A magnificent mind-trip of a show, Legion takes the rules of filmed superhero media, crushes them underfoot, and rewrites them with a giddy confidence. It’s genius at every turn, with casting choices, plot choices, action-sequence choices, lighting, set-design, costume and music choices that announce to the world that this is a show that knows exactly what it is and it wants to challenge, surprise and entertain you. The show is related to the X-Men, not that you need to know that to enjoy it, and it never invokes or relies upon the established canon of the lucrative X-Men series. Simply put, Legion is stunning television.
The Production: 5/5
“Time for your meds”
David Haller, diagnosed as schizophrenic, has spent a good deal of his life in and out of hospitals and institutions. A tumultuous, erratic childhood and adolescence takes an abrupt turn with a failed suicide attempt. Committed, heavily drugged, David begins to question everything after an encounter with a fellow patient. Are the visions he sees real. Are the voices he hears in his head talking to him to help him, to explain something about him, or something else? Captured by a secret government agency, Division 3, he is saved by people with strange abilities, mutants, who want him to understand that he’s not crazy. But he resists believing he is like them. A life of believing his is mentally ill a heavy weight to shift, though as his world gets further turned upside down, and his adoration of a fellow patient explodes, he may just find out what he really is.
Legion’s creator and showrunner Noah Hawley, the man behind a small but growing amount of excellent television including the FX Fargo anthology series (and the short-lived ABC series, The Unusuals,) executes one of the boldest and best inaugural television seasons in recent memory. Featuring an astonishingly good cast in-tune with their characters and the unpredictable nature of the show, Legion gets everything right. A wicked fusion of sight and sound, plot and twist, light and dark, and narrative and nuance, there is absolutely nothing else like it on television.
Legion is a majestic kaleidoscope of images, a mosaic of ideas layered with meaning in every flashback and every potential delusion. It commands and demands your attention and glues you to the screen as you decipher and connect the seemingly random dots. But with true genius, the show doesn’t simply throw ideas against the wall to see what will stick or resonate. It feels crafted carefully, architected with inordinate detail from the very beginning. As we learn more about the fascinating collection of characters, their challenging backstories, tragedies, and emotional connections that build throughout, we come to understand the bigger picture with greater clarity. It’s addictive.
Legion is much less a “superhero show” as it is a brilliant examination of mental health, fear, and the intoxication of love and dependency. We follow the character of David (Dan Stevens) as he grapples his supposed schizophrenia, and so experience the world and the story primarily through his disjointed perspective. Dan Stevens is a revelation here. Outstandingly good with unsettled ticks and frantic confusion informing every second of his performance. Stevens’ Haller is enchanted by his fellow patient, Syd Barrett, played with shy perfection by Rachel Keller, a woman who does not want to be touched (she is terrified of human contact). Haller’s mischievous co-patient Lenny Busker is played by Aubrey Plaza in a wide-ranging role that tends to let her steal just about every scene she’s in. The rest of the cast are superb. Jermaine Harris’ Ptonomy Wallace exuding a calm strength with his particular skill (memory artist) among the chaos, Bill Irwin’s Cary Loudermilk presenting a warm, likeable, fumbling figure, and Amber Midthunder’s Kerry Loudermilk, Cary’s distrusting daughter surprisingly compelling. Jane Smart plays an intriguing Dr. Melanie Bird, and the always watchable Jermaine Clement plays a bizarre, fascinating and smile-inducing Oliver Bird, husband to Dr. Bird, who had been trapped away from her for years. Finally, Mackenzie Gray delivers an entirely engrossing villain, The Eye.
Legion is impossibly good. So good that it’s hard to imagine the sophomore season (currently airing on FX) keeping up. But there’s so much promise in the concept, the cast, the writers and directors, and the dedication to the unconventional, that if any show can maintain the extraordinary momentum, I have to believe it will be Legion.
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
3D Rating: NA
Presented in its majority 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Legion is a delight on Blu-ray (most of David’s mind-memory sequences are anamorphic). More detailed and with much better contrast and color balance than the Hulu stream where I first watched the season, this is a perfect show for the high definition medium. Filmed with Arri Alexa mini cameras, different lenses are used from time to time for POV shots, or to provide edge-blur or other distortions for certain effects – and it’s all presented here exquisitely.
Legion is heavy on style, demonstrated by the enigmatic visual and aural flourishes, it is matched so well with the storytelling becoming a unique experience. With a highly tailored color palette, dominantly those of the 1960s (muted oranges, browns, beiges, greys), this presentation shows it all off wonderfully.
Sound is a very important element of Legion, and so the performance of the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track becomes of heightened importance. Fortunately, it succeeds. Voices in heads echo in the front and surrounds with immersive skill, growls and rumbles are expressed in the subwoofer at the right time and at the right level, and the surrounds are used well for directional sound and ambience. The show is heavy on songs that punctuate scenes, introducing rock songs that make slow-motion scenes a wonderful ballet.
The audio is also filled with Jeff Russo’s excellent score. Pulsating at times, Russo finds ways to support the tragedy and chaos with a mix of traditional orchestration sounds and electronics (including synths from the 70s). Channeling Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (during the flawless pilot), and more, Russo delivers the goods.
Special Features: 3/5
A modest collection of special features with some interesting deleted scenes, about 25-minutes worth, including unfinished visual effects, alternates of scenes that were included (different locations and set up, similar dialogue), and an expanded version of the unexpected dance number (Bollywood style) from Chapter One. An enjoyable feature is Fractured Reality, with very good interviews with creator Noah Hawley and the principle cast (and others on the crew). Though frustratingly short, these conversation snippets give a better sense of “why” in choices that further exclaims this is one of the very best shows on television right now.
Fractured Reality: A Different Kind of Hero
- Uncanny Romance
- Production Design
- Make-Up (Making the Devil with the Yellow Eyes)
- Visual Effects
- Costume Design
With Stanley Kubrick influences and nods (A Clockwork Orange in particular) seen and felt, and a pleasing hint of Terrence Malick from time to time, Legion is the kind of television that astonishes me ever actually got made. It’s the kind of television that should be celebrated far and wide (even while I recognize that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea) for being bold, different, and pitch-perfect from start to finish.
A compelling, hopeful tragedy that disorientates and leaves you breathless. It’s brilliant on every level and comes with my highest recommendation.