Noah Hawley is one of the best showrunner's currently in television. He proved to all the naysayers that he could take a beloved film, like the Coen Brother's, Fargo, already considered one of the very best American movies ever made, and turn it into a recurring mini-series that is arguably even better than that darkly violent and comical picture. After two seasons, FX's Fargo is the best television has to offer.
Hawley, most likely, had the power to green light any project he wanted to. What he did though was take a bit of left turn and instead tackle of genre which many would say is in serious jeopardy of overexposure . . . . the comic book, superhero one.
But, being Noah Hawley, he would obviously choose one of the most obscure and unlikely comic book characters to focus his attention on; David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, the estranged son of Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the X-Men.
My first thought when I heard this news was . . . . "Huh?"
Not exactly a guy that is going to win the award for "Most Awesomely Badass Comicbook Character Ever Award", you would be hard-pressed to find a solid Marvel fan who had heard of him.
Created by the legendary writer of The Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont, Legion first appeared in 1985 in New Mutants #25. He is the son of Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller. He is significant because he is, arguably, the most powerful mutant in existence due to his extraordinary psychic powers and ability to absorbs the psyche of others into his own, along with their powers. What makes him unique, though, and what most likely attracted Hawley to him for his new show, is that he suffers from dissociative identity disorder which manifests itself in his multiple personalities and severe mental illness.
Taking on a character with superhuman powers who also happens to be severely schizophrenic allows Hawley to do so much creatively and artistic with a lot of aspects of the show. Watching the first episode I was immediately taken by the art direction and editing. If he was obviously channeling the Coen Brothers with Fargo, it seems to me that he is certainly drawing on aspects of the films of Wes Anderson and even Stanley Kubrick for the visual style of Legion.
|David (Dan Stevens) and Syd (Rachel Keller) meet at the Clockworks Mental Hospital. Hmmmmm . . . "Clockworks"? I'm sure there is nothing to that . . . .|
The show takes place in a indeterminate time period. There is plenty 60's and 70's era design on display in frame after frame, but the technology used would indicate we are still in modern times. Also the music selection is purposeful and spot-on with several key moments involving actual musical numbers for the characters to perform.
All of these stylistic choices serve the overall story very well. We are introduced to David Haller (Dan Stevens), an obviously troubled young man who is trying hard to overcome the schizophrenia he has been diagnosed with. Committed to the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital he spends his days working though his problems with his therapist and making fun of the other inmates with his best friend among the patients, Lenny (Aubrey Plaza).
Then David meets Sydney Barrett (an homage to Pink Floyd's original front man, Syd Barrett, who quit the band due to a crippling psychosis possibly brought on by experimenting with LSD) a young woman, new to the hospital, who tries to tell him that he is actually a mutant and so is she. Like the X-Men character, Rogue, Syd cannot touch skin-to-skin or her power will manifest itself. Unlike Rogue, contact with Syd results in switch places with her. Think, Freaky Friday.
Syd and David ultimately end up in the company a team of mutants, led by Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) who are determined to help him control his awesome powers which they firmly believe is the cause of his mental issues, not schizophrenia.
The questions around his fractured mind and weather or not he is truly psychotic is the central theme of Legion and it allows Hawley to have a lot of fun with the narrative structure. Many scenes take place inside David's mind (or do they?) and the twists and turns the writers can employ here are nearly limitless. Let me clear, even though this story does take place within the X-Men universe, it' connections to it are slim to none and just inferred. Hawley is not interested in simply making an X-Men TV show, he is much more concerned with playing with realties and unrealities of being a man who could be them most powerful mutant in the world or just simply a madman.
It works so well on so many levels and is the most cleverly written hour of television your likely to find today.
|Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) is one of the mutants determined to help David and then use him to take down the evil "Division 3".|
I would be remiss if I didn't bring up the performance of Aubrey Plaza as well. It is tough to write much about her without going into SPOILER territory. So, if you plan on watching Legion and don't want anything spoiled please skip this next paragraph . . . .
The first season is not quite over but I'm pretty sure that Aubrey Plaza's character of Lenny, who happens to live in David's head and appears to him at various moments, is actually Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King. A creature of pure psychic energy and a parasite that lives off the suffering of telepaths, Farouk was an early nemesis of Professor Xavier. Their early clashes led the Professor to form the X-Men. In this show the Shadow King has taken on several forms in David's mind. The most used is as Lenny, who David and Syd inadvertently killed in the very first episode. Plaza is obviously having a blast playing the villain and she dives into the role with menace and humor. I can't wait to see what she has in store for her mutant adversaries.
|Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), posing as his therapist, confronts David (Dan Stevens) with a sliver of truth about who and what she really is.|