I have always found reviews of individual episodes of a television season to be an incredibly silly concept, as reviewing a single episode of a season would be like reviewing a single chapter of a book. “Well, chapter four of the new James Paterson book was pretty shit, but chapters five, six, and seven are really good. Chapter eight, unfortunately, reverting back to shit.” Reviewing bodies of work as a whole not only allows the critic to experience it in its entirety but can help them to understand the true purpose of events or techniques they were critical about early on in the season. That being said, this is not a review, rather my rambling impressions of FX’s new superhero drama Legion.
Short but sweet…hopefully
Before even starting Legion, the fact that it’s the first season is eight episodes in length has me optimistic that this is indicative of its conciseness. More often than not, superhero shows seasons have a tendency to run a tad lad. Ok, way too long. For instance, a show like The CW’s Arrow, which I do occasionally find provides some mindless entertainment, a majority of its problems stemming from its season consisting of upwards of 20 episodes. It’s hard to retain the focus and pacing of any series when it’s attempting to keep a story on the rails for 20+ weeks, let alone a compelling one.
Sure, Legion’s pacing and concise storytelling could fall apart in week four, hell it could fall apart next week, but based on the season’s length and its strong first episode, I’m confident in showrunner Noah Hawley’s vision for Legion.
No Flash, All Substance
A major fault that I find in a majority of superhero shows is that they are typically all flash while providing little substance. Yes, at the end of the day superheroes movies and shows will largely focus on people in spandex fighting, but I think a majority of superhero fans are ready for a bit more out of our heroes (or rather their creative teams). Superhero television shows have a tendency to primarily focus on including as many prolonged fight scenes into a single episode as possible. When the reality is that the budget of a television show cannot even begin to comprehend rivaling the budget of a Marvel or DC film. While television series are focusing on creating action scenes that rival their film counterparts, their story and character development are suffering greatly.
It’s evident from Legion’s first episode that it won’t have this problem. With the exception of the closing minutes of the episode, there’s very little action in the pilot. The primary focus is on exploring David Haller’s history and character, meanwhile trying to make sense of his current predicament. Throughout the episode, there are allusions to an incident occurring, people going missing, and David seemingly at the center of it all. Legion’s pilot feels very much like a crossover between The X-Men and One Flew Over The Cuckoos nest, as the audience is attempting to decipher between what is reality and what is David’s reality. The show has a very quirky vibe to it, whether it be a character’s mannerisms or in visually trippy scenes exploring David’s sense of reality. This quirk provides a reprieve from the shows at times very dark subject matter, however, brief that reprieve might be it is a welcomed one.
A Solid First Outing
Despite being a comic book guy, I admittedly know literally nothing about the character David Haller AKA Legion, but after the pilot, I know that I am a fan of Dan Steven’s portrayal of him. Between his predicament of being incarcerated in a mental institution or his love interest with a fellow patient, Syd Barret (played by Rachel Keller) there are numerous facets of his character that are relatable to the average viewer. Being my first introduction to this character, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of feeling very connected to him. Many superhero films and television series attempt yet rarely succeed in humanizing heroes, so that the average audience member can form some sort of connection to them.A real world thematic of the pilot is addressing and analyzing mental health, and while it’s unclear if this will be a thematic the show will return to periodically over the course of the season, it helps to ease the viewer into an unfamiliar world via real world issues. Legion’s focus on Haller’s mental health and his perception of his reality, instead of having the pilot consist mainly of over the top hero fight scenes allow Legion to successfully humanize him.
I think it is fair to assume that we have all been let down by series that have strong pilot episodes before. It’s not uncommon for studios to attach big name directors or resources to ensuring that the pilot episode draws in as many viewers as possible, only to have that big name director and budget skirt away never to be seen again for the rest of the season. I am optimistic that this will not be the case with Legion, as the show’s pilot placed very little emphasis on big thrills, in favor of building the characters and world of Legion. While it’s future remains to be seen, I can’t recommend it’s pilot enough as it indicates that Legion will sidestep many of the problems that it’s superhero series competitors have struggled with.