The Drama Has An Amazing Cast & Great Middle Act, But Stumbles At The Start & Finish
Noah Hawley is currently one of the hottest tickets out there for delivering great television dramas. FX first gave the writer a chance with adapting the classic Coen Brothers’ film Fargo into a television series. The first two seasons of Fargo are nearly flawless with great atmosphere, great acting, and trademark Coen Brothers emulation. Now Hawley takes on the world of comic books by adapting a lesser known X-Men character, David Haller, aka Legion.
My favorite story that involves Legion in the X-Men comics is probably his most well-known tale. That is the killing of his father Professor Xavier and the formation of the ‘Age of Apocalypse’ timeline. The ‘Age of Apocalypse’ will always be my all-time favorite comic series the X-Men have taken part in. However, this Legion doesn’t seem to have the connection to his father, Professor X. At least not yet.
The series opens with David, portrayed by Dan Stevens, being interrogated by government officials who are trying to figure out if he is a powerful mutant. David has been a patient at the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital for the past six years, after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. He believes the voices in his head are simply his split personalities. However, they might actually be the inner thoughts of those around him.
When he meets and falls for Sydney Barrett, played by Rachel Keller, his whole world turns upside down… or was it already upside down? During the interrogation, he learns of a tragic event that may have been his fault. This event led to the death of his best friend at the hospital, Lenny, played by Aubrey Plaza. As they ask David more and more questions, he really starts to question his illness and his abilities.
The best part of Legion is hands down the amazing cast. Every part of the cast is awesome. However, the performances from the show’s three main actors, Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, and Aubrey Plaza, are what make this show a hit.
First of all, Stevens as David Haller is outstanding. You really connect with his character through his clueless portrayal. Throughout the whole first season, you constantly question everything right along side him. While you may know what he’s thinking, it’s what David doesn’t know that really pushes the narrative.
Additionally, Rachel Keller as Sydney (Syd), continues to play amazing characters for Noah Hawley. She also appears in the second season of Hawley’s Fargo. Syd fears physical contact with other people. Despite that fear, she falls for and loves David, but their relationship is difficult thanks to her condition. Turns out that condition is actually the special ability to switch bodies with a person through touch. If she touches someone skin to skin, she transfers her consciousness to their body and can control them. Keller’s big doe eyes really bring out the fear of physical contact but at the same time show the longing for intimacy.
Aubrey Plaza as Lenny, David best friend, steals every scene she appears in. Her charming yet brash personality and comedic wit immediately force you to trust and love her. However, that might not be the best idea. Plaza proves she can be more than just funny from her days on Parks and Rec. She can also be creepy, and often times, terrifying.
Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast shows no sign of a weak link. A particular standout is Mackenzie Gray as The Eye. His haunting and stalking bad guy persona makes your skin crawl every time he appears. Finally, Jemaine Clement as Oliver makes the wait for his character to appear totally worth it. Oliver’s aloofness combined with Clement’s charming confidence makes for an entertaining combination. I look forward to his character being featured more in the second season.
It seems Noah Hawley loved being in the 1970s so much for Season 2 of Fargo that he decided to stay there for Legion. Seriously, many of the scenes featuring Rachel Keller looks as if she walked right off the set of snowy North Dakota to be a mutant. Then you see modern guns and guards in SWAT gear which really makes you scratch your head. What year is it really?
With the mix of some modern technology and the wardrobe and set piece styles, you never really know what year this show really takes place in. However, that seems to make sense with David’s lack of knowledge of the world. Does it look like this because David thinks it does or is this story really taking place in the age of limits?
However, one of the most jarring moments for me in the series was when Lenny made a joke about CNN. This really pulled me out of my immersion as CNN wasn’t founded until 1980. Then again, perhaps that was the purpose of the joke. Like David, you’re constantly questioning when and where you are, and if this is all taking place in a reality or all in your mind. The cluelessness you’ll feel sometimes is really part of the magic of the show.
Another strong point for the first season of Legion is the big bad guy that’s constantly haunting David. The show has an intriguing slow-burn of learning more and more about who David really is. Furthermore, David’s friends trying to figure out who is the Devil with the Yellow Eyes that haunts the shadows of his mind brings forth an eerie mystery. This mystery really builds tension throughout the eight-episode season. When the show finally shines the light on this terrifying nightmarish being that’s when the show is really clicking.
Combine the great villain with great performances from the cast and it’s easy to see why Legion has become one of the most talked about shows on television. However, my biggest gripe with the show is the sometimes laughable special effects. That was another immersion breaking aspect that took me out of my trance of being sucked into this beautifully constructed world. Some of the use of telekinetic powers that a few character possess could have been translated better for the small screen.
Legion is at its best when it is wandering through the vast mental environments that David can create and at its weakest when it tries too hard with all out action. Leave the mutant fights for the X-Men on the big screen and give us the intimate moments television dramas can really shine with. When Hawley gives us those intimate and claustrophobia-inducing moments, Legion really becomes one of the best things on television. I really look forward to the second season and where it will take us both mentally and physically.