This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until the day after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Will Legion's Fans Be...Legion?
Or is the series doomed?
What is this thing?
Legion, a new Marvel show based on a comic book of the same name.
When is it on?
Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX, starting February 8.
Well, super(anti-?)hero shows have never been hotter: The CW is making its living thanks to DC Comics basically living there, while Netflix won't be done with its Marvel quintilogy for some time. However, it is special for fans of the genre that Legion is the first live-action TV series to be connected to the X-Men universe.
What's its pedigree?
Noah Hawley, who created the TV adaptation of Fargo, is the creator and showrunner, and that's probably all I need to say about that. Featured actors include Aubrey Plaza, Jean Smart, and, in the lead role, Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens.
It's got a fair amount to recommend it. A clever opening sequence does a good job of setting the tone, as The Who's "Happy Jack" plays over a montage that starts with a boy hitting normal kid milestones like riding a tricycle and winning sports trophies but quickly becomes terrifying when the kid starts experiencing obvious and severe paranoid schizophrenia. Initial treatment does not go well, and by the time our lead character David Haller gets around to being played by a dark Stevens, he's putting his head in an electrical-cord noose and jumping.
Or is he? The pilot jumps around quite a bit, with fractured memories (hallucinations?) liberally assaulting us, but when things settle down, Haller is in the "Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital" dishing out sardonic exposition such as "It's my 260th Thursday as a passenger on the cruise ship Mental Health." His outlook is improved, however, by the arrival of Syd (played by Rachel Keller, not the only Fargo alum here), an alluring presence who puts the idea into David's head that -- even though he sees waking visions of a devil with yellow eyes -- he might not be as crazy as he thinks...before she disappears under mysterious circumstances. Yet another time jump deals with the investigation of same, as shadowy government figures try to decide whether to try to co-opt for their own use David's emergent powers (telekinesis is one; there are probably others), or simply kill him while they have the chance; the fact that they describe him as "the most powerful mutant [they've] ever encountered" sets the stakes pretty high.
Particularly in today's climate, it's hard to blame anyone who might have little patience for a story told by an unreliable narrator, even if said unreliability isn't the character's fault IN THIS PARTICULAR CASE. In the hanging example I mentioned earlier, David is later told that while there were marks on his neck, no cord was discovered after his attempt at suicide. So was David deluded, or is he being lied to? I feel like you can tell a story about a guy going crazy OR one about a guy being deceived, but to do both requires a delicate balancing act that can be very satisfying if done well, but can be its own special kind of frustrating when it's not. Three-quarters of the way through the episode, it's clear that nothing we've seen to date is necessarily canon; because of that, you may feel like your time is too risky an investment.
Also, I wouldn't say the show contains any truly revelatory elements; it's all stuff we've seen before in one form or another. In particular, the appearance of Syd in the mental hospital -- though I actually do like the character and think she has potential, plus there's an interesting twist involving her -- feels very Manic Pixie Dream Girl in a way you may not have time for.
Finally, while it's nice to think characters from the X-Men universe might make appearances, I'm wary of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.-esque "Oh, Magneto went to the can, you just missed him" references that always proved way more frustrating than fun.
Ultimately, despite all the surroundings, your enjoyment of the show is going to rest on what you think of Stevens's performance. For me, I'm impressed with his range thus far; I knew from Downton that he could be funny, if reluctantly so, but he's extremely vulnerable in the earlier scenes with Syd yet dark and pretty terrifying when he finally unleashes the whirlwind of his powers. And although she doesn't get to explain much in the first episode, the appearance of suffer-no-fools Jean Smart toward the end makes me feel like the plot is going to make more sense going forward. I'm in.