[SPOILERS] ‘Legion’ Reviewed: A Masterclass Of Non-Linear Storytelling And Cinematography

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Legion
9.5 / 10 Reviewer
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legionposterWhen FX first announced that they were making a television show in the X-Men universe following the character of Legion people were a little leery. The X-Men aren’t consistent and no one was really sure what kind of angle they were going for. The marketing didn’t give much of anything away, so everyone went in without any idea of what kind of show they were going to get. What no one saw coming was a beautiful, slow burn of a show that embraces non-linear storytelling and an unreliable narrator to create a world where anything could be an illusion at any given time.

However, to really get into the details of what makes Legion not only one of the best superhero shows ever but one of the strongest shows to come out in several years will require a spoiler warning. This is a show where not knowing what is going on is half the fun, and it is absolutely worth checking out. The cinematography is beautiful, the costume design is fantastic, and there are star making performances here by stars Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza. This is a slow burn of a show so settle in for a long haul that is worth every second but let’s get into spoilers.

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legionOur main character is David Haller (Dan Stevens), a young man suffering from schizophrenia who has spent a large portion of his adult life in a mental hospital. David isn’t exactly happy in the hospital but he’s accepted that he’s out of his mind. All that changes when he meets Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd is in the hospital because she refuses to let people touch her, but David falls head over heels almost immediately. The two of them strike up a relationship but David breaks the “no touching” rule when Syd is going to be released and all hell breaks lose. David switches places with Syd and the room full of people are teleported into walls or killed. David escapes and is picked up again by a military branch called “Division nine” but he is eventually rescued and told he’s not schizophrenic but a powerful psychic.

Since David is just coming to terms with his powers after being afraid of them for so long the show is littered with little details that what we are seeing might not be real. David sees and hears things that no one else does and he appears to be haunted by a terrifying creature that is only called “the devil with the yellow eyes”. The show embraces David’s powers as mental illness and as a way to keep us guessing at all times whether or not anything is real, or even whether David really has powers and is just insane. The entire show is shot in bright, beautiful colors that are almost too bright at times. They draw attention to the world around them and make the audience guess whether we are seeing the real world, or if David is so powerful this is all just a manifestation of his abilities. The show never answers that definitively, but it is presented in a way that keeps the audience interested instead of frustrated.

legion-_v1_While David is our main character Syd is more our protagonist and hero at the end of the day. She is an original character created for the show and she is great. Her relationship with David feels real, and by the end of the series she is the only who really understands the depths of what is going on. For someone who can’t touch people, Syd isn’t represented as some stoic tough girl, but as someone who genuinely cares about the health and safety of her friends. She dives head first into danger to save David from the demon and her actions ultimately saves David’s life. She is never damseled, if anything David is the damsel in distress in this series, and she is a fighter in every aspect. She is supportive, brave, and by the end she tells David that she doesn’t care if he saves her as long as she saves herself. If that isn’t the hero then what is.

While it isn’t apparent at the beginning, Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny is the villain of the entire production. She is presented as a patient at the hospital with David that is killed when he and Syd switch places. She appears to David as an hallucination and, as the series progresses, it is revealed that she is the demon with the yellow eyes or Faruk, The Shadow King. The Shadow King is a longtime villain of Professor Xavier from the X-Men, and Xavier is actually David’s biological father. Lenny entered David’s mind as a form of revenge and has been appearing to him in various forms for David’s entire life.

legionIf there is a star making turn in this series it’s from Plaza. She is mostly known as a comedic actress from her role on Parks and Recreation, but here she embraces the insanity of a character that wasn’t even written for her. The character of Lenny was originally supposed to be an older man but showrunner Noah Hawley went with Plaza. By the end of the series she has embraced the role so completely that to say she chews the scenery would be an understatement. The costume, make-up, and hair departments change the smallest details of Plaza’s appearance to show how off she really is. By the end she is a terrifying presence who, despite her small frame, dominates every scene she’s in. Even if you’re not a fan of Plaza, her performance in this show is Emmy worthy.

The three leads get great supporting help from Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremine Harris) a man who can look at the memories of others, Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) a scientist with another person Kerry (Amber Midthunder) sharing his body, Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart), and others. The cast is well rounded with representation that feels natural instead of forced. There are great moments such as when Kerry is injured and Cary can feel his other half dying. There isn’t a weak link among the cast.

legion_chapter_1_image_3As previously stated, this is a show that embraces every aspect of filmmaking. There are multiple dance scenes that feel straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. The third episode feels like something out of a horror movie. There is an extended black and white scene that uses silent movie type title cards. The explanation of David’s past and the Shadow King is done on a blackboard through crude drawings as David talks to a British version of himself. This type of television is supposed to be disjointed and off because the entire show is supposed to feel that way. David is our narrator and he isn’t sure what’s real and what isn’t so the audience isn’t going to know either.

To come back to the cinematography this is likely one of the most beautiful shows since NBC’s Hannibal. There isn’t a single frame of this show that isn’t crafted with love and an eye for details. The smallest things, such as the triangles on David’s shirts, are planned down to the smallest details. There isn’t a decision here that was made without taking careful consideration of everything else around it. The hyper realism of the entire show means that it isn’t here to thrill us with crazy fight scene or special effects, though there are some killer moments of that, but more a slow burn that pays off in the end. This is a show that is likely best binge watched more than once because there are so many details that you are likely to forget while watching week to week.

mv5by2ziogm5ndctotzkmi00odhhltgxm2etmjzjmju2mtnkytg4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjawntywndg-_v1_sx1777_cr001777999_al_There are going to be some complaints from people who say that the pacing is very slow for a show that only has eight episodes, much in the same way people complained about the pacing of Jessica Jones versus Daredevil.This is not a show for everyone, and the pacing is something that could throw a lot of people off. In terms of actual action and pieces of plot moving forward, there isn’t much movement until the latter half of the series. However, the season is only eight episodes long so the wait is a short one if you’re having trouble getting into it. It’s also a show that doesn’t feel the need to drown in too much exposition (and when it does it is presented in a fun way like with the blackboard scene) and assumes the audience is smart enough to follow along.

Legion is the kind of miracle television we don’t see often. It’s a perfect storm of people who are obviously in love with the source material, but are also willing to bend the rules to fit the story they want to tell. It’s an example of how you can get great television if everyone involved shows up and does their job. For a show based on a comic book and in a series as shaky as the X-Men it’s refreshing to see such solid material come out of the FX network. Legion has been renewed for a second season which we can only hope will be just as bonkers as the first. Highly recommended, and if there is any justice in the world Legion will get some award recognition.

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About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, comics, and political satire. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She's also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

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