FX’s ‘Legion’, based on characters from Marvel’s X-Men universe, debuted to rave reviews. But what did most of them leave out?
By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
The wait for ‘Legion’ from announcement to premiere wasn’t a very long one, but I was indeed anxious to watch it. I’m a die-hard X-Men fan, so anything even remotely connected with that part of Marvel’s comic-book universe gets me interested. This comes at a time when superhero TV is seen by many as having reached critical mass. But the Dan Stevens starrer flips everything over its head, as the X-Men spinoff, set in a psychiatric hospital, has mutated the genre further.
‘Legion’ follows the story of David Haller, a troubled young man who may be more than human and has, since he was a teen, struggled with mental illness. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, he has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he’s confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might be real. His life at the hospital turns upside down – more than ever – when a new in-patient called Sydney Barrett (a dazzling Aubrey Plaza who’s like a more believable Harley Quinn) arrives, and fireworks figurative and literal ensue.
In spite of her shyness, Syd’s powers provide the awakening that David desperately needs. Or does he? Just one of many questions – a legion of them, ahem – loaded within. The questions deftly asked by the writers are outright gems: Are the voices in his a manifestation of his powers, or is he just crazy? Is his drug cohort Lenny real or not? Take for instance, a climactic battle royale of sorts, wherein our protagonist and others with superpowers tackle an army of grunts. Even that, in a show about mutants, seems fantastical.
Readers of the comic-books will know a fair chunk of the premise, as Haller is over there the son of Professor Xavier, founder of mutant super-team X-Men in the mythos. But here, no-one is quite sure, at least not yet.
Something tells me surprises are in store as the show progresses. One of them, no doubt, will be a hiding-in-the-shadows, gluttonous grotesquery that might well be Mojo, that inter-dimensional creature who delights in torturing the X-Men by casting them in deadly TV broadcasts that double as gladiator matches. But being the kind of show it is, it could be a totally new character.
Even without an outright connection to the movies, an insolent – defiant, even – X is cheekily present on the ‘Legion’ logo. While fans groaned at the notion that this is an independent romp through X-lore, it seems to be a plus for creative freedom. Super-showrunner Noah Hawley simply took a genre, did some splicing – and voila! – a masterpiece is born. Everything seems at once a chaotic mix of madness and fireworks, as well as a carefully, well-threaded sequential tapestry. The visuals too, are slick and fresh. It seems at times like the bastard child of Dexter (season one, of course), last year’s Westworld, and the absolute best bits of the better X-Men movies.
There are seldom more compelling things than the creative freedom that is offered on a big budget movie or TV show, and it is obvious that set designer Michael Wylie got just that, backed up by a clear love for architecture and mod Britannica which typify this show. It certainly looks like the 60s and 70s as imagined by someone in the past. The music, too, is righteous in its deliberate indignation: From 60s hits by The Who to jams by the Rolling Stones, the soundtrack is an absolute delight in its stark unpredictability.
If there’s going to be a problem with ‘Legion’, then it will be the scandalously scant eight episodes, which aren’t going to be enough, certainly not for me. Or the hordes of critics who are giving it resounding thumbs-ups. Currently boasting of a staggering 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems that the jury’s out on ‘Legion’. Critics all agree that it’s pretty good, and that’s where we beg to differ, because it’s actually a fantastic, fantastic TV show.