FX’s new answer to the superhero show conundrum; Legion is a remarkable addition that has elevated comic-book television to a whole new level. Legion is complex, stylistic, profound, funny, mysterious, inspiring and a relevant drama about mental illness in a world with mutants. It takes the difficulty of portraying the mind of a mental patient with abnormal super powers, adding layers upon layers upon layers. The show is designed to keep you on your toes coming out as a visually stunning masterpiece that creates a unique storytelling experience unlike any other.
Noah Hawley, the creator of Legion and Fargo, has firmly created another jaw-dropping show. Based on the Marvel comics and set in the X-Men universe, the show follows David Haller (Dan Stevens). Unbeknownst to David, David is a very gifted mutant, but at a young age he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and had to bounce from one hospital to another. Similar to the X-Men films, the show is ambiguous in time, but has no mention to the X-Men cinematic universe. Conversely, the show spends no time at all having to build another world, set straight into David’s struggle of reality.
Right from the pilot episode, the show greatly defines itself through its many distinct colour schemes, a compelling character and more than peculiar sequences. The world doesn’t understand David, David doesn’t understand himself, and audiences are in for the 8 episode ride. David is plagued by internal voices, hallucinations and blackouts, whilst being chased by an anti-mutant government agency named Division 3.
He is recruited into a group of other mutants, led by a charismatic therapist Melanie Bird (Jean Smart), and soon told they are at war with Division 3. His first encounter with the group is in Clockworks, the mental hospital in episode 1. Life started to seem routine for David and his best friend Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), until Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) joins. He becomes romantically involved with Syd, and his entire world is turned inside out when he shares a kiss with her.
Much like David, characters are shaped by their history and their powers. Even though David was the essence of the entire show, each character had presence and an arc that was fleshed out. Other main mutants included a ‘memory artist’ Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), and Cary and Kerry (Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder), one a scientist and the other an ass-kicker whom ‘share’ a body. Everyone is trying to help understand David to control his powers, and it’s through this exploration audiences find out more and get invested with every character. Every character is integral to the show, but Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny was a sure surprise. It is at first unclear of the significance of her character, but as the show progresses, her performance and character arc was like an extraordinary box to unpack.
Dan Stevens deserves as much praise as the show should get. Playing a character that had an entire world set on his shoulders, alongside a disability that controlled him. Stevens’ subtle movement created inner chaos that could be felt. Throughout the series his performance did not waiver, going through a plethora of emotions and sequences that are extremely hard to pull off. David’s self-journey and realisation of who he is and what he is capable of was surreal yet relatable.
The show has a highly distinct style, a visually stunning masterpiece that can be hard to swallow, but manages to blend superhero, mental patient and action thriller perfectly. At times the right in your face visual style, purposefully ambiguous scenes, and mysterious set pieces can be hard to swallow. Legion definitely needs some patience, with a pay-off worth every second.
At times the show can seem a little repetitive, by continuously going through a small collective amount of David’s memories. However, at no point does it feel stale. It is through repetition that makes the show more digestible. For a television show, the special effects did not feel badly produced, and everything that happens blends nicely with the thematic elements of the show.
Legion is an intense character study that wonderfully explores one of the key themes of X-Men. The show explores identity and embracing our differences, through one of its most abstract characters. Legion is heavily invested in exceptional storytelling and character performances. Unlike other superhero TV shows, it is not defined or resolve around the hero’s strengths and powers, but on David’s struggle instead. It is simply about a man who is trying to find who he is, in a world where superpowers exist.