Legion (Season One) Spoiler-Free Review

The first TV tie-in to the X-Men movie franchise is one of the most creative, continually engaging superhero shows ever made…

 

In terms of making creative, standalone installments that still connect in with the wider universe, the X-Men franchise is far above its competitors at the moment. Just like Deadpool and Logan were two breaths of fresh air in the crowded world of comic book movies, Legion is a much-needed unique take on the superhero TV show. Chiefly, it swaps the action and usual hero-vs-villain battles for psychological, mind-bending drama that sizzles with wit and intrigue.

In case you don’t know, the eight-episode first season follows David Haller, a psychiatric patient who believes he suffers from schizophrenia. What he will learn, however, is that he is really a mutant with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers. So powerful a mutant, in fact, that some very dangerous forces are out to get him. Both in the real world, and in his own mind…

First off, we have to congratulate showrunner Noah Hawley for coming up with a new way to tackle the superhero narrative. The Fargo writer reflects the central character’s fragile mental state in the way the story is told: as you are never quite sure what is happening is real or just a product of David’s confused reality. We’ve previously seen the franchise using mutants as a metaphor for ethnic and racial minorities but Legion takes it in a fresh direction by looking at the stigma that is sadly still attached to those with mental health issues. The stretching of reality also really allows Legion to go the extra mile to entertain, including several terrific musical sequences spread throughout the season.

It’s not just Hawley who is at the top of his game, though, as the central cast make for a hugely talented ensemble and clearly have a ball with this game-changing show. Dan Stevens is exceptional as David, offering a constantly on-edge, nervy performance. Rachel Keller (another Fargo alum) provides a lot of the show’s heart as David’s sweetheart Syd, she of the tragic, Rogue-like ability that leaves her unable to touch others without bad things happening. David’s allies at the Summerland retreat are all well-played, but Jermaine Clement’s Oliver is a standout for his oddball, 60s beat poet ways. The star of the show, though, has to be Aubrey Plaza as Lenny. To say too much about her character would be to spoil the show, but suffice it to say she is a revelation. She’s charismatic, funny, sexy and more than a little terrifying.

Legion is also exceptional in its visuals. There is a lot of cinematic influence on the show, in particular you can see that directors as acclaimed and diverse as Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and Wes Anderson were inspirations in its pastel colour palette, 1960s/70s aesthetic and off-the-wall imagery. Things often veer into full-on horror territory as well. I don’t know about you, but the Devil With The Yellow Eyes is one of the most unsettling monsters I have seen on TV in a while…

Of course, even the greatest series aren’t perfect and there are some niggles to be had here tooFor all the success its embracing of the odd grants it, Legion can sometimes get too lost in its own weirdness at the expense of character and plot development (though these are generally well-handled). In particular, the overarching threat of Division Three, the government agency hunting down David, comes across as little more than an afterthought. The writers seem to understand that this is the most cliche element of the series – we have seen similar organisations in multiple movies and TV shows e.g. Stranger Things, Logan – but still don’t do much to try and twist the trope or do something interesting with it.

But these criticisms are things that can easily be fixed in the upcoming season two. Overall, Legion is a creative triumph whose greatest victory is probably that it manages to subvert and exceed your expectations at every turn. If you an ardent lover of the classic superhero tale or linear storytelling, Legion will probably just annoy you. But if you are willing to witness something a bit different, then the show is a must-watch.

 

Rating:

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