To say the Legion pilot was a more “cerebral” take on the superhero genre would be selling it short. It was a total mindfuck… in a good way!
If you felt off-balance and disoriented while watching this first chapter of Noah Hawley’s new series, that was absolutely by design. I think what surprised me most was how prominently music was featured throughout, and how it helped lighten the tone. Let’s be honest, mental illness is not an easy topic to tackle and it must be treated delicately. While David Haller’s (Dan Stevens) schizophrenia was disturbing and sad, I thought Stevens did a wonderful job of selling his character’s delusions. The actor’s reactions never felt forced or over-the-top, which would instantly pull us out of the scene. Listen, I’ve seen plenty of terrific actors fail at playing someone with a mental disorder. The opening montage set the series up beautifully. It was simultaneously informative and melancholy. I mean, you could easily understand why someone that’s suffered as much as David would want to take his own life.
The show wasted no time introducing Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, which is where the meat and potatoes of the hour took place. It instantly reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s classic sci-fi flick 12 Monkeys. I’m not sure if it was the camera angles, editing or perhaps it was the brownish outfits the patients were wearing. I know these weren’t exactly like the velour sweater Pitt sports in the movie, but there was a similarity. I wonder if Stevens went through psychiatric coaching as Pitt did back then. By the way, if you’re not watching Syfy’s 12 Monkeys… what’s wrong with you? It’s phenomenal! I quickly got the sense that Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) was an imaginary character, à la Fight Club. Honestly, I’m still not too sure who’s real and who is a figment of David’s imagination. That’s okay, I’m sure as the season unfolds things will start to make more sense. The one person that proved real (or did she?), even confirming it at the end, was Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller) who is also a mutant. Of course, the fact she didn’t like to be touched was going to prove challenging as David’s girlfriend. I loved the innocence of the scene where he asked her to go steady and the way Syd replied, “Okay, but don’t touch me.” The couple walking down the hall holding a piece of fabric was cute too.
Then we learned Sydney “disappeared.” I hoped this would not be a case where one of my favorite new characters goes missing until the finale. The “investigator,” for lack of a better word, explained there was no record of her at the hospital. We later come to realize she wasn’t a delusion, simply the man trying to confuse David. At least that’s how it seems. The man spoke of a dead girl, who turned out to be Lenny. I’m still not sure what David’s powers are, or if he is responsible for the vanishing doors etc. Does the fact he saw Lenny later in his sister’s basement mean she’s one of his personalities? And what was with the caged dog and the wooden carving? They totally lost me on that one, yet it’s clearly a thing.
Anyway we soon learned that David’s possibly, “The most powerful mutant” ever encountered. In the comics, Legion is an Omega-level mutant and the son of Professor Xavier and Gabrielle Haller. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of David or Amy’s (Katie Aselton) parents. I’m curious to see if their folks will come into play later on. Not that I expect to see Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy appear on the show, but if David’s powers are inherited then we need more details on his parents.
I’ve got to say, the telekinetic kitchen explosion has got to be one of the coolest visuals I’ve seen in any superhero show. At times, Legion really did feel like an X-Men film. That moment, along with the escape in the final act were just two perfect examples. There’s a decent budget for this show, no question.
As with all great sci-fi, we have to care about the characters and the VFX are just the icing on the cake. Despite the fact they could not touch, there were some genuinely tender exchanges between David and Sydney. The window reflection kiss being one of my favorites. Of course, when they finally kissed and swapped bodies, we realized why she couldn’t touch anyone. She’s very much like the X-Men‘s Rogue in that sense, only Rogue’s ability is to absorb other mutant’s powers. Sydney’s consciousness switches place/bodies with the person she touches. While I’m still confused about whether or not she was in control of David’s powers and caused the damage at the hospital, I’m sure we’ll learn more soon. Perhaps I need to rewatch the episode. There was a lot going on.
By the end of the hour, we had a better understanding of the bigger picture. Division One, a mysterious organization, is after David and wants him dead. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) is our Professor X, seemingly uniting and protecting mutants. Naturally we’re not sure what her deal is at this point, as it’s too early in the show’s run. She could turn out to be more Magneto than Charles Xavier. We briefly met Kerry and Ptonomy, mutants who work alongside Melanie Bird. David is ridiculously powerful, yet unable to control his abilities. Sydney was the one person that hinted perhaps he’s not that crazy. They fell hard for one another. Did David really escape at the end, or was it another one of his delusions? Sydney claimed to be real, but then again he would want her to say that. I guess we’ll just have to tune-in to Chapter 2.
Although the hard to pinpoint “reality” and elaborate storytelling may turn off a few folks, the series is refreshingly unique. Will this be the first superhero show to be taken seriously come awards season? I can totally understand audiences passing on Legion after watching the pilot. However, the creators won me over and I was engaged enough to keep watching. The first season is just a total of eight episodes and I’ve got a feeling Hawley’s going to blow our minds. This is one carefully constructed narrative, which I’ve no doubt is going to pay off. What did you think of the pilot? Are you all-in, or taking a pass?
Legion airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.