This Legion review contains spoilers. To read a different, spoiler-free review of this episode, click here. Consider this review a continuation of the spoiler-free version.
Legion Episode One
I’m worried about Legion. Before you take this the wrong way, let me clarify; I’m over the moon in love with the pilot, but I’m worried with what other people will think. Not the critical reception, because as you’ve probably seen for yourself by now, the show is earning rave reviews. No, I’m worried about it finding an audience. As I’m typing this I find it completely bizarre that I’m consumed in thought about whether this show will earn a second season. Here I am worrying about what its ratings will be, how much it costs to make, and whether it will earn back its buck enough to keep this damn crazy train rolling. Implausibly, that’s what my brain is on fire about. Will the superhero fans embrace the show’s avant garde leanings? Will the more seasoned TV viewers dismiss this as just another comic book show without watching? Can I stay here forever?
Now, focusing for a minute, I should say that I’m worried about Legion, the character (or David Haller, as we’re introduced to him here). No doubt he’s quite the troublesome guy. With the voices, the constant lapses into memory, and the conversing with the dead, it’s easy to see how he ended up in the care of a mental institution. As far as unreliable narrators go, David may take the cake. Between having enormous telepathy and telekinetic abilities and simultaneously being convinced that he’s insane and unwell, David surely has developed personality issues. I’m worried for him, but also worried about whether we can trust what we’re seeing through David’s point of view.
In a stunning opening montage that sets the tone of the episode, we watch David’s evolution up until he finds himself attempting suicide, all ironically set to The Who’s “Happy Jack.” The optical bombardment continues throughout the proceedings; the chronology of the scenes, between the asylum and David’s interrogation, the purposely retro styled clothing, contrasted with the space mod interiors which make it all seem like this could be taking place in any era, it’s all meant to keep the viewer as disoriented as David.
Throughout interviews with shadowy government figures (the best X-Men villains), we learn about David’s days in the obviously named Clockworks hospital of psychiatry and his girlfriend, the even more obviously named Syd Barrett (if you’re not hip, Google it). Syd is an optimist who feels self-assured despite the fact she cannot make physical contact with another person. Eventually, we learn that’s for good reason, as any time she touches someone else, she temporarily switches bodies with that person. We learn that because she and David touch, and while she’s in David’s body, she uses his powers to terrifying effect. She traps everyone in the hospital in their rooms and makes their doors disappear. It doesn’t sound like much, but the reveal is shot with such horror movie gusto, just one of the many inventively shot scenes of the episode, and it ends in the casualty of Lenny, David’s buddy in the asylum.
Lenny’s death is truly shocking given the prominence of actress Aubrey Plaza’s appearances in the marketing, but bringing her back as a ghost in David’s head is a fun way to keep her employed. It will be cool to see her character fleshed out further after she made quite an impression in this episode. I also can’t wait to discover more layers to David and Syd’s relationship. How do you have a relationship with someone you cannot be physically close with? How do you recreate that proximity in other ways? Plenty of people have long distance relationships, but how do you avoid the temptation when that person is always close by? Will Syd begin to covet the power that David has? Will David relish the escape from his piercing mind?
I’m eager to learn more about our antagonists too. What organization does Hamish Linklater’s humorously droll agent work for? Who exactly is the old man watching the CTV footage of David and what animal does he have caged up? Hell, let’s ignore those two completely and talk about the beast with yellow eyes! I haven’t been that creeped out by a monster since the Winkie’s Diner scene in Mulholland Drive! Did you see him in the background of the final scene?!
Speaking of the final scene, the memorable rescue of David by Syd, Ptonomy, and Kerry devised by Jean Smart’s Melanie – it left me feeling conflicted. It was a tense, chaotic little number of an action scene, yet it felt too reminiscent of what would happen in the usual superhero story. I was having fun in the asylum, I grew accustomed to the confusion and enjoyed learning so much about the characters by watching them interact, so seeing a story beat that I recognized so fully (mutant teams forming, battling it out in the woods) took me out of the wonderful little trip I was having. Hell, maybe that was the desired effect. David sure seemed jarred too!
If that sounds negative, it’s just nitpicking, because as I have already said, Legion won me over completely within the first 15 minutes. I’m sure it’s possible that it will slip up from here, indulging style too often over substance, but I doubt it. With interesting characters cemented and a dizzying aesthetic that borrows from so many influences that I love, Legion’s powers only look to become stronger. I should stop worrying.
The Best of the Rest
- Welcome to weekly Legion coverage! I’ll be reviewing each episode of Legion’s first season. If you didn’t heed the advice in the header, my spoiler-free review contains even more thoughts on this first episode, unfortunately not delivered in bullet form.
- The music choices, just as in Fargo, are killer. Best use of the rip-off Beatles-era Stones I’ve ever seen in the David and Syd courtship montage.
- As I said in my other review, Dan Stevens and Rachel Keller deliver dynamite performances, and it’s nice to see Katie Aselton, from FX’s The League, pop up as David’s sister Amy.
- The show is such a blender of influences, we even get a Bollywood-inspired dance number.
- Ok, even though I have my reservations about the escape scene, it was still pretty awesome and inspires confidence that there will be other electrifying action set-pieces planned ahead.
- Ok, so is Charles Xavier showing up on this bad boy or what?