JUST when you thought the world had had enough of Marvel spin-offs, Noah Hawley has blessed us all with Legion, a superhero psychological thriller based on the X-Men comics.
The show centres on Professor X’s son David Haller (played by Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey fame.) As genetics would have it, David is a mutant with telepathy and telekinesis, among other abilities. Unaware that the voices in his head are the thoughts of others and not him going crazy, he ends up in a psychiatric hospital.
As is a necessary requirement of the superhero narrative, a team of ‘bad guys’ soon emerge from the Marvel woodwork, who believe David to be the most powerful person alive and subsequently try to take control of him.
With incorrect mental diagnoses, constant switching between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ and his spells in and out of psychiatric hospital, it’s no surprise that David isn’t the most stable individual going.
“These guys don’t suddenly grow into their powers, don a cape and mask and start running about saving the city from evil.”
This instability carries through into the structure of the show. Whilst the clothes, cars and décor are reminiscent of the 60s and 70s, the various computers and gadgets are just some of the anachronisms that blur the lines between time periods. We are never given an exact date for the shows setting and I think this plays into the concept that we are not viewing as an outsider, but we are experiencing the world as David might.
Casting David as the ultimate unreliable narrator, Hawley is given creative licence to manifest trippy dream sequences to the point where entire episodes seem to be taking place in David’s head.
Mental health is also explored through other characters, such as Syd (Rachel Keller), another mutant who is diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and committed to the same psychiatric hospital (to be fair, you wouldn’t like being near people either if a single touch could cause you to swap bodies.) With common ground to stomp on, David and Syd embark on an adorable, yet complicated romance, in the sense that they can never touch IRL.
I know I’m not the harshest critic going, but all in all, there’s not much to criticise. The characters in Legion are original and unique in the sense that they aren’t “superheroes” in the traditional sense; they are people with “gifts” that make their lives that little bit more difficult. These guys don’t suddenly grow into their powers, don a cape and mask and start running about saving the city from evil. Hawley is keen to warp the superhero narrative that we’re so used to, and that’s super refreshing.
The first season of Legion has sadly finished airing on the FOX channel but is also available to watch and download from Sky, so be sure to catch up before the shows well-deserved second season starts next year.