The Legion Series Premiere is Weird, Intense, Cerebral…and Awesome

Photo Courtesy of FX

Legion Series Premiere Plot Summary:

Based on the popular X-Men comics, David’s (Dan Stevens) entire life has been consumed with voices in his head.  When David becomes too much of a danger to himself and others, he’s sent to a psychiatric hospital, not knowing whether he’s mentally ill, or actually has powers.  After falling in love with a patient (Rachel Keller), David’s infatuation leads to disaster, as he finally begins to understand who he is.

If you’re expecting a traditional comic book television show like The Flash or Daredevil, let me put a giant STOP sign in front of your eyes right now. Legion is not that show. This is a comic book adaptation if it were directed by the likes of Michel Gondry. It’s The Tree of Life of comic book shows, but coherent. If I had to give it a comparison, I’d go with the first season of Heroes, but even more psychological and artsy. If those two words scare you, I’d get out right now.  

While it has flaws, I respect the hell out of this pilot. This show has balls that so many other cookie-cutter superhero movies simply do not. It does a cannonball into the deep end of the pool. I’m already heavily invested in David before the first commercial break. That’s when I knew this show was my cup of tea. It’s all about character.

After a Looper like montage, we dive right into the head and screwed up world that is David Haller. Oh boy, do we ever. We’ve seen this before when exploring how Professor Xavier’s powers affect him, most noticeably the voices. We’ve never seen anything like this though.This gets down and dirty, and deeply specific on how this guy’s power alters his reality. He’s like if the movie Inception walked around your coffee table. It’s not just about his actual abilities though. We really see how it affects this guy mentally. I’ve never seen a show where it literally felt like I was walking inside somebody’s head.

While the psychological angle works hook, line and sinker, it’s Stevens’ performance that truly brings a personality out of this guy. He makes it look easy with very little dialogue.  What makes a great character is understanding how he ticks within the first five minutes of meeting him.  We get that with David.

While David is utterly fascinating, we get plenty of great supporting players as well.  Rachel Keller plays Syd Barrett, who’s instantly likable and sympathetic.  She has a quiet charisma.  Her and Stevens have a phenomenal chemistry.  While the latter half of the episode focuses more on plot, the entire first act is all about their connection.  It’s beautifully written.

Aubrey Plaza is as advertised.  Every line that comes out of her mouth is entertaining and memorable.  It will be interesting to see how they use her character going forward. Katie Aselton also has a nice role as David’s lone family member. She’s the perfect balance of support, but is also understandably terrified of this guy. There’s also a bunch of random suits and government guys we don’t really know much about yet, but I’m sure that will unfold soon.

The real star of this pilot is the director, Noah Hawley, who also wrote and created this whole shebang. This is one of the most carefully and well-crafted episodes of television I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure they can sustain this level of artistry for an entire show. You can feel the effort seep through the screen. Holy Moses. I don’t follow the Emmy’s, but if this doesn’t get nominated for some kind of Directing or Editing award, it’s a damn crime.  

My only complaint is that the episode moves way too slowly. I appreciate the time it takes with every sequence, but to go through this every week is a bit much.  It took an entire act to explain one story beat.  While I have no doubt the rest of the series will be similar in tone, the pilot felt like a different animal. It is the true definition of a set-up. While I said at the beginning this isn’t a traditional comic book show, it felt like they were heading in that direction by the end. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

While there’s a lot of Michel Gondry here, it also has shades of Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and even Christopher Nolan. This show isn’t afraid to get weird and intense.  This is what Doctor Strange should have been!  The effects looked crisp, and the music is absolutely stellar.  I have no idea where this show is going, but I’m intrigued as hell.  They took something we’ve seen a hundred times (super powers), but managed to put a new spin on it.  That alone is a resounding success.

I’m on board.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.