Fox explore the more bizarre corners of the X-Men universe for their first X-based television series…
Starring: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, David Selby, Hamish Linklater, Katie Aselton, Jean Smart
Series created by: Noah Hawley
Written and directed by: Noah Hawley / aired in the UK : 09/02/2017
What’s it about?
David Haller has heard voices all his life but soon discovers that there may be more to his ‘condition’ than meets the eye…
In partnership with Marvel TV, Legion sees Fox bring their live-action X-Men franchise to the small screen. Developed by Fargo series creator Noah Hawley, Legion is based upon the Marvel Comics character David Haller, created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz who first appeared in New Mutants #25 (published in 1985). Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) plays Haller, a mental patient who throughout his life has been plagued by voices that he is starting to believe are real and has drawn the attention of the mysterious Brubaker (David Selby) and his interrogator (Hamish Linklater), who are interested in Haller’s telekinetic abilities and his potential as the most powerful mutant ever discovered.
From the outset it’s obvious that Legion is far less comic-y than its big screen brethren favouring a more restrained, less colourful and more cerebral approach reminiscent of a Netflix or HBO production. Whilst fans of the X-Men comics universe may find that an initial disappointment, what unfolds in this series premiere is too compelling to ultimately ignore. Via a series of flashbacks we learn of David’s increasingly tortured mental state from innocent childhood to teenage delinquency and his current plight as a resident of Clockwork Psychiatric Hospital where he is teased by the presence of people who may or may not be real, including his inseparable ‘pal’ Lenny (a suitably sardonic Aubrey Plaza).
Events become all the more unreal as David ‘meets’ Syd (Rachel Keller), a newly admitted patient that he quickly becomes captivated by. To say much more would spoil things, but it’s this meeting that forms the basis of David’s present situation as he grapples with a loosening grip on ‘reality’. As Haller, Stevens is magnetic with a melancholic, at times manic, performance that he deftly mixes with prominent shades of agitation, frustration and bewilderment intertwined with smatterings of black humour. The supporting cast are all perfectly able in their roles but it’s Stevens that carries much of the proceedings as we’re left perplexed by the hallucinatory visualisation of this unusual story.
Written and directed by Hawley, “Chapter 1” is a predominately trippy experience that leaves the viewer in a similar predicament to the show’s central character, primarily in a state of almost maddening confusion, yet manages to leave you intrigued and hanging on for what’s next. Hawley skilfully depicts the bizarre imaginings of his script, the interesting use of lighting, colour, camera angles, editing and digital effects (not to mention some rather spacey music cues by Jeff Russo) stringing together the non-linear construction of the narrative. Whether future epsidoes will maintain this approach, to such a degree as it is here – and succeed – remains to be seen but it certainly proves effective for this series opener.
Legion comes off as a creative collision that feels something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Being John Malkovich via Inception but ultimately is a strange brew that forms its own personality. In fact, part of Legion’s unusual appeal is that its setting is at times vague, it’s apparently present day but some of the costumes and decor resemble a period closer to the sixties – a neat visual homage to the times of the original X-Men comics, maybe?
Despite the show being unconnected to Fox’s X-Men films and somewhat distanced from the Marvel comic books, “Chapter 1” still offers solid hints at the core elements of X-Men mythology as it touches on the themes of prejudice and fear of the unknown that stretches back to the stories created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early 1960s. Given David Haller’s connection to a certain wheelchair-bound mutant Professor in the X-Men comics universe it wouldn’t be unwelcome to see more ties into the overall mythology, whether subtle or not.
If there’s any real drawback to Legion it’s that it’s lack of lucidity can be challenging but perhaps that’s part of the plan, to lure us in and become invested in a series that could prove to be unique and addictively entertaining?
The bottom line: Legion debuts with a complex, chaotic, weird and – in moments – quite funny premiere for a superhero based series that could prove a refreshing addition to an ever popular and increasingly exploited genre.
Legion airs in the UK Thursday evenings on Fox. U.S. viewers can catch it Wednesdays on FX.
What did you think of the Legion season premiere? Share your thoughts below!