Hit or Sh**: FX’s LEGION
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Every time the superhero genre gets stale it finds a way to turn the tables — to mutate, as it were — and discover a new way to approach a subject that has been approached from pretty much every angle. The newest to FX’s roster of properties is LEGION, a show that follows David Haller (Dan Stevens) as he struggles to cope with an ever-shifting reality brought on by his “mental illness” — read: superpowers.
What you’ll immediately notice about LEGION is a sense of technicolor ‘60s dreaminess accented by decidedly modern touches. The color palette and sense of style serve a couple purposes. For one, it makes the show look like a lovechild between Brian Singer and Wes Anderson (there’s even a spontaneous dance number in French). It also serves to set the viewer off-balance by keeping up an anachronistic feel; characters sport massive beehives and listen to tape decks, but use modern machine guns and other highly advanced technology.
Seriously, when was the last time you saw a phone booth that didn’t look like it was around for the rise and fall of several empires?
The pilot introduces us to David through a slow-motion, cheery-yet-grim sort of montage showing his happy upbringing but eventual troubled existence. David is a paranoid schizophrenic — or so he’s told — constantly dealing with the voices in his head, as well as delusions. He also seems to have a history of violence, so he most often keeps to himself and his only friend in Clockworks Mental Health Facility, Lenny (Aubrey Plaza). Eventually a new face arrives: Sydney “Syd” Barrett. She, much like another popular X-Men character, has an abject fear of being touched or getting close to someone, which doesn’t stop David from falling for her in a romantic sequence so saccharine it almost ruins the entire show.
Quit finding happiness despite adversity, ya jerks!
But, as this is a pilot, something goes horribly awry when Sydney is released on doctor’s orders. In a last-ditch grab for one of the only things that brought him joy, David attempts to kiss Sydney before she can leave, and that’s when things get really weird. Throughout the show it is revealed that David is in the clutches of a shadowy organization masquerading as the police, an organization that believes David is the most powerful mutant they’ve ever encountered and really want to get their hands on him and Sydney.
Phil Spector HATES mutants
This is another nuance of the show designed to force the audience off-kilter and question what they’ve previously understood about the series. David is an unreliable narrator; he suffers from delusions and thereby nothing about the show ever truly is what it seems. But outside of the narrative devices, the show uses the camera to further disorient viewers through rapid cuts and im and obscure lighting. Earlier, I described the visual aesthetics as a lovechild between Wes Anderson and Brian Singer, but there are many points in LEGION where it looks like that child was babysat very often by Nicolas Winding Refn. This might have to to do with writer/director Noah Hawley’s past experience on FARGO, and I gotta say, it all looks damn good.
“What kind of mutant…are you?
The acting is generally on-point; Dan Stevens plays jittery paranoia well enough, but I suspect we have yet to see the extent of what he or the show itself are capable of. Aubrey Plaza basically playing Aubrey Plaza, while not particularly groundbreaking for her, is still enjoyable, and even more so when you realize that her character was originally written as a 60-year-old man and her one request upon accepting the role was that none of the dialogue be changed.
For those unaware, in the Marvel Comic Universe Legion (David) is actually the son of Professor X. This has caused many a kerfuffle in the comics and is often a point of tension, as Legion tries to live up to the expectations of his magnanimous-yet-distant father while battling the personalities that are constantly warring within him. In the comics, his different personalities are actually different psyches of various mutants or people that he’s absorbed, either accidentally or intentionally, which allow him different powers depending on who’s in control. His psychosis is more or less a symptom of his ability, somewhat similar to Deadpool’s wisecracks and the voices in his head. While he’s got a very powerful telekinetic ability, his various personalities come with their own abilities that amplify or augment Legion’s own.
He’s a troubled boy
LEGION seems to be leaning heavily into David dealing with abilities that are essentially a mental illness and how he fits into the world around him. For those well-versed in the comics, it seems that one of the draws of the show will be how exactly this Legion will be adapted into a universe that is technically alternate from the X-Men cinematic universe. The camerawork and aesthetics are slick, interesting, and incredibly vibrant, and I found that it was all just weird enough to let LEGION ask several important questions. For example, how exactly did David escape Clockworks? Who or what is that morbidly obese spectre known as The Devil With the Yellow Eyes? Who’s this Phil Spector lookin’ dude and what outfit is he with? What’s real and what isn’t? I have no idea, but I believe Marvel’s newest network show is primed to provide the details.
LEGION airs on FX on Wednesdays