NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Legion” are present in this review
Steadily, it appears that a bridge is being built between Marvel and Fox. After Fox pressed and begged Marvel for the television rights to X-Men for years, after Fox’s movie division saw lots of success with their X-Men movie franchise that’s been ongoing for over fifteen years now, Marvel finally agreed to a deal that would see not one, but two separate X-Men primetime shows made for Fox’s subsidiary TV networks. One, a still-untitled pitch for the FOX network, hasn’t been ordered to series yet and is in the pilot stage for the 2017-2018 season, but the other, Legion, which quickly and confidently sped through development since its announcement, has now begun its run on Fox’s premium cable network, FX.
There’s been a lot of buzz among television pundits and Marvel fans alike in regards to Legion, not only because it’s on one of the most prestigious cable networks available on television, but also because its showrunner happens to be Noah Hawley, who has produced one of FX’s best and most award-winning shows to date, Fargo. Expectations are thus very high for Legion, but thankfully, the show appears to be another masterwork for Hawley, with its first 90-minute episode being visually stunning, consistently brilliant, and a wonderful head trip of epic proportions.
If you’re unfamiliar with the titular character, Legion stars David Haller, a familiar mutant from Marvel Comics lore, with a big connection to a leading X-Men personality. It’s never explicitly stated in this first episode, but as the showrunners have confirmed, and as Marvel/X-Men enthusiasts know, David is the illegitimate son of Professor X himself, Charles Xavier, the byproduct of an affair that the good professor never really speaks of, to the point of not even being aware of David’s existence in many X-Men stories!
Legion, which happens to be David’s mutant mantle in Marvel Comics lore, also happens to be one of the most powerful mutants, and, hell, one of the most powerful beings, period, in the Marvel Universe, to the point where he even rivals mutant heavyweights like Magneto and Apocalypse, and even his own father, Professor X, who is supposed to be one of the most powerful psychics in Marvel lore! This is because Legion has the ability to absorb and intake people’s personalities into his own mind, and since he can also effortlessly steal powers with his immense psychic abilities, he’s basically Professor X and Apocalypse rolled into one highly unstable anti-hero and occasional villain. Needless to say, Legion is no joke, and the fact that he struggles with mental illness only makes him more dangerous!
At the start of Legion however, David doesn’t even seem to be fully aware of what he is, or that he even has mutant powers at all. At this point, the public seems to be mostly unaware of mutants (it’s a bit unclear if Legion is supposed to be a period piece, since the show leaps in and out of a 1960’s style to differentiate sequences in David’s mind from those in reality), as David is being bounced between psychiatric institutions, having a rather loose grip on reality, and being defined by mysterious incidents of lost time, destruction and general confusion that he can’t explain. When the show begins, David is meeting his latest therapist and is undergoing his latest assessment, though this time, some shady mutant observers have found him, and they’re determined to study him, to no good end it would seem.
Because of David’s mental issues, he’s quickly established as an unreliable narrator/perspective, and this means that Legion is often obtuse and confusing, though not in a bad way. Hawley is an expert at character-driven TV shows, and as you can imagine, Legion does an excellent job of putting you into the shoes of its lead, with viewers likely being just as confused as David is in any given scene. This means that, despite how strangely the show looks and unfolds, it’s very easy to connect with David’s character, even if it’s a connection based on sheer confusion and dread. This is just the first element of what makes Legion so ingenious; In being impossible to understand at this point, the show becomes strangely inviting, if you’re willing to keep an open mind towards it. Of course, helping this is the fact that the show is gorgeously produced, and full of vivid, trippy and mentally stimulating imagery. It does its home on FX proud, as it’s one of the most impressively-produced modern television shows of recent years, even putting aside the high modern standard of the X-Men license.
The show’s supporting cast is also immensely enjoyable, and filled with outstanding performances that effortlessly measure up to Dan Stevens’ highlight performance as David. Aubrey Plaza is delightfully weird as David’s asylum buddy, Lenny Busker, who was originally written as a middle-aged man, though Plaza’s talent for quirky, blunt characters takes Lenny to the next level, even as it’s most obvious that much of ‘Lenny’ is a personality that lives in David’s mind. This is made apparent when Lenny is killed around halfway through the episode, in an apparent accident related to David’s powers. A lot of this is connected to David’s so-called asylum girlfriend, Syd, played by Fargo’s Rachel Keller, who also appears to be a mutant herself, namely one that can swap minds with whomever she touches with exposed skin. Syd doesn’t exist in Marvel Comics lore, and is made up for this show, but her abilities do nicely call back to X-Men favourites like Rogue, who struggle with intimacy and human connection due to their abilities.
If you’re hungry for connections to other facets of X-Men lore, or a more blatant connection to Fox’s X-Men film universe in Legion’s first episode at least, you may be initially disappointed, though this is difficult to care about when this show is so superb on its own merits. David is the only personality taken from Marvel’s X-Men media at this point, with no characters appearing nor references made from any of Fox’s X-Men movies either. It’s also not even directly stated whether Legion truly does share a universe with Fox’s X-Men movies at all, since Hawley and the producers seem to keep going back and forth on that question. Some conspiracy theories even claim that Legion may even eventually be revealed to take place in Marvel’s own shared Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a covert way to sneak mutants into the world of Marvel’s own live-action movies and TV shows in the near-future. That’s significantly less likely than just placing Legion in Fox’s X-Men film universe, or a private neutral universe outside of that canon, but the bottom line remains that the show is largely staying away from much of a direct X-Men connection for now.
Like I said though, it’s difficult to care about the lack of X-Men connections when the show is so fantastic. Even as the first episode purely focuses on establishing David as a character, without much forward momentum in the plot until he’s scooped up by a mutant psychiatrist’s ragtag group of mentally troubled mutants in the climax (which is the one point where you see any real action), Legion is constantly compelling, and impossible to take your eyes off of. The show can be mentally draining in its first episode, due to the heavy, trippy and mentally complex storytelling, so you’ll definitely want to watch it when you’re wide awake and eager to enjoy a heavy small screen meal, but there’s really nothing to complain with this first Legion offering when it comes down to it. It’s an amazing, highly distinct way to carve out a new, fresh spin on live-action X-Men media, and it’s impossible to truly describe in any kind of succinct fashion, beyond the fact that it’s wonderfully brilliant and immensely creative.
Like David’s incredible powers, this show just has to be seen to be believed!
- David's unreliable perspective keeps viewers guessing
- Excellent supporting cast both in and out of David's mind
- Visually stunning and highly well-produced