Review: Legion 1×1 (US: FX; UK: Fox UK)

Beautiful insanity


In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/PT, FX
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Fox UK. Starts tonight

Oh good. Another superhero TV show based on a Marvel comic. Because we’re so strapped for them right now, aren’t we?

Don’t pretend you’re not thinking that, just like me. I know you are. Yes, you. Don’t try to hide. I can see you right there. I so can. We’re thinking the same thoughts.

But Legion is different. Very different. It’s ostensibly based on the Legion comic, which features the somewhat mentally disturbed David Haller (aka Legion), the son of X-Men boss Professor X, who has a different superpower for each of his multiple personalities.

Chuck that fact out the window, though. Just screw it up and throw it out that window right over there next to you. Yes, that one. Which one did you think I meant?

What you have to remember is that this is a show written and directed by Noah Hawley, the creator of Fargo, and this first episode at least is actually more like watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest while on LSD.

It stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) as Haller, here a once-promising boy whose life falls apart in his teenage years once he starts to hear the voices and be able to move things with his mind. Or at least he thinks he can (don’t we all?), since he’s subsequently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and put on medication. After college, though, everything falls apart again and before he knows it, he’s locked away in a mental hospital for his own good.

There he meets his new best friend Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), but everything stays more or less the same until Rachel Keller (Fargo) turns up. Keller’s almost as odd as him, not wanting to be touched by anyone, but soon the two are inseparable. Gradually, though, the possibility dawns on Stevens that maybe he’s not mad and that actually he really can move things with his mind and those voices might be other people’s thoughts.

To say the first episode is trippy is to really sell the series short. Every frame and scene seems designed to alienate you and make you wonder if it’s real or the delusion of a schizophrenic. One minute someone will be using an iPad, the next we’ll be in a perfectly designed set from the 1970s where someone’s living inside a tree, the next we’ll discover that person over there we assumed was real is an hallucination, the next we discover that an hallucination was actually perfectly real but a ghost. There are dream sequences and French dance numbers. Time jumps around. 

Sure, there are superpowers but not of the “look how hard I can hit you” kind but “I can enter your memories” and “I can swap bodies with you” kinds designed to make you question reality as it warps and twists. Plaza’s channelling David Bowie, Hawley’s character is named after Roger Barrett from Pink Floyd and to help the geniusly twitchy Stevens understand Haller’s mindset, Hawley gave him a 160-track playlist that included “everything from experimental French sound design to people screaming into bins”.

It’s insane. But in a good way. Right, snuggle buddy?

All of that is quite alienating at first, but there’s also humour in Legion, as well as a pleasingly innocent love affair between Stevens and the possibly imaginary Keller.

Unfortunately, it’s the end of the episode that makes me worry. Because that’s when the superheroes with their “look how hard I can hit you” superpowers turn up. Is the rest of the series going to be like this episode or are we going to be getting more of the hitting?

I really, really hope the former because that would be just amazing. Same time next week at your place? I’ll bring my night vision goggles like last time.