Are you looking for a radically different take on the seemingly endless superhero movies and shows that come out every year? Think that people have finally run out of X-Men characters to franchise? Think again. For something pleasantly surprising and offbeat, try Legion, a clever FX series now available at the library. For those with a less than encyclopedic knowledge of the X-Men universe, look here for a spoiler free introduction to one of the most fascinating superheroes to grace TV.
The title character, David Haller (Legion) is portrayed by Dan Stevens (formerly of Downton Abbey). The audience meets him as a precocious and adorable boy who morphs into a disturbed, unpredictable and violent man. After his increasing instability and a suicide attempt, he is committed by his sister into the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital. The Psychiatric Hospital setting is also the audience’s first clue that this character is not going to be your typical hero, flawed or otherwise.
David Haller is a mentally ill mutant diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic (who also exhibits Dissociative Identity Disorder) and has been heavily medicated for quite some time. This makes his journey much more interesting than the typical Superheroes who overcome various obstacles to discover their true potential. How can a person trust him or herself when they do not know what’s real and what’s not real? How can they realize the full potential of their gifts when their mind prevents them from doing so?
Clockworks is also where we are introduced to two other integral characters on the show: fellow patient Lenny and future love interest Sydney, who believes in him more than anyone else has for awhile. There is one particularly heartbreaking scene in season one, in which the audience sees the reality of David’s institutionalized life, and due to the extreme nature of his illness, the life he can never have: that of a typical suburban dad with a wife and kids. While that sounds harsh, this compelling show presents a compassionate portrayal of mental illness and its effects on both the sufferer and those that surround him unmatched on television. And it is one that could only have been done today, when mental illness does not have the stigma it once had and is better understood than in the past.
Viewers discover more mutants with interesting powers as they follow David’s sometimes erratic and trippy journey during the next eight episodes that stretch the boundaries of a traditional TV Superhero template. Pieced together in a delightfully odd way, show runner Noah Hawley lets the fractured world of Haller come together in a surreal series of musicals, dance-offs, and horrendously night-terrorish psychological detours that have the audience begging for more (and at times scratching their heads trying to figure out what just happened).
This is not your typical superhero show, this is an experiment to see just how much an audience is willing to tolerate before tuning out. Certainly there are better, more mainstream shows out there. However, if you are willing to take the chance and enjoy seeing creativity at its peak, you will be rewarded with brilliant writing and superb acting that breathes life into its characters. Legion superbly and successfully walks that sometimes kooky and slightly left-of-center line thereby distinguishing it from other run-of-the-mill superhero dramas.