Thursday, May 10, 2018

TV Review: Legion Season One (2017)

Legion Season One (2017) created by Noah Hawley based on characters by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz

David Haller (Dan Stevens) has suffered from mental illness all his life. He was adopted as a baby and grew up in a house that wasn't haunted until he showed up. The show starts with him as an adult in the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital. He has the monotonous but safe existence of eating meals, taking drugs, attending therapy sessions, and having odd conversations with the other patients. This comfortable routine is broken by a new patient, Syd (Rachel Keller), with whom he falls in love. She's there because she doesn't like people touching her, though she does agree to be his girlfriend. Their relationship pushes him out of his comfort zone and into a path of discovery. It turns out he may not be schizophrenic--he's really a mutant with off-the-chart powers. But he still hears voices, has unreliable memories, and sees a "Devil with the Yellow Eyes" all the time. What if he's an all-powerful mutant and mentally ill? He escapes the hospital and a group of good mutants help him to sort out his problems, hopefully before the bad guys catch up with them.

This intriguing premise, where no one really knows if he's mentally ill (they are sure about the psychic powers), is reflected in the style of the series. The images and narrative are mixed up in a deliberately semi-coherent mishmash. Actual reality blends in with David's mental world which also blends into an astral plane where characters have a bodiless existence. The dividing lines between these three states aren't always clear to the characters or the viewers, creating an interesting experiential puzzle. Unfortunately, the pacing is very uneven. One whole episode feels like an exploration of visual amazingness with little actual coherent story going on, followed by a five minute exposition dump to explain what's going on. A couple of other sequences are unnecessary and self-indulgent. The shifts are jarring, and not in a good way.

The performances are universally excellent. Stevens does a great job playing the wide range of mood shifts and sanity of Haller. Other stand outs are Jemaine Clement as a guy stuck in the astral plane (and in the 1960s) and Aubrey Plaza as Haller's druggy/boozy mental unhealth friend who is also a patient at Clockworks.

Guarded recommendation--as a viewer, you have to pay attention to get a lot of the details but the whole picture is not quite narratively coherent. The show doesn't lack substance but there is definitely an emphasis on style over substance. The ending is very satisfactory except for a dopey "after the credits" style scene.

Parental Advisory-this is rated TV-MA, and is definitely only for mature audiences.While there's only one or two bare bottoms, the show has many discreet but obvious sexual encounters, lots of recreational and medicinal drug consumption, hard violence, a bit of gore, and the occasional swearing.

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