End of Season Report: Legion, Season 1

1 Jun

First and foremost, Legion, a Marvel property in the general X-Men universe, is unmistakably something different in the current Comicsphere, which is really in and of itself something we haven’t seen in a long time. This in and of itself is an impressive achievement. Marvel movies have become remarkably formulaic. They’re generally some form of heroes journeys – a man, a white man (not that that’s different in Legion, but moving on) is having is own existential crisis, gains some power, has to fight a bunch of obstacles along the way, learns how to be a hero, and defeats the baddies. The movies are generally well enough made, and some are better than others but there is a sameness that can start to feel somewhat deadening. Legion absolutely still has some of these elements, but it feels, due to its method of storytelling, legitimately new and interesting in the wake of all the previous marvel products.

Now, there’s a distinct difference between different and good, and Legion thankfully is good also. Legion is not heavy on narrative, but it’s trippy method of storytelling combined with its intensely internalized story are its breakthrough; the best parts of the show take place entirely within the mind of the protagonist David Haller (where other characters are trapped as well; the surreality of Haller’s reality-shifting powers allow this). Legion explores the serious trappings of mental illness, which Haller has suffered with his whole life, using comic book magic strictures as a way to literally explore his mind. There’s also just some batshit insane comic book style action sequences and journeys inside his brain which are beautiful and compelling of their own accord. The best episodes, the third and second to last (“Chapter 6” and “Chapter 7” respectively) feature the team, Haller, and his colleagues Syd, Melanie, Cary, and Kerry, coming together to clear out his brain from the powerful mutant Shadow King, saving both him and themselves in the process, and getting to the bottom of what is making Haller tick. The scenes are both confusing and exciting in their sense of constantly shifting dream logic; the surrealist possibilities seem to make their own sort of sense.

There are two primary antagonists in the first season of Legion. The Shadow King, a powerful mutant which has holed up in Haller’s mind since childhood after being defeated by Haller’s father, and made a home there, coming angrily to the fore when he learns how to maximize his powers just in time to take over Haller’s brain. Secondly, there’s the mysterious governmental or quasi-governmental organization Division 3, which is looking to round up people like Haller for the danger they potentially pose to us powerless humans.

Legion is less strong when dealing with Division 3, which in contrast to the groundbreaking fight within his mind against the Shadow King, seems like a carbon copy of the type of sketchy evil quasi-governmental organisations that have appeared throughout comic book properties from the start.  There’s a potential sympathetic angle to be used here; as normal humans ourselves, surely we can understand the potential dangers these mutants could cause unchecked to us, and our difficulties with stopping them could create the need for an organization to at least monitor these individuals. However, Legion doesn’t really play on this; the organization is pretty much one-dimensional – an object for the mutants to fear, and for them to work against. The Eye, the initial primary antagonist, a mutant who betrays his kind to work for Division 3 is uncomplicated pure villainy, and ends up just being built up to show the power of the Shadow King who kills him with ease in the penultimate episode. In the final episode, which feels somewhat anticlimactic after the tour de force of the penultimate episode, the opening sequence tries to engender sympathy for the other primary government employee, Clark, who interrogated Haller in the first episode, but it came as too little too late to do much for me.

The supporting characters also never really get a ton of attention. They’re interesting on the surface, but the show doesn’t get much deeper; it’s Haller’s show, at least in the first season, through and through.

The journey through the mind provides a pioneering vision of how to take the concept of humans with powers into new and exciting new directions. Some of the season felt like a work in progress, and the deep dive into Haller’s mind sometimes dominated the show to a degree in its eight episodes that cut short other potentially successful show elements, like developing the supporting characters. Still, in a field as stale as superheroes, I’ll gladly take a ambitious and new approach that does something very well over the safe same and I very much look forward to what the second season has to offer.

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