This is a spoiler-free review of ‘Legion’ Season One.
If you’ve seen this season you can delve into the spoiler section after the review. This one’s brief.
Length: 46-70 mins
Binge time: 7 hours
Legion has wrapped its first season. The Marvel and FX joint created by Fargo creator Noah Hawley, all set with that third season to premiere this month. He’s a busy dude our Noah. This isn’t your typical superhero by the way. Legion is mind bending. Literally. About half the show or more takes place entirely inside David’s mind. Doctor Strange has nothing on Legion.
Dan Stevens, recently appearing under layers of CG in Beauty and the Beast as the titular beast, is our main character David Haller. We learn about David’s stint at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital. In the first episode he’s unsure whether his powers are real or if it’s all in his head. But by the end of it we’re definitely sure he’s got powers.
He meets up with a crew of mutants at a place kind of like the X-Mansion, a secret hideout in the woods called Summerland. And hiding for good reason. Government organisation Division 3 is keen on capturing mutants they could harness for military purposes, and that includes David.
Yes, we can use the word mutants! Unlike ABC’s Agents of SHIELD which is relegated to using inhumans. This is a Fox joint and they technically own the X-Men and it’s associated properties. It’s a whole thing. Don’t worry about it.
Oh, and Charles Xavier is Legion’s estranged father. Don’t get your hopes up, there isn’t an appearance from Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy, although there is a large nod in the penultimate episode. First of all they’re going to be expensive to put on TV, but here’s hoping they splash out for a cameo next season.
Legion puts you in the same state as David, so for the first few episodes you’re going to be confused about what’s going on. But like any puzzle the clues add up and you’ll start piecing it together. I found I wasn’t that lost, or if I was I just gave in to the experience. The show does a good job of explaining everything (eventually) but it doesn’t hand hold either.
Stevens is really talented at switching between good and evil in a snap of the fingers. In the comics the character Legion is a villain. It will be interesting to see if this is a Breaking Bad type situation where David becomes villainous over time.
Audrey Plaza spends most of her time in David’s head. She does some really good stuff. Extending beyond her usual nihilist persona Plaza’s acting here is animated and downright twisted.
Rachel Keller is David’s main confidant and love interest, Sydney Barrett. Her character is grounded and helps bring David back to reality when his head is in the clouds, so to speak, overwhelmed by his memories and dreams. Also a mutant, her power is revealed in the first episode. She can body swap with people which is pretty neat.
Fortunately it doesn’t fall into any Doctor Who shenanigans of, oh you thought it was this person this whole season, well we’re going to pull the rug from under you and have you lose a tooth on the pavement (I don’t know why you have a carpet outside in this analogy, just go with me here!). It’s used sparingly. There was a point where I was unsure, is she actually…? But no. Legion likes to mess with you, but it’s not that cruel.
Along with Keller, Jean Smart is another actress Hawley nabbed from Fargo. She is Melanie Bird, the leader of the mutant establishment in the woods. Jeremie Harris is Ptonomy Wallace, a sort of memory architect and can fill in the details of one’s memories. There’s a bunch of other fellow mutants but I’ll be here all day.
Add David’s sister Amy (Katie Aselton), who doesn’t serve much purpose beyond becoming a damsel in distress to spur David into action. The show has a strange momentum, where there are real world stakes, but the majority of this season is just trying to make sense of David’s mind and powers.
Who could forget fellow Kiwi, Jemaine Clement, guest starring in several episodes. As usual I’m thrown by the New Zealand accent in amongst the Americans. He does a cool job of doing eccentric Twin Peaks – not quite the little person in the red suit, he doesn’t talk backwards, but he does dance goofily in a cream white suit!
The one knock I have about Legion is fleshing out the characters, or the lack thereof. Once you get the whizz bang of the memories out the way, the characters left are shallow and two dimensional. Hopefully next season they can build upon the foundation started here.
It’s tricky to talk about the show without delving into spoilers but I’ll do my best to skirt the edges. There’s a creepy bloated guy you see hovering in David’s mind who he immediately forgets after seeing. He plays a larger part later on. It all makes sense if you stick it out! You can see how confused I was after watching the first episode.
Another interesting thing Legion does is play with the format of television. Later in the season it goes all silent film, removing both dialogue and sound effects, even going as far as inserting dialogue title cards. It’s fun and makes the episodes stand out, rather than the Marvel Netflix arcs filled with dead air. They could learn something from Legion’s lean eight episodes.
The show’s aspect ratio even switches between letterbox format and filling the screen. I originally thought it was to differentiate between David’s memories and reality, but soon lost track when things got messy. The format switching was more of an interesting distraction than anything. Sorry Hawley!
Verdict: Legion is incredibly inventive and plays with the format of what a superhero property can be. Although the characters aren’t fleshed out yet, there’s plenty of excitement in the dazzling memories and dreams of David’s mind.
There is a whole bunch to unpack here but I’m going to stick with what’s really important. Jemaine Clement’s gonna be the big bad next season huh? With Audrey Plaza in his head? What a collab!
The mid-season credits scene (is that new for TV?) has David sucked into a tiny floating ball, no doubt to be taken in by Divison 3. This is the second time he’s been caught by them. Fool me once etc. etc.