Legion’s first season fizzled into a conventional superhero story

The first season of FX’s Legion ended last week. Created by Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley, the show is set in Marvel’s X-Men universe, and it provided some closure to a handful of storylines while blowing things up just enough to lay the groundwork for a second season. Right until the end, it’s a tight, quirky, well-acted, visually arresting series that’s unlike just about anything on television, including its superhero show kin.

So why am I left wanting?

By the end of its run, Legion reminded me a great deal of the first season of HBO’s True Detective. Even though Legion never becomes the water-cooler show Detective became, Hawley’s series is similarly ambitious, sprawling, atmospheric, and frustrating. It rewarded weekly viewing by changing the stakes, raising new questions, and dangling the possibility of a mind-bending mystery. But in its final act, that hoped-for mystery gets cast aside in favor of a smaller, more straightforward conclusion. In the end, Legion is auteur television at its strongest and weakest. It’s a well-told, even innovative story, but in spite of the gorgeous window dressing, it’s still deeply conventional.

Spoilers for the Legion finale ahead.

In the season finale, David Haller (Dan Stevens) finally faces off against Amahl Farouk, an ancient psychic entity known in X-Men comics as the Shadow King. After being defeated by Professor X, who the audience finally learns was David’s father (even if he’s never named), Farouk burrowed deep into David’s mind and eventually took the form of David’s “friend” Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza). But as David finally gains control of his powers, he and his girlfriend Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) manage to exorcise Farouk before a final showdown that eventually allows the demon to escape.

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