FX’s new series Legion is based off the X-Men character of David Haller. Haller in the source material is portrayed as the illegitimate son of Charles Xavier, possessing vast mental powers like his father, but also various mental illnesses, making him more unstable than anything else.
Can a TV series be built around such a figure, someone who sees and hears people who may only exist in his mind?
Actually, yes it can, and be done quite effectively too.
It helps that the series producer/creator is Noah Hawley, the mind behind that other great 2014 crime story anthology series Fargo, especially since that one is still going strong, True Detective. Hawley has a great sense of visual style, place, and pacing, and it’s fully on display here in the pilot episode that he also wrote and directed. Heck, the production design is distinctive all by itself. When is the story set? Music and fashion suggests a few decades ago, but there’s also modern technology on display. That aesthetic gives the series a more timeless look as a result.
Despite appearances, the story is fairly straightforward once all the flashbacks are more or less explained to the audience. David Haller has grown up as a disturbed young man. He believes he’s schizophrenic. He very well might be actually. He’s spent his entire life hearing voices in his head, and its only at the pilot’s halfway point that it becomes a bit more clear how much of what David is experiencing might be real. To be certain, there is at least one character that only seems to exist in David’s head, but other characters may or may not be there and David can’t always tell the difference himself.
Since the show is keeping it a secret, I was thinking Parks and Recreation‘s Aubrey Plaza might be a figment of David’s imagination at first glance. The answer to what she is comes out a bit more gradually, as does Hawley’s pacing. The concept of “mutants” should be familiar enough for the intended audience, but until the last scene, there isn’t much sense of there being any other mutants aside from David. And even then, David just has these momentary freak-outs that result in some rather impressive slow-motion visual effects of stuff going flying while he stands in the center untouched.
It helps immensely that Dan Stevens, formerly of Downton Abbey, is cast in the lead role. He registers the confusion David experiences on a routine basis rather well, as well as showing the internal struggles that David’s mind keeps hitting him with. He seems as amazed by everything as anyone else, and it helps make the show what it is.
I’ll probably have a full review when the season is over, but for now, with one episode down, let’s just say it gets nine out of ten yellow-eyed devils.
Yeah, I want to know more about that yellow-eyed devil.