3 out of 5
Created by: Noah Hawley
covers season 1
Here was my main issue with Legion: What is this show really about? …And I don’t mean that as a response to its oblique, dream-like structure; in fact, I applaud creator Noah Hawley’s dedication that, as it flies so in the face of what we might otherwise expect from a comic book show. I mean, more directly, once you’ve sifted through the narrative and allowed the show to tease out its What’s Going On reveals, what does it end up being about?
Taking Hawley’s other show, Fargo, as a stylistic precedent, while that much more embraced the Coen quirk influence of its source material, there were certainly episodes / passages where a clear throughline couldn’t necessarily be determined, but the characters were always rich and compelling, and you learned to trust the show’s guidance to come around to something that made the senselessness thematically sound.
But Legion, for me, never achieves that. It never gets there. By hanging its hat on lead character David (Dan Stevens), starting out in an insane asylum, unsure of his own reality – and with the show purposefully pushing that confusion – we’re robbed of any real grounding, and the show is too long in providing that grounding of a support group for David of equally powered-folks (as he ain’t crazy after all, just, y’know, a mutant with mental powers) who are at war with the types of people who don’t like powered folks. Or rather, as soon as we’re given that grounding, it’s shushed aside in favor of exploring other things… others dreams; other distractions. And instead of this becoming a coiled ball of plot-threads – a la Fargo – it has the opposite effect of never feeling truly bound together. Stuck in that insane asylum vibe. There is a plot, ticking by, but Legion doesn’t seem to actually be concerned with it. It never feels like it’s truly about anything. Which, structurally, makes the extended slo-mo sequences and dance numbers read as style over substance.
The saving, three-star grace, ironically, is that Legion doesn’t pretend like it has much to say. There’s no back-handed attempt to load depth into the dialogue, or force the surreality into some kind of mind-blown conceptualizing. It’s just a very stylized take on a story. So while it’s frustrating that its sorta much ado about nothing, once that’s accepted, you can sink into the weirdness and not think about how all those slow motion sequences hide the fact that very little has occurred in your forty minute TV block. This in turn can elevate the selection of one-note quirky performances (not a direct criticism, just that each person is cast to play a particular form of weird) into aspects of the spectacle and not characters you’re supposed to care too much about.
All that being said, I’m frankly not sure I’d have the patience for a second season that hits the same beats. So, hopefully, with the end of the season firmly grounding our plot to a potentially more concrete starting point, Hawley can take his unique aesthetic and killer production concepts and either give them a bit more depth or allow them to have more consistent forward momentum.
Legion is pretty, and engagingly odd, but it’s in need of a point.