Published on April 1st, 2017 | by Nancy Basile0
‘Legion’ Review: Visually Stunning, Mentally Challenging
Legion is one of the trippiest TV shows I’ve ever seen, and I was a fan of L.O.S.T. and Twin Peaks. Like L.O.S.T. and Twin Peaks, you can’t just jump into the series here and there and expect to know the full story. On the other hand, you can just pop in to see a random episode to enjoy the visual feast and the fascinating characters. The beauty is that someone who has seen only one episode may understand just as much as someone who has watched the whole enchilada.
Legion focuses on David Haller, a man who may or may not have some kind of psychosis, but definitely has powers of some kind. In the beginning he is surrounded by people who may or may not actually be there, may or may not be ill, and may or may not also have powers. If you come to Legion without any knowledge of the show’s background, you can enjoy the plot twists more than someone who is familiar with the character. However, even someone who knows the character will not be able to predict anything on Legion. More on the character and the plot below the spoiler warning.
The most striking aspect of Legion is its visual style.
The look of Legion recalls the ’60s, very mod, with sleek lines, lots of orange and green, shiny white plastic and far out clothing. The set design lends itself to the topsy-turvy story, with incongruous pieces and stark spaces. Some settings are scarily shabby, while others are so pristine they almost hurt your eyes. Watching Legion is like solving a visual puzzle, a “look and find” kind of game, because a lot of the story’s secrets are represented in the sets.
The second most entertaining part of Legion is that the story meanders, rather than coming at you in a straight line. A scene might be a flashback, or it might be happening inside David’s mind, or it might really be happening in present time. Trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not is part of the fun of Legion. Without knowing which parts of the story are real, it’s nearly impossible to know what the heck is happening. Rather than being frustrating, though, Legion becomes addictive, because while you’re trying to suss out what’s really going on with David, you’re entertained by the strange dialog and the stunning visuals.
Legion does not talk down to the audience. Legion doesn’t apologize for its outlandish style or wild storytelling. If you’re looking for a brain dump at the end of the day, queue up Bob’s Burgers, which doesn’t require a lot of brain cells, but is clever enough to keep you laughing. Legion is meant for savvy TV viewers who are looking for something new.
One of the things I love about Legion is that there’s really only one very recognizable cast member. Most viewers will recognize Jean Smart, of Desinging Women fame, when she shows up after several episodes. She plays Dr. Melanie Bird in a role that isn’t her usual type. She’s very serious, almost dour, yet quite compassionate. She runs a sanctuary for mutants, and she’s the one who orchestrates David’s rescue.
Did you catch that? Mutants. That’s what the show is about, would-be X-Men. Legion is the name of a complicated character from Marvel comics who has unbelievable mental powers. I won’t specify what he can do, because the show is about the cast, and the audience, discovering his abilities. David Haller is played by Dan Stevens, who you might recognize as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, if you pay close attention to two minutes at the end of the Disney movie. You might also recognize him from Downton Abbey. He’s known as Big Cousin, or so I’m told. He is fan-freaking-tastic as David Haller. Seriously, watching him ping between personalities and psychotic breakdowns requires more than a few reverses on the DVR. He is engaging and intriguing.
The other cast members aren’t very recognizable, which I love, because that allows you to really immerse yourself in the show. There are plenty of actors and actresses whom I follow, but when I watch them, I’m always watching them on two levels: 1) following the character and putting myself in their shoes 2) watching the actor or actress to see if they measure up. Having mostly unknowns in a TV show also helps the show create a stronger brand; it has fewer ties to the cast’s previous work. (As an example, someone recently told me that he had been excited to see The Flash when it premiered, but that Grant Gustin, who plays the Flash, was too “Glee” for him. Gustin had previously been on Glee.)
I am loving Legion. It’s one of the only shows I watch, anymore, that fills me with excited anticipation for the next new episode. For even some of my favorite shows, like The Flash, I feel like I can let a couple of episodes pile up on my DVR queue without much worry. Whereas with Legion, I nearly tap dance in front of the TV waiting for the next episode.