Don’t Look Down

Legion – A Review

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/06/22/06222017-run-away/

Legion. I fucking loved this show. It’s one of the best live action X-Men adaptations ever. I need to get into spoilers to really explore this, but the TL;DR is that it works so well and truly feels like the X-Men because it owns its weirdness. It follows beats similar to those in the other Marvel shows, but it’s so much more original than any other property they’ve plastered their name on. Go for the X-Men, stay for Aubrey Plaza. But I do want to get specific, so here’s your warning. Spoilers here on out.

Legion is about David Haller, a schizophrenic who is actually a mutant with psychic abilities that he doesn’t understand and can’t control. His powers, as well as those of the others in the cast, operate as a metaphor, creating a fantasy in which mental disabilities (hearing voices, living in the past, self-isolation, gender dysmorphia) are either powers they possess or villains for them to overcome. It’s clever, in the same way Jessica Jones and Luke Cage applied these power fantasies towards rape and racism respectively, but the creative construction and dedication to weirdness is what really sets this one apart.

Showrunner Noah Hawley (of the Fargo TV series fame) deserves a lot of credit for pushing the show to be this strange, through stylized, unexpected depictions and quirky storytelling. And that’s what makes it such a perfect X-Men show. You see, what the movies seem to forget is that X-Men is weird. Plots focused on fighting robots in outer space AND having the right to vote will lend any story a very odd tone. The other movies always tried to take the premise too seriously, or make it too campy, never striking the right balance. But X-Men is not goofy or dramatic. It’s weird. It has both drama and camp. It takes its wackiness seriously, but never forgets that it is wacky – or that it has a point to make.

A great example of this is the dual character Kerry and Cary, two (or one) of the mutants co-starring in this. Cary is a seemingly ordinary man, at least for a scientist, but living “inside” him is Kerry, an ass-kicking superhero. They are both one person and two, best friends and a part of each other. This mutant power gives Cary/Kerry the ability to exist in two worlds, the warrior out in the field as the scholar handles the science behind the scenes. Their sibling-like relationship is sweet and charming, and one of my favorite weirdnesses in the series. But there’s one I like even more…

Live-action Marvel villains have been hit and miss. Sometimes the tension between the comic book expectation and physical reality is too much to overcome – although at other times, getting around that exact challenge produces the best results. The villains with more than one screen appearance to flesh them out have fared better: Loki, Kingpin, and Kilgrave stand out as the best of a mixed bag. But in my opinion, none of them can hold a candle to Lenny Busker, played by the amazing Aubrey Plaza. An embodiment of the disease living with David all his life, Plaza gives a fantastic performance that perfectly encapsulates what she is: a drug David keeps succumbing to, no matter how powerful he gets. She is both weakness and power. And she owns it.

Dan Stevens, the lead, did a fine job with the material given to him. However, David as a person never really clicked for me; so many of his memories were fractured or outright false that I couldn’t get a read on who he was, other than a troubled person. The conclusion, in which he’s suddenly “cured” and has more or less become a god, no restrictions, made me feel uneasy. Was this the message of the show, or just the lead being lulled into a false sense of security to set up the conflict for Season 2? He obviously pays for his hubris later, but it’s hard to understand the future of this series. See, I always found super heroes to be most effective as metaphors for deeper things (like mental illness), rather than meatheads in search of the most powerful villain to punch. And by the season’s end, David’s sickness is “cured” (or has moved on to another victim). Since real mental disabilities don’t really work like that, it’s hard to understand how they plan to reconcile the core concept into the action. Or maybe his mother will be Lilandra and next season will see David in space. This is a Noah Hawley show…

Overall, there’s a lot to love about Legion. From premise to performance and execution, the show is packed with nuance and style. It’s engaging and constantly enjoyable, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who’s ever liked the X-Men. Because it’s just so goddamn weird.

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