Legion is a show with a tantalising premise: David Haller is confronted with a reality check when he is informed that the voices he’s heard in his head his whole life are in fact, not a symptom of schizophrenia, but the inner voices of those around him. He is a telepath.
And though it’s based on a Marvel comic, it’s not like your regular I’m-an-all-powerful-mutant-discovering-my-powers-and-saving-the-world story; the FX production handles things very differently. It’s intelligent, sometimes understated, and (fittingly) completely insane. And I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a story of uncovering David’s power, but also the true form of them. David discovers this for himself, along with the team helping him out, and let’s just say things aren’t quite as they at first seem.
Legion is set in the same universe as the familiar X-Men stories, but it seems to fit into a place where mutants are perhaps only just being discovered by the people in high places – the government’s ‘Division 3’ are the antagonistic organisation of the show, and they are researching mutants. There are no direct crossovers that I could find between Legion and X-Men, but I’m sure there will be some somewhere.
Things start to go crazy when David (played by the charming Dan Stevens, armed with a wicked American accent) begins his memory work with the folks at Summerland. He is plagued by the creepy manifestation of a children’s book his father read to him, The World’s Angriest Boy In The World (I know, who is reading THAT to their kids as a bedtime story?), and then there’s the occasional appearance of what appears to be a demonic walking potato. I told you: crazy. And there are plenty of instances where a sequence takes on the tension of a horror scene, and without ever claiming to be part of the genre, Legion executes it perfectly. This is demonstrated best in a brilliant sequence at the end of episode 5 which plays out in complete silence inside David’s childhood home.
One of my favourite things the show does is play with aspect ratio. In the first episode, I watched it happen, the scene warping into cinemascope, and couldn’t quite work out why. It was later revealed that this scene had taken place within David’s mind. C.L.E.V.E.R. The technique is frequently used during the series, and so seamlessly that many times I didn’t see it until the black bars were already in place. Clever and artistic, in an understated way.
It’s also refreshing to see a superhero story told with so many recurring female characters: 5 of the 8 main cast are women. And it’s not done in a way that screams “Look! We’re including all these women in this story, aren’t we good?” It just does it. And special mention to Aubrey Plaza in the role of Lenny – superbly freaky, perfect casting.
Things become more complex on a narrative basis as we get into the last few episodes, involving a shared fantasy, the question of who is really in control of David’s mind, and the team escaping from the astral plane (which is basically a psychic realm that telepaths can access, and something a bit like Inception’s ‘limbo’). In one of my favourite sections in the series (in episode 7) David converses with his own rational mind to piece together the puzzle, much to the relief of a somewhat baffled audience. It’s satisfying and enlightening, but is also laced with an excellent sense of humour.
I actually don’t want to say an awful lot more, at the risk of spoiling it just that bit too much. I think Legion is a clever, refreshing, and entirely mental piece of television, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Put simply, I loved it. And I’m desperately hoping for more soon.
Legion recently finished airing on FOX in the UK and is available on various catch-up and subscription services. Image source: Vanityfair.com