Article first published as LEGION Review on Seat42F.
As the Marvel universe, including Sony and Fox-produced products, as well as their own-made ones, continue to expand, some of the more obscure, weird characters are being brought into the fold. To that end, FX presents LEGION this week, one of the X-Men related properties still controlled by FX’s parent, Fox. Like Deadpool, he’s not a household name, and also like Deadpool, this series does not feel like any of the other programs in the genre out right now.
If you’re not familiar with the character of, he is someone who has some serious mental issues along with his powers. The son of Professor Xavier, absorbs others within himself, sort of, and often can’t tell what is real and what isn’t. To build a television series around such an unstable character is bold; to make it from his perspective, where viewers don’t know what is actually happening at any given time because he doesn’t know, is even bolder. LEGION chooses the latter route, making a confusing, stimulating series that is as exciting as it is odd.
Legion is David Haller (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), and as the show begins, he is locked in a mental institution and has been for some time. Meeting the beautiful Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller, Fargo), who agrees to date David but won’t allow him to touch her, David seems to be getting along all right, despite everything. But when something big and tragic happens, things change. And whether the event is David’s fault or Syd’s remains to be seen, though doesn’t feel particularly important. What is important is that David’s life is set on a new course that pulls him away from what he knows and will likely lead to self exploration.
Stevens is excellent, as is Keller. Both have inhabited very specific characters, far from the roles they’re known for, whom viewers can latch onto, despite the insanity. There is something very essential to them that is relatable and familiar. They’re fully realized individuals, and whole they may not be like people we know, it’s easy to recognizable the humanity in them, no matter the craziness occurring.
The pair are joined by an excellent supporting cast, including fellow patient Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation), David’s sunny sister, Amy (Katie Aselton, The League), a benevolent (?) doctor, Melanie Bird (Jean Smart, 24, Fargo), a shady interrogator (Hamish Linklater, The Crazy Ones), and more. It’s a really strong group playing characters that even most comic book fans aren’t too familiar with, so plenty of new ground to break.
The show itself is visually stunning. It’s like the Doctor Strange of television, with trippy sequences and worlds that could never exist. Guided expertly by the hand of Noah Hawley (FX’s Fargo), it explores concepts that are hard to show, and yet, manages to convey them in unconventional ways. At times, the soundtrack, which matches the rest nicely, almost feels like that of Stranger Things, and the look touches on a Wes Anderson picture. The concept of unreliable narrator feels a bit like Mr. Robot. Despite the many favorable comparisons, LEGION is all its own thing, appealing to fans of the above, but also standing plenty firm on its own.
The world presented in is hyperreality, bold colors and retro designs, music that is both old and timeless. The total package is a cool production design, fantastically meshing conflicted parts into the whole, much the way in which the characters are put together. There is a unique-ish quality, that is still relatable to the X-Men First Class movies, but is also outside of them.
I cannot recommend LEGION enough. It premieres tonight at 10/9c on FX.