Main Cast: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller
Creator: Noah Hawley
Do you ever have dreams that are so trippy and disjointed that you wake up and just think…WTF? Yeah, me too. It’s totally bewildering and while you can pick out bits and pieces that might connect, they’re so buried in mind flotsam that they’re nearly unrecognizable. Have you ever wanted to watch a TV show that mimics that experience with eerie precision? Then welcome to the first season of FX’s Legion.
First let me say that it took me several episodes to recognize star Dan Stevens as Matthew from Downton Abbey. Quite the switch-up there, Dan. He is David, an institutionalized schizophrenic man with a long history of mental illness. His sister comes to visit him, but it’s with the kind of resigned weariness that lets us know that his has been a long, windy, unpleasant journey that isn’t likely to get easier.
But he has friends. Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) is a fellow patient with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and new on the scene is Sydney (Rachel Keller), another patient on whom David immediately develops a profound crush. David seems like one of the more stable patients, but it is absolutely clear that his thinking is not really all that lucid. How is that clear, you ask? Well, we see the world through David’s distorted filter. So we know, oh yes we know, just how unfriendly his reality is.
But there’s a catch here. This is a Marvel universe show – and that means there is something special about David. No, he isn’t Iron Man, but he just might be a mutant, a la X-Men. Maybe even a really powerful mutant who needs some help from others who understand his confusion and isolation. Maybe they can even help him reconcile his troubling past.
So I’m not going to tell you any more about the story arc. If you’re familiar with this universe you don’t need it, if you aren’t you’ll want to find out for yourself. Maybe. If you can get through this season.
The basic premise of Legion is fun (I know none of the character’s background story so it’s all new to me) – powerful superhero type misdiagnosed as mentally ill as a child and finally as an adult learning that his abilities are not a sign of illness at all, but of tremendous psychic strength. How does one deal with such a revelation, and figure out what’s real and what isn’t? That’s a terrific journey, especially when there’s a significant roadblock in one’s head making it far, far more difficult.
But…to be honest, this season is mostly a hot mess. It looks amazing – our trips into David’s altered mind are filled with psychedelic imagery and top notch effects. But it’s also nearly irretrievably confusing. I watched every single one of the season’s eight episodes and have no idea what was going on at least 50% of the time. It does come together, somewhat, by the end, but a lot of people will have given up on Legion long before episode 8. Getting into a troubled protagonist’s mind is a great idea, but they got far too carried away with trippy imagery and dipped far too deeply into David’s confusion. He can be completely lost and bewildered, we shouldn’t have to be.
I do see some hope here, though. The season ends with a nice promise that it will be less muddled next time around, having given some resolution in the area that was creating the most chaos. And I like Dan Stevens as David – even though he was more than a little hamstrung by his character’s extreme weirdness. I also love Aubrey Plaza, who has a really interesting, really complex role that you’re going to have to take my word is worth this flailing first season. Along for the ride are the wonderful Jean Smart and Bill Irwin who hopefully will have more coherent things to do in the future.
Overall, I’m going middle of the road for Legion – Season 1. It has a lot of promise in the concept, looks amazing, obviously has the budget for terrific effects, and I like the characters and the actors. But I’m only willing to put up with just so much befuddled nonsense in the storytelling. If season two doesn’t come out strong with a significantly heightened level of coherence, I’m out. So give it a shot, especially if you’re familiar with this Marvel character, but know that you have to make it through a lot of unwieldy weirdness to get to the next stage. I’ll be watching, season 2 – don’t let me down.