Legion: a preemptive review

legion

SPOILERS AHEAD. STOP READING NOW IF YOU PLAN TO EVER WATCH THE FX TELEVISION SHOW ‘LEGION.’ YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Truth is, I’m not sure if there are any genuine spoilers in this piece, because I just watched the first episode of LEGION and I’m still not sure what’s going on. And I like it.

A bit of backstory here, as is my habit.

The comic book character Legion was created in 1985 by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. I’m familiar with Claremont because he—along with John Byrne—had been responsible for a long run on the X-Men comic book that I, along with many other readers, had enjoyed. This run included the Phoenix Saga, of course. So, as Stan Lee might say, ‘Nuff Said. Until I did a Google search today, I knew nothing about Legion, however. 1985 was a few years after I dropped out of the comic book continuity altogether. I was attending college full-time, and working full-time, and what disposable income I had (after donating blood plasma twice a week) was spent on forms of entertainment more likely to get me kissed by a girl than hanging around the comic book shop.

I know, I know. Plenty of women love comic books. Now, at least. I don’t think this was equally true in the mid-’80s, but that could just be a case of my own perception being my reality.

Anyhow, what I’m getting at is I left comic books behind as childish things, so I knew nothing about the character Legion before hearing about this FX show. Without the internet search, I would still know as little after watching the first episode. But, thanks to the search, I now know that David Haller is the mutant bastard son of Charles Xavier, Professor X from the X-Men. And, if I choose to be politically correct, I will say that he suffers from dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia (I’m assuming those are not the same thing but don’t really know). If I am politically incorrect, I’d say he’s batshit crazy. And he has mutant powers, the extent of which I don’t know yet.

When I first heard that FX was going to be making a television show based on the X-Men franchise, I was unimpressed. Fox’s handling of the X-Men in the movies has been inconsistent at best, even though there have been flashes of brilliance. I couldn’t imagine that going into a lower budget arena would improve their results. I felt a little better about the project when I heard FX would be producing the show in conjunction with Marvel Television. That’s not quite folding the X-Men into the MCU where they belong (along with the Fantastic Four), but it’s a step in the right direction. Thank Spidey for blazing a trail. What comes across in the X-Men movies, to me, is a lack of respect for the source material. The MCU actively panders to the people who loved the comics, and God bless ’em for it. So, this tentative alliance is better than none at all.

What really caught my attention was the fact that Noah Hawley was creating the show for FX. I didn’t know who Hawley was either, until he created the show FARGO for television. My wife and I loved the first two seasons of that show (and we’re looking forward to the third, which debuts April 19). I liked his unconventional storytelling style on that series, so I decided to give his take on the superhero genre a shot.

After one episode, I can tell I made the right choice. Hawley has said he has taken visual inspiration from David Lynch, and it shows. The cinematography and special effects communicate the turbulent world of David Haller’s mind. As a viewer, you remain as uncertain about the reality of Haller’s perceptions as Haller himself. It’s beautifully done, really. Confusing, intriguing, disturbing—all at the same time. I’ve had one friend who abandoned the show after this one episode, and I can understand that: it’s not for everyone. It’s especially not for people who like to have everything explained to them up front, or need a religiously linear approach to story.

I’m comfortable with a certain level of confusion. It seems to be my base state in life. I particularly like not knowing what’s going to happen next when watching a movie or a television show, and LEGION qualifies so far.

As usual, it boils down to character for me. Haller is an engaging character. The role of the adult Haller (younger characters play him in some flashbacks) is played by Dan Stevens. I am unfamiliar with Stevens work. At one point in the episode, when he appeared to be channeling Dr. House, I looked up his IMDB page. Of course, he’s another Brit schooling us Yanks in the art of Acting. He’s good, darn him. And good at acting crazy, down to his impossibly blue eyes.

Syd Barrett is Haller’s untouchable girlfriend in the asylum, played by Rachel Keller, a veteran of Noah Hawley’s Fargo series. Someone else please tell me you understood the Pink Floyd reference in the name. She’s good, too, and her character is instrumental in propelling the plot that takes Haller beyond the Clockworks mental institution.

Aubrey Plaza is also in the first episode. She plays Lenny, a fellow mental patient. You remember her from PARKS AND RECREATION. Oh, and she dies in this episode. There’s a true spoiler for you. I don’t think that’ll keep her from reappearing on the show.

The plot of the episode is something I’m not going to try to explain here. I can’t separate paranoid delusions from reality yet. Maybe I’ll never be able to in the series. For now, at least, I’m okay with that.

The show intrigues me, similar to the way LOST, ALIAS and FRINGE did when I started watching them. The way FARGO has for two full seasons.

I’m on board. Take me away.

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