’s happening to her is more of a rebirth. After an entire season of being led to believe that Switch was merely another mutant (albeit one with an incredible power), the finale brings her absent father back into the picture so he can explain to her that in reality, they’re four-dimensional beings capable of existing outside what normal people would consider reality.

The revelation elevates Switch’s presence within Legion and suggests that its world is a far larger, more metaphysically complex world than it’s ever seemed to be, which is exactly the sort of thing you might have wanted to learn earlier into the series. Sadly, the potential was cut short.

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Switch embracing her father.
Image: Marvel

Switch’s tearful reunion with her father is a simplified version of the emotional thrust of the entire episode that we also see unpacked on the Astral Plane by David, Xavier, and the two Shadow Kings. In the same way that distance between Switch and her father made it difficult for her to understand and use her abilities, David has struggled, in part, because of Xavier’s absence from his life. Before Xavier can act with a proper plan to dispatch the Farouks, David absconds with the younger one to psychically duke it out, while Xavier and the elder Farouk instead have a quiet conversation with one another about the roles they’ve both played in David’s life.

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In this incarnation, Xavier is at his most empathetic and understanding, and he understands how the decades Farouk spent in David’s mind led to the villain developing a genuine fondness for his son that, at various points in the past, have manifested as his desire to haunt him. As the men speak to one another, bits of their dialogue come across like the sort of thing you’d read in a comic knowing there was another twist waiting for you on the next page. You don’t want to believe that Farouk honestly wants what’s best for David, but again “Chapter 27” has already established that you have to take its characters at face value here because we can never truly know their intentions.

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In the end, the men all come together understanding that they’re some of the most powerful beings to have ever walked the Earth, and any one of them deciding to abuse that power would logically lead to a future none of them want to see. And so, like a bunch of well-adjusted adults, they agree to let bygones be bygones and that’s...it.

With that decision made (and thanks to an assist from Switch), Syd and David are able to see each other one last time back at Xavier’s house where they accept the reality of their situation. In going back in time to prevent the Shadow King from hiding in David’s young mind, they’ve fundamentally changed the past, meaning that neither of them will be able to exist the way they did. New, different versions of them will go on to walk paths for themselves and all David and Syd can really do is wait to fade away.

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“Chapter 27” closes on a shot of the infant David, and we’re meant to understand that this time things will be different. Xavier will commit to being a family man and pursue his dream of being a teacher. In an ideal world, that might lead to David growing up in a more stable, loving home with people who understand what he is and can help him grow to become the very best version of himself. Before Switch departs for a higher plane of existence, she explains to Syd that the new version of herself will go on to become “glorious,” though she doesn’t specify how so. What becomes of the Loudermilks is anyone’s guess, as their fates go undiscussed as the episode closes, and you’re left to ponder all of these what-ifs as the credits roll.

What’s most surprising about Legion’s series finale is what it says about the whole of the series. Its frequent pivots into straight-up dreamlike territory always seemed as if they might have, at least in part, been a way for the show to remind us about the fragility of David’s mind and how mental illness can impact a person’s perception of reality. But there’s a matter of factness about the trippier parts of “Chapter 27” that make it easy to see the rest of the show’s flights of fancy simply as weird things that just so happen to have actually happened to a group of heroes and villains. With the finale aired, the rest of Legion retrospectively feels less like an exploration of one man’s battle with mental illness and more like a grand story about whether people’s natures are inherent or whether outside influences can shape them.

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At one point, Gabrielle mentions to Syd that she’s convinced that she’s finally begun to crack, mentally, similar to the way her mother and grandmother did, and we’re left to ponder whether David’s own bouts with mental illness are actually something he inherited from his mother’s side of the family, rather than his father/his abilities. There’s no way that we, or Xavier or Gabrielle can be certain, but by coming back together to be there for David, the two parents set themselves up to be as prepared as they can be for whatever their son may bring into their lives.

Legion never felt like a show that would end on a happy note as a traditional, nuclear family reveled in their relatively normal nuclear family-ness, dreaming about the future. But in being such an ambitious series that worked to make us all think deeper and bigger, Legion made a decision to stay small, and almost quaint in the end, which feels like a bold decision all on its own.

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About the author

Charles Pulliam-Moore

io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.