Legion Review

I just finished watching episode three of FX’s Legion tv show and I wanted to share some thoughts on it now that we’ve setting into the series.

[You can find an audio version of this review here.]

This show started spectacularly and continues to be one of the most interesting shows on right now, certainly the most interesting superhero show I’ve ever seen. The problem some may find with this show is that it doesn’t work like other superhero shows. The type of conflict is very different. Yes, there are heroes and villains with super powers but that all takes a back seat to the main character, David’s, inner conflicts.

Now, if you know anything about the Legion character from the comics, and you went in expecting that character, this should come as no surprise to you. Legion’s whole deal in the comics is that he’s a very powerful mutant with some serious mental problems. That is what this show is about.

If you’re expecting a hero who beats up a different super-powered baddie every week (a la CW’s The Flash) you’re very much in the wrong place.

However that in no way means you shouldn’t try the show. There’s a lot to like no matter your inclinations. Legion is expertly crafted, with sets and cinematography reminiscent of a Kubrick flick…with maybe a touch of Wes Anderson. The performances are great, Dan Stevens as David Haller or Legion, takes us on a rollercoaster of emotion showing off some great range. Rachel Keller as Sydney Barrett seems on the surface like more or less the Rogue character from X-Men 1 BUT the more you see her the more you realize she has leagues more depth than that character ever did. Finally, Aubrey Plaza is a total guilty pleasure as Lenny Busker, a totally off the rails side character who steals every scene they let her into. I very much hope she gets more to do as we get farther in.

The show also manages to avoid most of the cliches the come with writing about mental illness and subtly flips one angle I was worried about them taking. When I went into the show I said to myself, “Gosh darn it if I get another show where the main character says they have powers and society labels them crazy because powers aren’t real I’m going to turn this right off!” Instead what I got was a character who is convinced he’s crazy and certain opponents know he has powers but are trying not to let him figure that out so they can control him. There are some brilliant scenes with this in the pilot.

The thing is though, David does have mental problems, and he ALSO has powers that are effected by his mental state. This show doesn’t treat it’s characters as simple and I am SO HAPPY to see that in a superhero show.

What Legion has is a classic double edged sword situation. A great strength of this show is that it treats these characters problems like real problems. Unlike what television has taught, us you can’t get over a phobia or learn a new skill in 42mins, just in time to save the day, complete the story arch, and tie up all the major plot threads. Legion shows the slow and difficult process of dealing with an illness. However on the flip side this realism is also the shows greatest weakness. As I said, we’re on episode three now and we’re still only chipping away at the issues presented in episode one, with little end in sight. It feels like it’s going to be a long road to recovery for David and while it’s engaging character development, I would love it if we had some more subplots going on that could move a bit faster. If for no other reason than to make the audience feel like more is getting accomplished.

I don’t want to spoil anything about this show. Go watch it. It can go from funny, to mysterious, to terrifying all in the space of a minute. More than anything though it’s amazingly weird and in this way it is so true to the Legion character that I have to love it. It really seems like Noah Hawley, the creator of the series, read the comics, adsorbed the character of Legion then said, “How can I craft an original show around this guy?” Well, he did it…perfectly. In a time when so many film and tv adaptations try to change their characters to fit the world, Hawley changed the world to fit his character. I’ve got to give him props for that.

If you want to know more about Legion you can go and read his New Mutants appearance in the ‘80s and while there’s certainly something to be said for seeing him as Claremont first thought of him, I would instead recommend X-Men Legacy from 2012. This 24 issue run by Simon Spurrier stars Legion and, in my view, took a character, who was painfully 2-dimensional and all but abandoned in the X-verse, and really developed him in a meaningful way for the first time since his creation. Also you only need to know two things going into that book.
1. Comic book Legion’s basic premise (schizophrenic mutant with tons of powers and each is tied to a different personally)
2. He’s Professor X’s son (and Xavier JUST died).

I’m excited to see what happens in the Legion tv show. It may be a slow burn but I think it’s going to have an amazing pay off, and I guess even if it doesn’t the journey getting there will still be fascinating to watch.