X-Men may have launched superhero movies into the mainstream, but let’s all admit that the franchise is now kind of a mess—a weird and wonderful mess, but a mess all the same. Legion is also weird and wonderful, but make no mistake: it knows exactly what it’s trying to do, even when the audience might not have any clue what’s going on.
FX and Marvel’s first collaboration on a live-action television series, Legion stars Dan Stevens as David Haller, a paranoid schizophrenic recovering in a psychiatric hospital (named Clockworks because yeah, let’s just go full Kubrick over here) after attempting suicide under unusual circumstances. Of course, because this is an X-Men story, his psychosis is not what it seems; he’s actually a powerful mutant, and when his telepathic and telekinetic abilities attract the attention of an evil government organization, his entire world turns upside-down. You know, not that it wasn’t pretty upside-down already.
Although the show exists in the same world as 20th Century Fox’s movies (the term “mutant” is thrown about pretty casually), comic fans shouldn’t expect too many Easter Eggs, at least not in the first three episodes. Rather than clunkily name-dropping the heroes you’ve been watching for the past 16+ years, Legion straight-up cribs their personalities and powers and transfers them to the show’s own original characters instead. There’s a secluded mutant facility led by a woman (Jean Smart) who, just like Professor X, wants to use her students just as much as she wants to help them; David’s love interest (Rachel Keller) is basically Rogue with different hair and a non-regional accent, and the rest of the team is an ethnically diverse group of world class badasses who might as well called be the Similar But Legally Distinct X-Men. The only character who feels wholly new is David’s friend Lenny, and probably if only because Aubrey Plaza cannot be put into a box so easily, man.
None of this is a bad thing, by the way, at least not if you’re looking for smart, nuanced live-action stories about mutants and don’t mind that they aren’t exactly the ones you already know. After all, a television series certainly gives its audience more to dig into than an overstuffed blockbuster does, and there’s a lot of digging to be done in Legion—both in terms of plot andimagery. I eagerly away the thesis-length breakdowns of every single one of David’s visions that will almost certainly appear on Reddit within hours of each episode’s release.
Those Redditors will definitely have their work cut out for them, too. As to be expected from a story about mental illness and human consciousness, Legion plays fast and loose with narrative convention, and it can be tough to keep up if you’re not giving it your full attention. Luckily that won’t be difficult, because the show’s cinematography is completely and utterly engrossing. Imagine if Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, and the Coen Brothers all swapped brains and started collaborating on a show that’s maybe set in the ’70s (except not really), and you have a rough idea of what to expect. Or, if you’ve seen showrunner Noah Hawley’s work on Fargo, it’s like that, but with an added dose of cerebral, horror-fueled psychedelia. Also some vaguely Bollywood-style dancing. No, seriously.
Oh, speaking of horror, I lied! There is one character that diehard Marvel nerds will absolutely recognize (spoiler to avoid if you want to go in blind): a menacing “demon with yellow eyes” who appears to David during especially traumatic episodes in his past. I won’t spoil the surprise, but if it’s who it looks like it is, their presence has very interesting implications for where Legioncan go within the world of the X-Men—or, more accurately, far beyond it.
But there’s no point in getting so far ahead of ourselves with a show like Legion (although I’m sure that won’t stop theorists on Reddit!)—it’s designed to keep you on your toes, and it definitely succeeds in that endeavor. With any luck, more X-Men shows will follow, and they’ll all be just as incredible as this one is.
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
Images: FX Networks