David Haller/Legion

Spoiler Warning: This post does contain minor spoilers. Major spoilers are hidden, but if you really want to know nothing about this show going in, close this tab. Here be danger.

The standout first season of Legion has just ended, and while discussed a little on the podcast, I can't help but take the time to opine at length. An ambitious blend of pure mindfuckery, sets and costuming that bathe in anachronism, Legion Season 1 will remain a yardstick with which to measure future entrants into the adapted from comics field.

Legion stars Dan Stevens, who although British born, plays an American who has been admitted to a mental hospital for schizophrenia named David Haller. Comic nerds will recognize the name from various X-Men titles - David Haller is a mutant codenamed Legion,1 the powerful psychic offspring of Omega-class mutant and founder of the X-Men Charles Xavier, and leader in mutant research Moira McTaggert. In Legion, Haller is adopted and his true parentage is left as an exercise to the watcher, no doubt due to some studio level licensing bullshit. Though comic readers will wonder if the show will ever reveal Haller's genetic tree, the show doesn't suffer for it. Matt and I wondered when the show was in development whether Legion would be able to find it's feet while lacking the various proper tie-ins to mutants and the X-Men, and the answer is a resounding yes.

Stevens's portrayal of Haller is almost overshadowed by Aubrey Plaza, who proves she's more than April Ludgate, and while April fancies herself a dark, brooding individual, she's got nothing on The Shadow King. Plaza takes malevolence to new levels, boring into the very psyche of David in ways that you haven't really seen before on screen. She manages creepiness in a way that will make your skin crawl, and sexiness that makes it crawl all the same.

The supporting cast, compromised of David's fellow mutant love interest Syd, matriarchal Dr. Melanie Bird in charge of overseeing the facility and David's safe-keeping, scientist-mutant with the weirdest identity crisis you'll ever see on screen Cary/Kerry, and rounded out by a mutant with a penchant for tommy guns and memory recall Ptonomy. A small assortment of villains and gray-characters also accompany our heroes, each of which is fleshed out very well given the rather short season. There really isn't a weak link among them, and screen time is balanced well. Each gets their moment to shine in a manner you'd hope for given the characters and their importance to the story.

Another thing I'd be remiss to not mention, the photography in the show is simply wonderful. Color is employed excellently, sometimes used to set a mood or accentuate a character in the story. It's also probably one of the shows that's least afraid to play with different color motifs. Even with the different motifs, Legion certainly has a unique palette and feel created by it. It's simply more bold in choice than its contemporaries. Color choice in each shot is deliberate and crafted to give a feeling unlike anything I've seen on TV. Wardrobes are chosen carefully along with backgrounds to create a contrast that add to the often surreal feeling of the show. The way that shots are framed allows nearly any single shot of the show to feel like artwork.

Music and sound design take center stage as well. You can't accuse Legion of having Marvel's curse of immemorable music. Even if only a few beats, I can clearly remember tones and sounds from Legion. The music in the show is eclectic and especially good and used so cleverly that it's almost seamless. Sometimes reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film with the way it incorporates music not original to the show, while the original music adds to the show's feeling of schizophrenic delusion, or utterly ominous villain-lurking-in-the-corner-of-your-eye feeling. There is a nice blend of experimental electronica, post-modern guitar rock, and all of the above fused with more classical strings, percussion, and wind more typical of film soundtracks.

Finally, the show is a sort of cohesive mash of experimentalism. Bridging between Fight Club-esque mind games, visuals that look like an Aronofsky movie, and the superhero genre is no small feat. It's probably fortunate for me that the show aired in a traditional format. Had it used the Netflix model of binge until real life can't be ignored anymore, I might no longer be gainfully employed.

  1. I don't recall the codename being mentioned in the show.