I wanted to start this post by stating right up front (at the risk of my own self-identifying geek status), I’m not a big comic book fan.
I know, I know, how can I call myself a geek and not be into comic books? It was really about access as a kid. I didn’t have an older brother or other kids around that were into comics, so I just didn’t have the exposure to the comics themselves. Add to that the limited disposable income of my parents, and comic books simply weren’t around my house. Sure, I read a few. Ironman, Iceman and a some Archie and Jughead but it just wasn’t a thing. I had an older sister. She loved Grease and had pictures of John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard) on her wall. My friends and I were busy playing till the street lights came on pretty much every day. I just had no anchor to the comics, no reason to care about the books themselves.
Now the stories, that’s different.
I watched all of the comic book based movies — Flash Gordon, Superman 1, 2, and 3, Batman, Swamp Thing, Howard the Duck and of course, The Incredible Hulk and Buck Rogers TV Shows. I’m sure I’m forgetting some but you get the idea. Every Saturday I was glued to the TV until noon watching every superhero/comic book show I could consume.
Even though I didn’t read the books themselves, nearly every bit of my favorite media as a kid was connected to comic books in some way. I didn’t quite understand how much until I began to compose this post. Which is why I’m a little surprised by my general resistance to comic book themed movies and TV shows, at least at a conscious level.
You could say for the past 10 years, I have been comic averse. With 50+ major film releases connected to comic book themes or stories, I feel like it’s all I ever see in the previews. There have been some standouts for sure but do we really need another Spiderman reboot? Really?
All that being said, I decided to sit down and watch the new series Legion. I didn’t have high expectations. There have been some “Hero” TV show SUPER flops recently. Let’s just not talk about the Heroes Reborn debacle and don’t even get me started on Supergirl (I’m not a fan). I decided to disregard my extremely low expectations and give this new show a fair shot at earning my respect (as unimportant as it may be). I was not disappointed at all!
**WARNING, MINOR SPOILERS – YOU MAY READ SOMETHING THAT COULD SPOIL THE SHOW FOR YOU**
Legion is based on the Marvel comics written by Bill Sienkiewicz and Chris Claremont. The protagonist is David Haller. David was diagnosed as schizophrenic at a young age and has been in and out of institutions the majority of his adult life. It’s clear from the get-go David is more than just a person with mental problems. You know this by the memories produced during therapeutic sessions and interviews David is experiencing in the story line. There is a hint that he may be powerful or dangerous but you don’t really get confirmation of that until the last half of episode. When I first started watching the show it wasn’t readily apparent to me this was a Marvel vehicle. To be honest, I didn’t even know at first. I hadn’t read about the show and I only decided to watch it because I heard some folks talking about how good it was somewhere (I’m not even sure where). The visuals and director’s eye really caught me. The show is visually stunning. Even when the plot slows down (for me this really didn’t happen much) you stay engaged by the interesting setting.
It was clear that this wasn’t just another show. There was something sinister about it. There was more to David than some guy that had mental problems. The show is narrated by David’s mind. You are being shown the story by the mind of a man that clearly has severe mental problems…or does he? You can’t help but feel that you have an unreliable narrator. Are the people he’s interacting with trying to help him or control him? They are clearly afraid of him, but why? By the end of episode one, you know the answer to that question. But, it doesn’t answer all of the questions asked in my mind during the episode. Approaching the show in the way they did took a lot of courage. There have been several other shows in this genre of late but none of then take the risks Legion does. David has friends, but they are also unreliable because they too are committed to the same asylum he is and are clearly not quite right in the head.
The casting choices are really good. David’s character is played by British actor Dan Stevens, a very striking looking person that has an intensity that I have come to appreciate in folks like Rufus Sewell (The Man in the High Castle). Dan somehow almost manages it even better. He can jump back and forth between someone you feel sorry for and someone you SHOULD fear. It’s rather brilliant.
The supporting cast is equally good. Aubrey Plaza plays his best friend Lenny Busker. Aubrey plays her usual quirky self but turns the hipster corner for me in this series. You feel she cares about David but she has a selfishness that makes you question her motives. Is it her mental issues? Is it because she’s manipulating him? As the episodes move the story line forward, her relationship with David becomes the glue that holds the story together and I think that feeling is a credit to Aubrey’s approach to the character.
David’s love interest is Syd Barrett. Syd is played by Rachel Keller. Syd is a pretty “girl next door” type who has problems of her own but quickly falls for David. To me, this was an odd transition. One day she’s standoffish troubled girl and the next she’s attached to David at the hip. It’s a TV show and I get it, they need to get things going but I think this relationship evolution could have been a bit less clunky. The relationship between David and Syd is not a conventional love story. There are huge barriers between these two for good reason but somehow they manage to come together after an experience that neither can foresee.
It’s clear that there is some underlying sinister puppet master. Trying to decide WHO that is, becomes increasingly difficult and it jumps around a bit. The scenes move around in time. It’s clear something very bad has happened and David is being interviewed by people that seem to be in control at first but then they show signs of fear when David becomes more and more agitated. I’m not gonna give away the end of the episode because some really cool and fairly terrifying things happen that define who is to be feared.
The why to be afraid of David is answered, the reason why he is compelled to be so dangerous is not. As of the writing of this post, there have been 3 more episodes that outline some of the back story. To say that many more questions are evident in my mind is an understatement. Legion episode 1 is the most abstract hour of TV I have had the pleasure of watching in a long while. It’s approach and overall underpinning is reminiscent of Twin Peaks for me. Legion really gives David Lynch a run for his money here. Watch it. This is not what anyone has learned to expect from Stan Lee. Noah Hawley really knocks it out of the park with the approach and the result is quite a visual, mental and an emotional ride for me. I think you may feel the same.