NOTE: While the comics offer direct answers to several questions posed within the TV show, these answers are not explicitly delivered in the initial eight episode season of Legion and are only hinted at. If you don’t want to know anything about the answers to these questions, it is advised that you read this article after finishing Season 1. Otherwise, please enjoy!
Legion is a hard show to talk about. It’s brilliantly quirky, stylish, batshit insane and totally unique. It’s also something that needs to be experienced firsthand rather than hearing about it through a website post (admittedly a dumb thing to say on a website but it’s true). It’s almost impossible to describe what makes this show so good because there are elements that I still don’t understand weeks after watching it! What I can tell you, is that this is one of the best comic book TV series ever, if not the absolute best!!
Created in 1985 by legendary comics writer Chris Claremont, whose credits include the iconic X-Men storylines The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days Of Future Past (adapted into the films X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Days Of Future Past respectively), Legion (David Haller) is the mutant son of Professor Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller. As the son of the world’s most powerful telepath, Legion exhibits abilities that are beyond even those of his father, making him one of the most powerful characters in the X-Men universe, if not the Marvel universe as a whole. Suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, Legion is often unaware of what is real and what is in his head, making him an unpredictable and volatile character. Over the 32 years since his initial conception, Legion has since become an antihero in the Marvel universe, willing to look the other way if the need arises.
Legion as a TV show doesn’t quite follow the source material. Rather, what Showrunner Noah Hawley (known for FX’s Fargo) has done is offer a different take on the superhero/comic book genre. While shows such as The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Supergirl are concerned with special effects and a simple plot that ties into a wider universe, Legion is a standalone entry that serves as a character study of a troubled young man. The initial premise of “what would happen if the most powerful telepath in the world thought he was insane?” is brilliant in its own right. Give it to someone who wants to try and flip the superhero genre on its head and you’ve got one of the most confident TV shows of the last five years.
As Legion begins, we are introduced to David Haller. A young man who has heard voices in his head for over a decade, he has begun to lose his grip on reality and has been confined to a mental hospital for the past several years. Once he meets and forms a relationship with fellow inmate Sydney “Syd” Barrett (a reference to the original Pink Floyd founder), he is introduced to a larger world of mutants and secret organisations who all desire to use him for their own specific reasons. After a freak accident destroys the hospital, David works with Syd and her mentor, Melanie Bird, to unlock his full potential, whilst also confronting the literal demons of his past in the form of “The Devil with Yellow Eyes.”
Beyond this initial description, I don’t want to reveal anymore of the plot. Hell, I’m kinda unsure if I should have revealed as much as I did just there. The simple reason for this is because Legion has so much more to offer than just this initial plot. There are twists and turns that I had no idea were coming, characters made choices that felt logical and true to life (which is a strange thing to say about a show about a dude who can read minds, I know) and it is unapologetic as fuck!! If you aren’t giving this show your absolute 100% attention, you will get lost!! Seriously, don’t have this on in the background!! Give it the time and devote yourself to it! At eight hours of content, that isn’t a big ask.
So what can I tell you about this gem of a show? Well first off, the acting is impeccable. Dan Stevens has been an actor on the rise for years ever since his days in Downtown Abbey (my parents tell me it’s great) and here, he really gets to show off his acting talent. His accent is perfect and never wavers, his physicality is brilliant, and the slight mannerisms that he develops for David are endearing and not cringeworthy. He’s instantly likeable and charming and I really cared about his struggles throughout each episode. He has great chemistry with his co-stars and you can tell he’s clearly enjoying being part of this production. In short, he’s fucking perfect. And I may have developed a slight man crush on him.
