As this is one of the best first episodes of a series I have seen in quite some time, this review will be spoiler free.
Legion is FX and Marvel’s new show about Dan Stevens (David Haller) who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young adult, but who turns out to actually be some kind of very powerful mutant. The first episode, in which we are introduced to Dan in the confines of a mental hospital, features some top-notch acting from Haller, brilliant cinematography (especially for television), and superb storytelling that could easily compete with Marvel’s original Netflix programming. It’s also important to nod to the excellent foils for Dan, delivered by strong performances from Aubrey Plaza and Jean Smart. The only major downside to the show is the presence of the commercial breaks (sadly unavoidable on a network). If you happen to be able to watch the show on DVR or On-Demand, I would definitely recommend an uninterrupted viewing.
Viewers new to this story (originally penned in comic form by Chris Claremont) may be at first confused by the unorthodox storytelling format, but altering rapidly between past and present suits the show quite well. Coupled with stark, stylized shots of directed, sterile lights against corners of crippling darkness, viewers will be compelled by some pretty intense highs and lows! The set design and colours are a bit retro, but the placement of neutrally designed, un-branded objects in the scenery makes the setting somewhat timeless (or, more appropriately, out of time), and this is to the shows’ benefit. You are constantly left feeling a bit out of place, and it prompts you to focus on the faces, emotions, and deliberate interactions of the characters on a very personal level. I hope the quality of the direction continues to keep the show on this level, as they are up against obvious rating restrictions by airing on a network. Where Netflix can insert graphic violence and strong language, this show will be forced to impress us through other creative delivery methods.
The mystery of who is and isn’t a Mutant is sure to keep us guessing for episodes to come, and this show is doing a great job of easing us into its topsy turvy world. We’re dipping our toes in a mysterious, turbulent pool of questions, and we can only hope the show continues to provide us with meaningful moments and some eventual payoff. Cameras bounce and twirl around seemingly nonsensical whimsy one moment, and zoom out to uncomfortable, gripping moments in the next, but we’re able to keep pace with Dan.
If everything that was true is false, and everything false presumably turned true, what are we to believe as the observers of this tale? Will the journey take us along into places of darkness and madness, or perhaps someplace more revealing, and illuminating for long-time fans of the X-Men / Mutant Universe? Only time will (or won’t) tell us, so in the meantime I recommend we all take the time to check out ‘Legion’ on FX. If I had to pick out the faults, I would say that the CG has a couple less-than-stellar moments of execution, and the portrayal of the investigator got a bit too heavy-handed towards the end of the episode, but these are nitpicks at most. I give “Chapter 1” four and a half missing doors out of five.