Legion TV Review

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There are occasionally shows that come along that get so many points for difficulty that it almost doesn’t matter how much splash they make entering the water. A lot of series probably have delusions of existing in such a sphere of complexity, but they haven’t seen Legion.

The adapted story of a Marvel character that virtually no one knows, Legion spends a lot of its establishment time trying to distance itself from anything that makes you think of superheroes. It’s also the story of a man lost in his own mind, which means that if you have any idea what’s going on at any given point, something has gone wrong with the production’s effort. Now, somehow, it has to get you to watch it, and want to keep watching it. That’s triple lindy level television.

Dan Stevens stars as David Haller, a man living in a mental facility, but in what might be the present he is being interviewed about an “incident” that took place at said facility. He thought he was getting his schizophrenia (and whatever else) under control, until Syd (Rachel Keller) arrived and sparked something in him.

Things quickly spin out of control, as we jump from David’s time in the facility with Syd, his life outside living with his sister, Amy (Katie Aselton), the authorities he has to explain himself to, and the group that rescues him from said authorities. We have little that gives us a better idea of what’s real and/or now than David has, and that’s before factoring in the things that are obviously delusions.

Legion FX

photo: Chris Large/FX

A lot of shows, and films, have aimed at creating a sense in the viewer of being uncomfortable by way of true uncertainty about the events unfolding before them. That of basically being along for David’s ride, suspecting it could all disappear at any moment, but having no dancing elephants around to let you decipher the reality from the dream. Not many actually manage this, but Legion not only gets there, it throttles you with that state of viewing. It not only jumps back and forth from delusion to reveals of delusion as delusion, but goes back to make you wonder if that reveal was the delusion.

Assuming the execution doesn’t become laughable, you have to give the effort a lot of credit. Dan Stevens apparently gets this idea, and has a handle on the difficult theory he’s taking on, because nothing about this show is going to be bad as a result of his lack of trying. Contrary to popular opinion (maybe), it’s actually rather difficult to see an actor trying like hell. That makes Legion worth a view just to get a glimpse of what that actually looks like. Just the fact that Stevens manages to believably deliver having conversations with people when he: knows they are delusions, knows they aren’t, and isn’t sure, ought to get him some attention when awards roll around again. I would say that’s virtually impossible, but Tatiana Maslany gives me hope.

This isn’t one that will hit everybody right, but fans of quirky sci-fi will not want to miss this for anything. Adding to the previously mentioned difficulty of the show, there aren’t really any straightforward roles for the supporting cast, as you might imagine. Aubrey Plaza is a wonderful treat as the vaguely mental friend David confides in during his hospital stay, and Keller shines as the mentally vague touchstone that may, or may not, lead anywhere in the end. Hamish Linklater may have the closest thing to a “normal” role, and he’s perfectly cast as the interrogator David spars with.

It’s no surprise that FX isn’t overplaying the comic connection here, and the marketing push for the show almost avoids it completely. I imagine the theory is that fans will know anyway, and avoiding the temptation to splash “X-Men,” or, “Based on the comic…,” will keep some from staying away. It’s a good move, because it isn’t really relevant. It’s just a fun, wild show that gives new meaning to the very idea of keeping you guessing, and putting the idea of brightly-colored costumes and flashy fight scenes into your head would take you in entirely the wrong direction.

 

Summary

Legion has a few rough spots, but they are mostly a result of trying to do something so strange. Certain episodes bog down slightly under the weight of trying to focus on the characters, but what a problem to have. None of it should distract much, and it's an incredible ride.
9.5

Amazing

Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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