Review: Legion (Season 1, Episode 1)

Noah Hawley doesn’t adhere to the Marvel universe that we’ve all been accustomed to from the various cinematic endeavors. Instead he crafts Legion as a coming-of-age yarn about a nonconformist youth. The visual wonder of David Haller’s (Dan Stevens) aging transition from prodigal son to paranoid, schizophrenic delinquent is a tour-de-force with the camera slowly pushing into his auspicious beginning and pushing out from his descent to the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital.

The hallowed greenery of Clockworks’ halls is highly reminiscent of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Stevens isn’t a quintessential Marvel character. He’s snarky when his older sister visits for his birthday. He’s matter-of-fact and quite disheveled. He looks frail and insecure but underneath the fragility is a repressed omnipotence (on the scale of Jean Grey) that he is virtually unaware of. When Haller lunges at a detaining henchmen, the man flinches and he quizzically asks “you’re afraid of me?” The interior views of his mind are rife with chaotic premonitions about the Devil with the Yellow Eyes who will no doubt be a formidable foe in the upcoming arc.

The loony bin is is populated with bohemian eccentrics such as the flamboyantly solipsistic Aubrey Plaza who commentates on her surroundings like Howard Cosell or Rachel Keller’s Sydney who repels physical contact despite her agreement to be Dan’s “girlfriend”. Thankfully Plaza isn’t flaunting her comedienne improv skills in every take.

The show itself doesn’t coddle the viewers. It’s deliberately muddled to reflect Haller’s mangled brain chemistry and his lack of control over his powers. I loved the visual of flashpoints in David’s life as television monitors in an open field. It requires methodical patience and a taste for acrostical puzzles. Suddenly, Haller awakens after a six-year stint in the asylum, to a case history session with the Interrogator (Hamish Linklater) near an abandoned pool. In a nod to Magneto’s imprisonment, Haller is wearing the eggshell-white jump suit from ‘X2’.

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Rather than skirting the connection to the X-Men, the word “mutant” is bandied about without italicizing it as if it were a bombshell. As the recent trilogy dabbled with, the series is steeped in 70’s-80’s decor. This is FX’s stab at the more ultraviolent Netflix shows are doing. The show is ambitiously scrambled, synaptic and psychotropic and that is meant as the highest compliment. It’s never a pejorative insult to say something is challenging when it possesses such a thrall.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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