“Are you real?” This is a question asked by Dan Steven’s David Haller late in the first episode of FX’s new superhero drama ‘Legion’. However, True Believers that tuned in on Wednesday night to see the series premiere of the first live-action X-Men show were likely left asking that question throughout the hour and a half pilot written and directed by Noah Hawley of ‘Fargo’ fame. In fact, you’re probably still asking that question well into the next day. And while that could mean bad news for some shows, that definitely isn’t the case here. Especially in this age of elaborate mysteries and unreliable narrators as seen in ‘Westworld’, ‘True Detective’, and ‘Mr. Robot’, this unprecedented collaboration between Marvel Television and 20th Century Fox has the potential to join the conversation and stand on the same level with acclaimed works like that.
The best way that we could possibly the first episode of ‘Legion’ is a complete and absolute mindf*ck. Although considering that the show is about a schizophrenic omega-level mutant, it’s almost the perfect marriage of the material and the execution. ‘Chapter 1’ was all over the place. You never knew which at which point in David’s timeline you were actually in. You definitely never knew whether what was happening was real or not. There was even a Bollywood-style dance number. All of that turns out to be a really great representation of what’s going on in the main character’s head, which is also all over the place and a blur between delusions and reality. Because of this unique approach, the narrative spills off into tangents left and right. Eventually you can piece together what’s going on and form some sort of linear storyline and interesting origin, but even then, you’re not even sure if that’s really what’s happening.
Speaking of the tangents, we need to talk about how incredible everything looked thanks to the cinematography and the editing. It was pretty amazing how the scene would transition from a dream to the psychiatric hospital to the undisclosed facility to a flashback in a matter of minutes. The editors on this show are definitely earning their paychecks in a big way. But the other half of the visual style equation is everything contained in the footage that they’re editing. The set design and the costumes filled with vivid colors combined with the camera tricks gave us so much to look at. In fact, in preparation for this review, we had to go back and watch the episode again to try to catch everything we missed the first time around. (And honestly that may not have even been enough to notice every little thing.)
Now that we’ve established how mind-blowing everything was, let’s talk about some details in the story that stood out. First of all, it’s pretty wild what happened to Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny, right? What a way to go… At least physically since she doesn’t actually go anywhere. And her line about comparing David and Sydney trading bodies thanks to her powers with giving a newbie a bazooka and blowing shit up was awesomely accurate. But in regards to Lenny sticking around, I wonder if the writing team is borrowing from the source material here. In the comics, whenever someone dies near Legion, their consciousness become one of his multiple personalities. I could see this happening on the show to some degree, but then again who’s to say that the majority of people we met in the first episode aren’t already constructs of David’s mind? This is definitely something that we’ll have to keep an eye on as the show progresses.
More importantly though is the big rescue scene featuring Melanie Bird’s team. It was epically shot and filled with awesome shots of mutants showing off their powers, but there was another layer to that scene. Right before the breakout, Sydney mentions that she’s being projected into David’s memory to let him in on the plan. But did anyone else notice that her silhouette more so resembled a man’s until David was pulled completely out of the water? Could someone be projecting the image of Syd into David’s brain to make him trust them? It’s very possible that this is reading far too much into this, but it definitely didn’t look like the person pulling David out of the pool had a ponytail from his/our perspective underwater at first. While this could be a very minute detail that means nothing, the nature of this show is really pushing the audience to pay attention to every little thing that happens to the point where you question if it’s actually happening or a construct of your own imagination.
Basically, that was all a really long way to say that ‘Legion’ is batshit crazy. It’s a wild ride. It’s unlike any show that we’ve seen before let alone any comic book or superhero show we’ve seen before. As cliche as this sounds, it might even be more accurate to describe it as an experience rather than a TV series. And though we’ve seen the live-action X-Men franchise on an upswing over the past few years thanks to ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ and ‘Deadpool’, ‘Legion’ takes it to a whole new level that might cause the purveyors of the “superhero genre bubble popping soon” theory to rethink their stance. When people say “must-see TV”, this is the sort of thing they’re talking about and it translates to say, “You’re damn right we’re tuning in next week.”
‘Legion’ starring Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Aubrey Plaza, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder, Katie Aselton, and Bill Irwin airs at 10:00pm EST on FX.