Online Exclusive: “Legion” Pilot Review

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Jeff Turner

FX is one of the best networks on TV right now. There is no question. Shows like “Atlanta,” “The Americans,” “Fargo” and “The People vs. OJ Simpson” dominate the intellectual hivemind. The network ascends further with “Legion,” the latest from Fargo show runner Noah Hawley. The pilot of “Legion” is a masterwork of madman storytelling, its narrative betrays every chance it gets, but the show never grates. “Legion” does what none of the other comic book shows have been able to do up until this point, it ascends its schlocky roots into something truly wonderful and innovative.

David Haller (Dan Stevens, in the role that will hopefully, finally make him a star) is an extremely troubled individual. After committing several crimes and eventually attempting suicide, he is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a mental hospital. Amongst the people he meets are Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) and Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). David and Sydney eventually strike up a romance.

There’s a lot to “Legion,” several layers of flashbacks and the narrative changes like quicksand.

The viewer is constantly in David’s mindset; on the fringe of sanity, toeing the line. This is not a show that will win everyone over, but those willing to invest the time will find “Legion” infinitely rewarding as a work of art.

There’s a strong sense of style in “Legion.” Every shot could be framed on a wall. It is a constant treat for the eyes.

With all the bad things, he is doing, it would be easy to turn David into an antihero, but “Legion” opts out of that route. David is someone who doesn’t understand what he can do, and is someone hunted by people he doesn’t understand. A man not quite grown up, still in arrested development.

In the original comic series, David, or as he’ll later be known, Legion, was in the X-Men. He’s the son of Professor Xavier (the telekinesis is in the genes). Xavier had an affair when he was living in Israel, and never knew about the child. David also had DID and could absorb personalities. This, of course, is unlikely to be too heavily emphasized, as Hawley has stated that he doesn’t want to tie this series in too closely with the X-Men universe (and it shows).

Noah Hawley is a fascinating figure, when he got the job to be the showrunner on “Fargo,” his initial thoughts were the same as everyone else who heard this would be a TV adaptation of “Fargo”; that it’s a horrible idea. With those lowered expectations, Hawley opted to take risks, and ended up with a great success. He’s generally an obscure part of his own source material, people are getting sick of “X-Men” movies, and the show is extremely weird, surreal, and hard to follow. Yet it has started out with strong ratings, and that is refreshing to see, because strong ratings for a TV show that has the potential to be truly great is not something the world often grants.

Occasionally, an effect will look fake. There were also some moments of acting that seemed to be overdoing it. These are minor complaints sitting in the rearview mirror. This is a show to jump on now, so as to brag later.