Monday, April 10, 2017

'Legion' Is Delightfully Insane

When I first learned that a TV series spin-off of the X-Men film franchise was on the way, I was excited, of course.  But I admit that I was bummed a bit when it turned out being a show about an obscure character like Legion.  In addition, when the trailer for it came out, I wasn’t impressed.  I felt it looked messy and disjointed.

But – as I thought about it after a while – that was probably the whole point all along.  In the comics, David Haller a.k.a. Legion is Charles Xavier’s son with Gabrielle Haller.  David inherits his father’s vast telepathic powers, but is born with other various abilities as well.  He’s one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe, but the most interesting aspect of the character is the fact that he has severe DID (dissociative identity disorder).  Hence, this results to multiple personalities, in which each personality manifests a unique superpower.  So if the character is known for being bonkers, then the show is probably just reflecting the condition of its eponymous character.  That appeased my dislike of its “messy” look.  The overwhelming critical praise it received also helped in drawing me as well as the fact that it only has an easy-to-binge debut season (only has eight episodes).

So I gave it a try.  And, oh boy, I’m glad I did.
Legion centers on David Haller (Dan Stevens), who has been diagnosed of schizophrenia at a young age and has been in and out of psychiatric treatment ever since.  The series starts off with David unaware that he’s a mutant and in his latest stint in a mental hospital.  There, he meets Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller), and a romance blossoms between the two.  But when the time comes that she has to finally check out of the hospital, a disastrous incident ensues, leading David to a journey of discovering who he really is and if illness is truly the reason behind his persisting mental problems or something much more sinister.

Indeed, Legion is utterly bananas.  But in a good, entertaining way.  Well, the storytelling does get confusing.  It gets weird.  It goes full-on insane.  Sometimes, it even gets sluggish and tedious.  The chronology of events is confusing at times.  The tone shifts between goofy and creepy without clear transitions.  However, all these bumps and incompatible juxtapositions are actually there on purpose, creating a riveting sense of mystery all throughout and building up towards a gratifying payoff when pieces taken from its chaotic narrative are finally put together.
A large part of the show’s relentless madness is because David’s mind and memories are as much of a setting as the real world.  Thus, the story is affected by David being an unreliable narrator as well as the bizarre settings that his troubled and frenzied mind creates.  And since he also starts off without a complete understanding of his powers and state of mind, he’s as much as at a loss of what’s going on in the story as the viewers – making him a wonderful audience surrogate on top of being a compelling central character.

The insane narrative also results to some fantastic visuals.  Seriously, Legion has some of the most fun, well-edited, amazing mental scenes this side of Sherlock.  The scenes occurring in the real world are aesthetically-pleasing and well-shot as well.  This is a very good-looking and visually-riveting show with tons of brilliant, stylish sequences.
The characters are also generally likable and interesting, and I really like the mutant abilities shown so far in the first season.  There’s one who trades minds with anyone she touches for a limited time.  There’s one who has cool “memory powers.”  There’s a pair of mutant siblings who share a body.  There’s one who has vast command and fondness of the Astral Plane that he has decided to live in it for two decades.  And then there’s David, who’s as insanely powerful as his comic book counterpart.  Aside from making the mutants – the “good guys” of the story – likably kickass, the show also makes the effort of making the “bad guys”/humans more sympathetic and well-layered.

The actors that portrayed these characters all did a great job.  But it’s Aubrey Plaza who is the clear standout.  Starting off as David’s pal in the mental hospital and becoming a malevolent manifestation residing in his mind, she stole every scene she’s in, delivering undoubtedly the best performance of her career to date.  She’s definitely one of the best things about the show.
Legion is a part-superhero, part-horror, part-science fiction, part-psychological thriller, part-comedy, part-romance, part-mystery TV show.  It’s like a surreal mash-up of X-Men, Nightmare on Elm Street, Inception, and Donnie Darko, and directed collaboratively by Wes Anderson and David Lynch.  As a result, it’s delightfully unconventional and hypnotic.  It’s probably hard to follow, unapologetically demanding your full focus before it rewards you.  But being an absolute eye candy makes the effort easy.   As a superhero show, it’s refreshingly departs from its common tropes that it’s almost not right to identify it as such (between this and Logan and Deadpool, Fox is looking to have figured out how to create something fresh when adapting its X-Men properties).

Legion is great TV.

No comments: