Legion (2017): Season 1
The is no doubt that the rivalry between the two largest comic book publishers, DC and Marvel, has significantly tilted towards Marvel. The competition between the two publishers has been active for over fifty years divided kids into two, not necessarily mutually exclusive, camps. In the movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU, has been steamrolling over DC with their franchise earning substantially more at the box office and garnering greater critical acclaim. This battle for dominance has split over to television where DC’s ‘Arrows’ on the CW network credited with more popularity than the several Marvel entries. Recently, the FX television network has entered the fray with a Marvel storyline tangential to the Fox-owned X-Men franchise, ‘Legion.’ Causal readers of the comics, or those that ceased following the stories during the silver age back in the seventies, you might not be familiar with this portion of the most popular mutant superheroes in the world. Legion is among one of the most surreal series ever to be shown on television. The closest to this level of unfretted imagination arguably could be the BBC espionage classic, ‘The Prisoner.’ Legion contains cinematography on par with a well-crafted independent film. Numerous clues and subtle exposition are frequently hidden in plain sight requiring multiple viewings and exceptionally intense scrutiny to discern fully. This is not a show that can be casually watched; it demands the full attention from the audience and a commitment to carefully consider the nuances found in every scene.
David Halle (Dan Stevens), is a young man who has spent a substantial portion of his life in mental health facilities. The voices in his head are constant never allowing him a moment of peace. The doctors diagnosed David with schizophrenia treating him with in-patient care and a regime of heavy psychotropic drugs leaving him I perpetual state of stupor. As the series opens, David is a resident at the Clockworks psychiatric hospital. David visited by his foster sister, Amy (Katie Aselton), among the first indications that the underlying story will be significantly convoluted occurs when Amy depicted as a nurse in the hospital. There Amy exhibits a passive-aggressive attitude towards one of the other patients, Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Amy insists on physically touching Syd’s strong objection against any physical contact. A repeating motif in the series pertains to crucial exposition infused as details of what initially appears to be a tangential subplot. The alternate reality where Amy is a nurse exists as a creation in David’s mind. He is an exceptionally powerful mutant with a myriad of abilities. A major component of David’s psychopathy is the manifestations of multiple personalities. This is directly addressed in the comics but, thus far, only marginally explored in the series. One of the personalities inhabiting David mind is the Shadow King, often visualized as a grotesquely obese and misshaped man alternatively referred to as ‘The Devil with the Yellow Eyes.’ It is centuries old and is a psychic parasite. In another ‘Easter Egg’ clue to David’s origins, there is a child’s drawing of a monster being vanquished by a by a bald man in a suit. This universally is understood as confirmation that David’s father is Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the X-Men.
Another manifestation in David’s mind is Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza). Initially, she appears as another patient in Clockworks, David’s closest friend and confidante. Within that context, she was killed bizarrely when David’s powers became active. Despite eschewing, the lightest touch, a romance blossoms between David and Syd. Upon their discharge they kiss which demonstrates Syd’s mutant ability, their minds temporarily switch bodies. This is the trigger that finally activates his powers, pulling the audience down the surreal rabbit hole of reality, alternate realities, and illusions. After David and Syd leave the hospital, they join up with a group of mutants at a facility called Summerland. Leading the group is Melanie Bird (Jean Smart). Another of Summerland’s founders, Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin), manages the research efforts of the organization as well as a substantial portion of security. This unusual juxtaposition of responsibilities derives from the nature of his mutation. Inside of Cary lives a distinct second person, Kerry (Amber Midthunder), a martial arts savant. Their mutant power allows them to coexist in one body or to become separate physical persons. Kerry only ages when she is outside Cary, leaving her physically much younger than Kerry is energic and brash while Cary is more focused. At times Cary can become very animated. The actor, Mr. Irwin, possesses a background ideally suited such a physical performance. He is a trained, professional clown.
The next member of Summerland is Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), their resident memory expert. Not only can he perfectly recall everything he experiences but his mutant power allows him to enter a subject’s mind to take them back into their memories. The creator and showrunner of the series, Noah Hawley, held the same responsibilities for another popular FX series, ’Fargo.’ I the second season Ms. Smart had a principal part with Ms. Keller portraying her daughter. The familiarity of these leading actresses with the creative mind behind the story served to enhance every aspect of the presentation. They knew how to work together to form a synergistic collaboration yielding one of the most original and imaginative series in the medium. It is especially critical to have a means to ground the unfolding story when the individual elements pull the viewers out of the comfort zone of reality. Previous experience with each other’s abilities, preferences foster an organic feel that binds the series together.
During their escape, David’s powers become expressed trapping everyone in the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital. This action alerts a covert government agency mandated to hunt and control mutants, Division 3. The primary field interrogator is Clark (Hamish Linklater), a man dedicated to the mandate of Section 3 and determined to carry his assignments to fruition. Upon capturing David Section, 3 places him in a swimming pool which now filled with water and wires that can send 100,000 volts through him with the push of a button. Clark holds that button. Understandably, it is typically a bad idea to kill off the main character in the first season so; those plans are destined to go awry. What does occur is the season culmination of the primary narrative goal of introducing the audience to David and through his perspective, the world in which he lives.
The most difficult aspect of exploring a theme of this nature maintains a strong narrative thread despite much of the action taking place on the ethereal astral plane. That is another realm apart from yet connected to reality that can only be reached by mutants with extraordinary mental abilities. Both David and the Shadow King are ranked as the highest echelon of mutant abilities, Omega. The defining nature of this classification as limited only by the mutant’s strength of will and focus.in the comics it was relatively simple to denote this plane of consciousness with surreal artwork. On a television series, the danger is an overreliance on extreme visual effects. Thankfully the creative people working on both sides of the camera are well-versed in the innovative methodology of storytelling. The result is the synthesis of style and substance in a synergistic explosion of highly entertaining experience.