Legion is an ambitious drama about mental illness set in the world of Marvel’s X-Men. It’s gorgeous. It’s well directed and acted. It’s exhibit A for a comic book show as art. It’ll be a critical darling. But it may not be for everyone.
I enjoyed Legion’s pilot, of course I know the character’s history and that helps more in this show than most other shows based on comic books, but I enjoyed it. Legion will get tricky to cover. How about I break it down in a few sections? Let’s start with the comics.
Legion in the comics
David Haller or Legion first appeared in New Mutants #25 (1985). He’s Professor X’s illegitimate son. Neither Charles nor David know this when Legion joins Professor X’s team of young mutants. When David finds out his parentage, he accepts Charles, but eventually lashes out at Xavier because to David, Charles abandoned him. David’s also one of the most powerful mutants in the world, but he suffers from dissociative identity disorder or multiple personalities.
Each one of David’s personalities owns a different mutant power. Kind-hearted assassin Jemail Karami controls David’s telepathy, rebellious teen Cyndi possesses David’s pyrokinetic powers, and womanizing adventurer Jack Wayne commands David’s telekinesis. Over the years, Legion has developed dozens—if not hundreds—more personalities, but Jemail, Cyndi, and Wayne were the first and most prominent for years.
Writers have toyed with Legion’s personalities and mental state for decades, but that’s all you need to know about the comic book Legion. Let’s get back to the TV show.
Legion’s Point of View
The audience only sees things from the viewpoint of David Haller. David’s been committed to a mental institution for paranoid schizophrenia, so the narrative is by no means linear. And you can’t trust anything you see or hear. To say David’s point of view is untrustworthy would be an understatement.
David’s point of view is a bold choice and Legion does a great job of showing the fragility of David’s mental state, but again, this won’t be for everyone. It’s difficult to follow. Objects break and then they’re fixed in the next sequence. So, did they break? Minor details change with each retelling of flashbacks. If you take the time, you can spot them, but even if you don’t, you get the sense something changed. Legion keeps its viewers off-balanced.
Legion could’ve gone the route of Bates Motel. In Bates Motel, the audience is given the viewpoints of Norman’s mother, brother, and a handful of other characters to ground the show in reality. The Bates Motel started in the shallow end of a pool and walked its viewers into the deep end. Legion jumped into the deep end.
The pool analogy is appropriate because at one point in Legion David sinks into a pool as his rescuers get rid of his captors. One of David’s rescuers uses telekinesis and another chars his captors with pyrokinetic powers. Those two of David’s rescuers could be two of David’s personalities. David sinking into the pool could be a metaphor for him giving his other personalities control.
David’s therapists may have misdiagnosed him as a schizophrenic. The show could still work if it did change the form of David’s mental illness, but I’m not so sure, and there were hints in Legion (like the pool one above) that David does have multiple personalities. Ultimately, Legion does a great job of showing its audience there’s something wrong with David, but as of the pilot, it’s an undefined mental illness.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Legion’s great soundtrack. The Who’s “Happy Jack” set the stage beautifully. The show also had a Pink Floyd reference with David’s love interest: Sydney or Syd Barrett.
Syd Barrett was one of Pink Floyd’s founding members. He had to leave the group after he was hospitalized under speculation of mental illness. Does Legion’s Syd exist? Could Syd be another one of David’s personalities? We’ll have to wait and find out.
Some folks will be disappointed that Legion is set in the world of Marvel’s X-Men, but if the first episode is any indication, the show will keep as much distance from the X-Men as it can. That’s okay by me. Legion isn’t your typical X-Man. I’m sure we’ll see more super-powered goodness, but Legion isn’t your typical superhero TV show. In fact, David Haller could hardly be classified as a hero or villain. With so many people inhabiting David’s mind how could he be easily defined?
Legion is an Avant Garde television show with superpowers. It’s a singular experience.
If you’re looking for a linear, easy-to-follow story, Legion will let you down. If you heard X-Men and wanted a familiar X-Man or two, you might be disappointed. But if you don’t mind watching a crazy diamond shine, you should give Legion a chance.
Thanks for reading.