Legion is the latest comic to television series adaptation we’ve gotten in recent years, with the title character based on the Marvel comics character of the same name, which is connected to the X-Men universe. Created for FX in association with Marvel Television and with Noah Hawley of Fargo series fame commanding the ship as showrunner, Legion focuses on David Haller, a man diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, and has been a patient in various psychiatric hospitals since. After Haller has an encounter with a fellow psychiatric patient, he is confronted with the possibility that there may be more to him than mental illness.
Pilot episodes are normally sketchy episodes that do a lot of setup and spent plenty of time giving us snippets of backstory for each character before the series can get interesting a few episodes down the line. Then there’s some pilots which just confidently embraces its boldness and manages to give you very little, yet completely win you over with its overall attention of care and craft involved in creating such material. Legion falls into the latter for me and, in my opinion, it may just be one of the best opening episodes to a television series I’ve watched in the last few years.
The pilot operates in a way that it does its best to not literally come out and say that it takes place within the X-Men universe or even that it is connected to it in any way for casual audience viewers. There’s no mention of the word mutant or if you read up on the backstory of David online, his X-Men parentage and uses David as the main focus for the audience to question what is real and what is visually popping out from his head. The narrative is just as disjointed as David’s memory, jump between him being questioned in an isolated room after ‘the incident’, to his childhood memories to meeting the woman of his dreams inside Clockworks in Syd Barrett and for good measure one of the most randomly out of the blue yet enjoyable dance numbers since that one in Ex Machina. Immediately a love arc is ignited between the man suffering from schizophrenia and the woman that doesn’t want to be touched by anyone. It’s an intriguing love angle and one that leads to disastrous consequences, even though Syd ignites a spark within David by challenging him to accept his illness and to challenge his surroundings. We see how David is getting driven more insane, as anyone would, by the predictable daily routine that he’s had to redo over the last few years and Syd gives him a new purpose. The direction from Noah Hawley is terrific here, everything feels purposely placed within each frame, right down to the colour schemes within the mental hospital to the interrogation room, so a terrific job from Michael Wylie (production design), John Alvarez (art direction) and Ide Foyle (set design) on that front. Also great job by Dana Gonzales in the cinematography front. The effects team even get props on three key scenes involving David from a kitchen to a different room and the surreal damage after he breaks Syd’s rule.
From just this episode along I feel that there will be a lot of buzz about Dan Stevens performance as David Haller and wouldn’t be surprised if he’ll be a name shouted for award consideration as he’s absolutely terrific here playing a variety of emotions with the same amount of vulnerability that makes him somewhat of a everyman, even though he may be more powerful than a human being can achieve. He’s surrounded by a solid supporting cast in Aubrey Plaza as Haller’s friend Lenny, Rachel Keller as Syd and Hamish Linklater as the interrogator.
The only fault of the episode in my eyes was the visual effects in the final five minutes of the show, while David’s flip-out ability feels grounded in blending practical with visual effects, they seem to go all out in the latter in the end sequence and it just didn’t look right to me. With the way the narration is told, I wonder just how easy it can be for the casual viewer to follow the series. Other than that, this is definitely the most ambitious, unique and confidently complete pilots I’ve seen in quite some time and I’m definitely onboard for what’s to jump with the rest of the season. Embrace the madness with David Haller.