FX takes a shot at adapting a not-so-well-known X-Men character into a full-fledged television series. Legion takes some cues from the comic book counterpart’s mental instability, and the opening episode offers up an hour and a half that has it’s own visual look and style, with an intentionally confusing storyline.
David Haller believes he is mentally disturbed. He hears voices, sees things, and thinks he can move objects with his mind. He believes he’s been in a mental hospital for some time, and he’s under investigation for the death of another patient, Lenny. Haller recalls the story of how he met his girlfriend, Sidney and how she disappeared. In reality, a mysterious, militant group is trying to learn more about Haller and his powers.
The opening episode is, without a doubt, the most visually brilliant comic book adaptation thus far. The show uses setting, sound, and CG create this complex–and at times, puzzling–atmosphere that is unsettling for all the right reasons. Considering that the show deals with Haller’s mental instability, Legion uses these aspects to create a feeling of unease and confusion, which creates a connection with the audience, allowing us to understand to some degree what Haller is going through.
CG isn’t a huge part of the show, but it helps create some of these visually stunning moments, like in these pictures. However, it’s not without its faults. Towards the tail end, during a very real gunfight, the CG doesn’t flow with the rest of the scene. It looks out of place and can take you out of the moment.
The set dressings and world have this very-1960s feel to them, but we’re also seeing flatscreen televisions and computers. It’s a clash of eras, which again enhances the overall unease for viewers, not being able to get a grasp on Legion‘s reality. The hospital’s set feels like a character on its own, with the circular ceiling patterns, wall of leaves and branches–which one patient was hiding in–and rooms with modern decor. That building is just as memorable as any of the other moments in the episode.
The story is confusing, chaotic, and messy, but that’s the point the show is trying to make. Haller is an unreliable narrator, showing us early on that we can’t always trust what we see. The fact that we see some of Haller’s hallucinations and jarringly tossed between the past and the present means we can never rely fully on our own senses, creating a certain sense of unease. To its own fault, that is also one of the downfalls of the show. About halfway through the episode, it becomes a tad frustrating not getting answers quick enough. The questions that linger in the audience’s mind are not all answered by the end of the episode, and it feels like there wasn’t a strong enough hook to get people to come back.
In the grand scheme of things, these are minor nit-picks because Legion‘s first episode breaks away from the typical pilot format of setting up the world and over-indulging the audience with way too much information. Essentially, Legion‘s faults are also its strengths. It would have been a bit nicer if we knew more about the man with the yellow eyes, but there are always more episodes.
Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), as Haller, does a fantastic job. He’s always holding back. He’s confused. He’s trying to make sense of the world around him but can’t seem to piece things together. Stevens shines when he starts talking about how his character is actually crazy. There’s little twitches in his face and body language that lead the audience to believe he is in fact delusional. We’re trying to step into the mind of someone who is unbalanced, confused, but ultimately rational and intelligent. That’s quite a load for an actor to take on, but Stevens does so immensely well. His costars do a solid job as well, with one standout being Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), who plays Lenny–Haller’s friend inside the hospital.
Where does Legion fit in to the X-Men universe? Is David Haller the son of Professor X, like his comic book counterpart? No clue, but it really doesn’t matter because the opening episode already established itself as an independent entity. If the rest of the series continues to be as brilliant as the first episode, it won’t have the need to fit within a greater universe.
While there are many people that think there are way too many comic book television shows currently in rotation, Legion revitalizes the genre by presenting something completely different. It’s not the typical superhero show. It’s surreal, puzzling, and attention grabbing. This is one of the best opening episodes of a television show to date, not just superhero shows. Even if Legion the comic book character isn’t up your alley, this show is worth every minute of your time.