The rest of the cast deserve high praise as well. Rachel Keller brings a sweetness and heart to the series as Syd, often acting as the core of the show and the main affection for David. Her chemistry with Stevens works brilliantly as Syd is not a stereotypical “sidekick” or “damsel in distress,” often proving herself to be much more capable than our protagonist. Syd’s mysterious condition is also much more emotional due to Keller’s performance, offering a different take than has been seen before in various media. Jean Smart’s Melanie Bird acts as the mother of the group, encouraging her students to extend themselves beyond what they perceive. It’s a role that feels very similar to Frances Conroy’s portrayal of Ruth Fisher in Six Feet Under and is played beautifully by Ms Smart. Aubrey Plaza’s turn as Lenny also deserves high praise. While I’ve never been a fan of Aubrey Plaza, here she is incredible in her role as David’s “imaginary” best friend. As I understand it, the role was originally written for a man but Plaza asked than none of the dialogue be changed when she was cast. And you know what…I’m glad it wasn’t. Her character is sexy, scary, weird and completely captivating, stealing every scene that she’s in. If Plaza isn’t awarded something for her performance at the end of the year awards, the word “snubbed” will come to mind. Finally, while his appearances are limited, Jemaine Clement is hilarious as the mysterious Oliver. To say anymore would spoil his character.
Pacing wise, Legion is a masterstroke. Most 22 episode comic book shows include at least six episodes that could have easily been cut but were included because there was a demanded episode count by their network. Even the Marvel/Netflix shows could do with removing at least three episodes from each season (or in the case of Iron Fist, eight of them). At eight episodes in length, Legion has no time for filler and thankfully, there is none. All eight episodes have a clear plot to tell and they tell it beautifully. At an average length of 50 minutes per episode, you get a lot of content to consume.
Furthermore, unlike the MCU, DCEU or the Arrowverse, Legion is a standalone product. While there are references to the X-Men universe, there is no direct link to FOX’s X-Men movies. Fans of the character (who admittedly will be small in number) will find much to look for in the background of specific scenes and parallels can be made by less comic savvy fans to the movies but like Logan and Deadpool before it, Legion is primarily concerned with offering a character study on the comic book genre and subverting all expectations of what superheroes should be. It isn’t beholden to continuity or establishing a new spinoff: it just exists. And I’m fine with that.
But what really sets Legion apart are it’s stylistic choices. Honestly people, this is the most stylish show since Hannibal and that show just oozed style (if you haven’t seen it by the way, please do cause it’s fucking amazing!!). Each shot is framed so beautifully, it feels more like an art house project than a show by FX. Colours pop in the minimalist set design, music choices are inspired and blend perfectly with each scene they’re played in (note to anyone pitching a TV show, if you put Children of the Revolution by T.Rex in it, I’ll watch it) and overall mind fuckery works brilliantly whilst also giving viewers something completely unique. For example, a scene in episode one has David discussing a period of time at the mental hospital. The scene feels completely random and out of place, prompting David’s interviewer to state “we can skip this if it’s not relevant.” Next thing you know, the scene has changed back to where it initially was before the interruption. Another example includes a character motioning everyone to stay silent, at which point all audio in the scene cuts out. Everything. Voices, sound effects, everything. I was convinced something was wrong with my iPad before I realised it was on full volume. It’s simple things like this that make Legion so much more than a standard comic book show.
Now, you’re probably asking if there are any negatives right now, correct? For me, there aren’t. However, the casual viewer may find the story’s unreliable narration a bit tedious and confusing, a statement that has been echoed by many friends who aren’t comic fans. Furthermore, Legion is an intense show. While it isn’t overly violent or full of sex and swearing like an HBO show is, there are very few moments of levity. Frankly, I don’t know what you’d expect from a show discussing mental illness but it’s just a warning.
So in short, Legion has planted itself as my absolute favourite TV show of the year so far and I was completely stunned that it was renewed for Season 2. While the ratings aren’t incredible, hopefully this is something that can manage to reach at least four seasons and end on a high note. Currently, this is my second most anticipated show of 2018 behind Season 2 of Westworld.
Legion will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD at some point later in the year. Season 2 is scheduled to premiere early next year.
VERDICT: A beautiful, perfectly acted subversion of the superhero genre. One of the most stylish shows in years, one of the best of 2017 and arguably the best comic book show ever made!!