Title: Chapter 1
Director: Noah Hawley
Writers: based on the comics by Chris Claremont, and Bill Sienkiewicz created and written by Noah Hawley
Starring: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder, Katie Aselton, Jean Smart, Hamish Linklater, David Selby, David Ferry, Ellie Araiza, Matt Hamilton, Brad Mann, Quinton Boisclair, Mackenzie Gray, and more
Duration: 67 minutes
Legion was a pleasant surprise, a unique, refreshingly, and pleasantly different take on the comics based tv shows we have become accustomed to.
I had a pleasant experience last week, when I checked out the series premiere of Legion, the new X-Men series that debuted on FX. Not only was it pleasantly entertaining, it was a refreshing change of pace from what we have grown accustomed to in terms of genre tv based on comics.
In case you don’t know, Legion is an American cable television series created for FX by Noah Hawley, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. It is connected to the X-Men film series, the first television series to do so, and is produced by FX Productions in association with Marvel Television, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Kinberg Genre, and 26 Keys Productions. Hawley serves as showrunner on the series.
Although it has a connection to the X-Men series it is not likely to ever connect to any other parts of the MCU in any way other than its DNA. I read it takes place in an alternate universe, which is comic speak for similar but separate.
There’s a lot to like about this series including the cast which is led by Dan Stevens as David Haller who carried out what must be a difficult and complex challenge in an engaging and charming manner. The whole episode was done through the lens of mental illness in a surreal parade of imagery and flashbacks we are presented with as a collage as the episode’s opening sequence, that serves to introduce us to David and his world, both past and present. Although there are times as the story develops when David is not sure what’s real and what isn’t the show was never confusing for me as it wound its way towards its conclusion.
The thing is David has been convinced he is schizophrenic and crazy his entire life. The truth is he has extraordinary abilities that include telepathy and the voices he hears in his head are real; along with this he apparently has powerful telekinetic abilities which he has no idea how to control that sometimes causes problems for him because of the things they cause to happen.
Stevens is depicted as being currently incarcerated in the Clockwork Mental Hospital where he seems be at peace with the dull routine broken up by occasional visits from his sister Amy (Katie Aselton).. He has a friend, Lenny Busker, a talkative junkie who is very enjoyably portrayed by Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation fame. Plaza is right at home in the part which is even more bizarre that her character April was on that other series. She seems to be drawn to roles of the eccentric and weirdly different type. Her character gets killed but shows up again anyway, and I look forward to the amusing exchanges between David and his dead friend as the series continues.
The hospital itself added to the enjoyable nature of the episode with mental patients wandering and/or hanging around in the usual manner when depicted in shows like this but it was visually well done with the partients wearing athletic wear with a color scheme that reminded me of the one used by McDonald’s.
The show had lots of little amusing touches of that sort which came close at times to being tongue-in-cheek but never enough to go to far, at one point during a dream sequence David is having there is scene that briefly becomes a full blown Bollywood dance routine, adding to the whimsical nature of the show.The show seems ready to take some chances and the choices they made this time around were all good ones.
Another notable thing about this series is that it does a lot of interesting visual things to in telling its story and depicting what’s going on in David’s head, but it never over does it to ry to compensate fro poor writing. It doesn’t need to, because its well written.
The show suddenly shifts gears with the arrival of a new patient Syd Barett (Rachel Keller) a young woman who has a strong dislike of being touched. David falls for her at first sight, she is gorgeous and he is smitten. Its a moment that shakes his whole world and prompts him to try to meet her. There’s no doubt there is some sort of connection between them, and shortly after at a group session, when she begins to question the nature of mental illness and what is normal, she gives him an epiphany of another sort. He asks her to be his girlfriend, right on the spot, and she agrees as long as he sticks to the rules of no touching. Crazy.
Things go along smoothly for awhile like this and they grow closer until the day arrives when she is going to leave. The psychiatrist has cleared her to go. This is when the show shifts gears again. She is about to leave when David comes rushing in to catch her before she leaves and he does what he promised not to and kisses her. They both fly backwards as if hit by a powerful force and he begins to go crazy as the doctor rushes her out of the room. In a nearby room, away from the crazy crowded area the kiss took place in, the doctor and Syd both hear a muffled sound as if a bomb went offf, and he leaves to investigate. he returns to find everyone gone, but he can hear cries for help coming from inside the walls. Joined by Syd they both discover the body of Lenny somehow imbedded half in and half out of a wall.
The tone of the show shifts after this event and it seems as if somehow David and Syd have switched bodies and he is seeing the world through her eyes. Its at this point that some viewers might become confused as to what is going on. David is shown being questioned by a man who is an investigator for what occurred and how Lenny was killed. When he leaves the room where David is being questioned its revealed to the audience that the room is nothing more than an elaborate set constructed to for the purpose of questioning David.
The interrogator is accompanied by another more sinister looking man I will refer to as the Eye, because of his unusual appearance. He seems to be some sort of enforcer and not a nice person. David is experiencing life both inside the confines of this interrogation room and outside at the same time where he begins to notice they’re people who seem to be after him, the interrogator and his people are clearly some sort of shadowy government organization that wants to use David’s powers for their own sinister purposes, while who the other people on the outside are remains a mystery.
He sees the face of Syd on the back of mans head and she warns him they are going to kill him and how he can escape. He follows her instructions and the escape plan works. He’s reunited with Syd and her friends which turnout to be the people that were following him. As they leave the government facility, here is a battle raging outside. A serious gunfight is taking place and they wind their way through it and make their way to the shore where a boat is waiting for them along with the leader of the mutant group that rescued him named Melanie Bird (Jane Smart). At this point as if to assure the audience they are not being misled by what they are seeing, the show’s creators included David and Syd having an exchange of dialogue where he asks her if this is real and really happening. She assures him it is and that she loves him and came back for him and it is indeed real.
This whole episode was a set up for what follows in the weeks ahead, it was all exposition but it was exposition well done and it made for a great hour of genre tv. It was engaging, entertaining, and often fun, with just the right amount of humor to offset the rather grim elements of mental illness and life in an institution as the basis of the narrative. This show seems to have the potential to become something really special and as the season progresses it will likely become a show people are talking more about, if it can manage to continue the quality of the stuff it did in the opening salvo.