by Coop Cooper
The new superhero TV series “Legion” premiered on the FX Network last week and it has the potential to be a big hit.
After a troubled childhood, David Haller (Dan Stevens) is admitted to a psychiatric facility where he is held for years following some inexplicable and extremely destructive occurrences allegedly caused by him. Heavily medicated to control his ‘schizophrenia’, the child-like David meets fellow patient Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) and immediately becomes smitten. They form a quick bond, even though Syd’s condition forbids any physical contact. When David impulsively kisses Syd, a unexplained catastrophe happens, resulting in David’s eventual capture by a shadowy organization who determines that David is actually one of the most powerful ‘mutants’ on the planet. David soon learns that he is being groomed as the primary weapon in an upcoming war between humans and super-powered mutants.
If you couldn’t tell from the not-so-subtle ‘X’ carefully placed inside the “O” of the “Legion” logo, this FX TV show takes place within the “X-Men” universe. In order to sidestep the expensive rights that go along with that franchise, it is likely you will never hear the X-Men mentioned on the show or any of the characters, including Professor X who is actually David’s father in the comic books. The best we can hope for are thinly-veiled references to the franchise and possible appearances by very minor characters from the comics. Otherwise, “Legion” is all but divorced from its comic book source material in which he was often one of the X-Men’s most dangerous foes.
In the comics, David Haller is classified as an ‘Omega-level’ mutant, a label given out to only a handful of mutants deemed to be so powerful, they could single-handedly destroy the Earth. He has multiple personality disorder and each of his dozens of personalities has their own individual super-power. Some of these personalities are heroes, others are evil, thus his moniker ‘Legion’ inherently identifies him as a one-man army. The potential for “Legion” as a series seems obvious once fully explained and it is very likely the Legion character inspired the villain in M. Night Shyamalan’s recent box office hit “Split”, which was ironically played by James “Professor X” McAvoy.
But none of this is explained in the “Legion” pilot and many who watched it were probably interested, yet confused as to what is actually going on. This leads us to the most exciting aspect of the show, which is its visual style and dreamlike structure meant to represent David Haller’s fractured mind. Much like his own mental state, it is difficult to determine what is part of the real storyline and what is a hallucination. At one point he imagines himself in a Bollywood dance number (an episode highlight) and up until the end of the episode, he believed that his powers were a figment of his imagination as well. The visual style evokes filmmakers such as the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, David Lynch and many other avant garde auteurs. Developed by Noah Hawley, creator of the “Fargo” TV series, “The Unusuals” and one of the creative directors of “Bones”, “Legion” is poised to please critics and audiences alike.
Dan Stevens, most famous for his tragic role as Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey”, plays David as if he has the mind of an immature adolescent with arrested development. Upon first viewing him in “Abbey”, I mistook him for a generic British soap actor. After his departure from that show, I learned Hollywood was grooming him for stardom. Since then he displayed immense talent in the horror/action/thriller “The Guest” and an impeccable talent for American accents. I think “Legion” will be his breakout role into possible A-list career territory. It is too early to tell if co-star Rachel Keller has the same magnetism but she and Stevens do have a lot of chemistry. I am curious to see how the character of Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) will be used but it appears she will be one of David Haller’s first super-powered personalities.
“Legion” has all of the ingredients for a cult classic show; it only needs to find the right audience. “Legion” airs on the FX channel on Wednesdays at 9pm Central.
Rating: 4 and ½ out of 5 stars