The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has a decent lineup in the TV landscape from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC to the Defenders (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, & Iron Fist) on Netflix. At this point, the X-Men are feeling a little left out… until showrunner Noah Hawley of Fargo (the TV show) introduced comic book fans to a new world with Legion. This review may have tiny spoilers.
Legion centers on the story of David Haller (Dan Stevens), a young man who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. When the mysterious Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) enters the psychiatric hospital David has been staying at, he begins to question the strange events surrounding his life and his diagnosis as a whole. Throughout the series he and the audience must determine what is real and what is in his head. For a better idea, check out the show’s trailer . With that being said, my initial thoughts towards the series run something like this:
Wow. Just wow. But let’s break down why this show was successful. For me, Legion’s success ultimately boils down to three key components: the story, the style, and the acting.
THE STORY: Legion presents itself as a superhero story in the X-Men universe. Yet rather than hit the same notes as other superhero shows, it explores new territory within the genre. The overarching theme of the show deals with mental illness. David for much of his life has been classified as schizophrenic. When asked by his sister why he can’t have a normal life he replies, “I’m sick.” Legion doesn’t see mental illness as a boundary to define their characters. David’s mental illness becomes personified in a unique way, allowing for some interesting commentary. Who would you be without your illness? Does it define you and alter your ability to live a normal life?
This also happens through David’s relationship with Syd, who cannot stand human touch. The couple work through their relationship and respect each other’s boundaries. Her inability to touch David does not define their relationship, but rather makes it more than just physical attraction. I found it refreshing when a character affirms that they are helping David because they wanted to improve his mental health first and then work with his abilities.
THE STYLE: Legion‘s style is unlike any of its television predecessors. It reinforces the idea of mental illness by using cinematography and editing to generate increased subjectivity. It’s not uncommon to be subjective in movies and TV, but Legion takes it one step beyond. The show also takes figurative emotions and feelings and presents them in a literal way. Such a literal presentation of visceral reactions is very unconventional for TV these days and it’s impressive. I would just stare in amazement sometimes and wonder how they did certain effects.
One of my favorite aspects of Legion’s style is the ability to play with different genres. The show is clearly embedded in the superhero genre, but it takes other genres and mashes them in, adding to the art-house aesthetic. It shouldn’t work so well, but in a world where you are constantly questioning reality it is welcome. Legion’s Genre play ranges from a James Bond-esque dance sequence with rich blood reds and a sassy Nina Simone remix (“Feeling Good”) to a sequence homaging silent films, complete with black and white and intertitles.
I love that Legion is willing to embrace the strange and subjective. It separates itself from the pack in artistry and elegantly weaves it into the fabric of the superhero genre. I hope the MCU and DC films/ TV shows take note and push the boundaries of style like Legion does.
THE ACTING: For me, the two standouts of Legion are Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza, who plays David’s friend Lenny. To begin with Dan Stevens (there will be a day when I stop talking about him, but that day is not today!), he once again knocks it out of the park. Stevens creates a layered character in David who has sides he doesn’t even know about. Even with all that, there is a childlike naiveté that makes him easy to root for.
If Aubrey Plaza does not get an Emmy nomination for her performance as Lenny Busker on Legion I will shocked. While we root for David, her Lenny has so many layers and she practically owns every scene she’s in and even carries one whole episode on her own. Having known her as the mopey April Ludgate from Parks and Recreation, this was a welcome change and a role she was born to play. These two performances balance each other out wonderfully and work well together like night and day.
Overall, I loved Legion. While this is only the first season, I would put this as one of my favorite TV shows. Like I said before, it’s nothing I have ever seen before in a superhero show. Rather than focus on the rise of the hero, like Matt Murdock’s journey to being Daredevil in Daredevil, Legion emphasizes David’s mental illness and his discovery of mutant abilities being the gravy on the meat and potatoes. For a freshman show, I applaud it’s ability to stick with it’s own identity. This is not a show for everyone. If you like a distinctly linear and clear cut show, this may not be the show for you. But if you are looking for a new take on the superhero genre or want a crash course in style, I would definitely check it out! Legion’s first season gets an A.
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Episode Total: 8
Where to Find it: Hulu, FXNetworks.com (with a cable subscription)
Favorite Episodes: “Chapter One”, “Chapter Five”, “Chapter Seven”