Legion Season 1 Review

Zach Ellin

Reviewed by:
On January 24, 2017
Last modified:January 25, 2017


An alluring and novel imagination of what it means to learn supernatural powers, FX’s Legion will shatter the expectations of X-Men fans and comic book skeptics alike.

Legion Season 1 Review

Three episodes were provided prior to broadcast.

One of the most anticipated TV premieres of the new year, FX’s Legion, may also be the most difficult to describe. The new series has been billed as a total non-construction (not deconstruction) of a superpower origin story, yet it’s inextricably connected to the telepathic founder of the X-Men. Now that Legion is here though, it’s a pleasure to confirm that it’s a wholly unique and thought-fracturing show that has about as much in common with superhero television as Lost did with Survivor.

When word of Legion was first publicized in October 2015, fan reaction was understandably mute. In a crowded field of comics migrating to the screen, the very first live-action X-Men-associated TV series only stood out to deeply-read aficionados. It was hard to understand why a character who Marvel had considered too peculiar — or particular— to execute as a book series (apart from a recently concluded 25-issue run of X-Men: Legacy) was the first off the shelf for the television treatment. And while comic book TV shows have wooed diehards with promises of film universe crossovers and shared productions in the past, Legion seemed to be planned completely without the X-Men movies in mind.

Much of the fuel for the hushed anticipation that’s accompanied the project ever since it was announced is due to creator (and showrunner, writer and sometimes even director) Noah Hawley, who serves the same roles on FX’s wildly acclaimed Fargo anthology series. Whatever kind of “adaptation” he’s made of Joel and Ethan Coen’s beloved 1996 original remains tough to pin down, but the effect has been catnip for the film’s cult audience. Fans of the new series watch it with a fervor rivalled only by the likes of Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. If Hawley and company planned to tell similarly composed stories in a more broadly-appealing package, FX seemed ready to turn on the money spigot.

So, although it may disappoint some industry wallets that that’s not what Legion is, fans should still get ready to give it their full attention. If the show delivers on the promise of its deliberately oblique premise and the ample talent from both sides of the lens on display in its first three episodes, which were provided to critics in advance, it has the potential to be even more satisfying.

Legion is something entirely fresh that doesn’t owe itself to Fargo, nor any comic book or superhero story seen on film or television to date, nor even the reference points you’ll see acknowledged in certain corners — Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, William Wyler and a few more with notable tendencies for unexplained perfectionism. Instead, Legion owes itself to the mind of its central character, David Haller. And to whom or what David owes his mind is the story that we’ll be returning to watch each and every week.

The disorienting first sixty-plus minutes of Legion (airing February 8th) don’t answer much. What the chapter does introduce though is the bar-raising performance of Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast) in the central role. To say Stevens is playing David Haller is accurate, but also grossly misleading. Stevens embodies David in various times and with varying control of his mental capacity. None of it resembles what we think of as superhero acting, either. David Haller is so difficult to predict because of just how much so Dan Stevens is. If you think about Rami Malek’s Emmy-winning role in Mr. Robot, you have a good starting place. But David is even less interested (or able) in having us, his audience, understand him or his world.

His focus in that world is on Sydney Barrett (Fargo alum Rachel Keller), a fellow traveler through questionable mutations who not everyone happens to think exists. Syd is David’s guardian and escape in more ways than one. Their shared romance is impossible and also inevitable. The character, like David, seems able to completely alter the paradigm of her universe, and to what extent either will do so in the series remains to be seen. But the performance of the two leads is a compelling enough reason to follow along.

What will also keep most viewers tuning in week after week is the unfolding of a new cinematic syntax that represents a polar opposite of Fargo’s famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) “true story” that’s “told exactly as it occurred.” In this series, there is no request from the survivors nor respect for the dead. We simply see what David Haller’s mind wants us to see, and if that sounds confusing, it’s because it is.

As such, huge parts of the chronology of Legion are in question. Fans accustomed to speculating about what’s going to happen next might want to start getting used to wondering what just did and didn’t happen instead. Audience demand for sophistication is going to be exceeded. Although many of the questions you have won’t be answered in week one, the ambiguity of the series’ first-depicted events will be a powerful tool as it goes on.

If you’ve read all these words and are still wondering what the series is actually ABOUT, you aren’t alone. Like Fargo, Legion points early on to its own vague “Sioux Falls” calamity, and we shouldn’t expect to understand it any better than we did those unexplained events. But regardless of what direction these characters are headed in, we’re going to be watching closely as Hawley pulls us along on this captivating new journey.

Legion Season 1 Review

An alluring and novel imagination of what it means to learn supernatural powers, FX’s Legion will shatter the expectations of X-Men fans and comic book skeptics alike.