Let’s set the scene a little, shall we?
Your Intrepid Reviewers at 9:55 PM last night:
“Legion’s coming on next. Really looking forward to this one! Great critical buzz. Can’t wait to review it tomorrow.
All settled in, dear? Need some more cocoa? This is totally how we talk.”
Your Intrepid Reviewers at 11:32 PM last night:
Your Intrepid Reviewers at 6:50 AM today, after a full night’s sleep (more or less) and faced with the task of summing up this episode:
*presses Keurig button furiously*
Yeah. This one’s a little tough to get a handle on, but you probably knew that if you watched it. A trippy, dreamy, literally explosive premiere episode of the most unlikely take on superheroes you could imagine, the first 90 minutes of Legion was , in the truest sense of the phrase, jawdropping television. We kept having to remind ourselves to close our mouths through the whole thing. In the end, however, the unforgettable imagery alone was worth the drymouth, even if we were more confused about what we just saw than our delighted reactions to it would presume.
The reason it’s hard to write any sort of recap and review here is because we have no reason to trust or believe anything we saw, nor do we have any idea what any of it means. That’s pretty much the point here, at least at the beginning of the tale. We’re given some narrative markers, but for the most part, this entire premiere episode was designed to be as context-free as possible. Here’s what we sort of maybe know:
David Haller, our protagonist, is a patient in a mental health facility being treated for paranoid schizophrenia and delusions. OR he’s the most powerful mutant (Did we forget to mention this is an extremely vague X-Men spinoff? Well it is. The show almost forgot to mention it too) on the planet. OR both are true. OR neither are true. AND he’s being watched very closely by a range of shadowy figures. AND he appears to be stuck in a war between two factions that he doesn’t even know about. AND there’s a beautiful young woman who is also suffering from mental health issues. OR she is also a powerful mutant. OR she’s a figment of David’s imagination. OR she’s part of a group of people who have his best interests at heart. AND she loves him. OR none of the previous sentences are true.
No, really. That’s kind of the recap right there. Oh, and Aubrey Plaza plays the role of her career only to sort of get killed in a really cool/weird way, but then shows up later like an Obi-Wan ghost to warn him that everyone’s coming to kill him. Also, you can’t tell if this is set in the past or the future because the art direction references both simultaneously.
Did we mention it was trippy and confusing? We haven’t even gotten to the logistics of the gender-flipping body swap at the center of this episode. We’re still trying to make sense of that one. But there’s one word we haven’t used to describe this episode. One word that pairs naturally with everything we’ve said so far about it. One word that it absolutely doesn’t deserve.
For all the confusion and lack of context or cohesion, for all the ways in which it upends traditional narrative structures, the introduction of characters, and even the perception of time; at all the points we sat there wondering just what the hell was really going on, we never once thought what we were watching was sloppy, messy, or poorly considered. On the contrary, it felt as meticulous and deadly precise as an atomic clock. Show runner and creator Noah Hawley more than earned as much leeway as possible to tell his tale the way he wants to, given the amazing work he’s done in the first two seasons of Fargo. There’s far too much confidence in the presentation here for us to even consider that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Besides, the confusion and untrustworthy imagery weren’t there just for showiness. They perfectly depicted the world through David’s eyes. We wouldn’t presume to know if this is an accurate presentation of paranoid schizophrenia (and we’d be interested to see if any mental health advocacy groups will be weighing in on this take), but if we’re talking about an omega-level mutant with paranoid schizophrenia AND reality-altering powers, we suppose a tiny bit of creativity in the depiction is called for. It helps to have Dan Stevens, formerly of (and nearly unrecognizable in comparison to) Downton Abbey, doing an engrossing, hypnotic, wild-eyed take that nonetheless manages to charm the audience and get them on his side immediately. Oh, and he really aced that dance number, right?
The last few minutes took a sudden and unexpected turn away from all the trippiness and into straight on super-being action scenes – albeit ones that were shot in a fresh and completely engrossing way. There’s something a little horrifying about seeing someone toss human bodies around like leaves, but it’s undeniably fascinating to watch when it’s rendered like a ballet crossed with an explosion. But if the last minutes are any indication, it looks like the show will be taking a slightly more traditional narrative style going forward. We suppose that’s necessary in order to tell the story, but nothing’s ever going to top our initial reactions to this amazingly weird and entertaining episode.
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