The head-trippy FX series, ‘Legion,’ recently wrapped up its’ initial 8 episode run, amounting to the most interesting creative venture to come out of the 20th Century Fox / Marvel X-Men factory yet. It’s probably no surprise that the mature audiences program is categorized by non-linear, visually and sonically arresting storytelling technique, since it comes from show-runner Noah Hawley, the mind behind the equally compelling and enthralling television show, ‘Fargo.’ ‘Legion’ is a surprising departure from the cinematic X-Men universe it supposedly resides in, although it clearly alludes to mutants and the specter of a certain follicly challenged professor hangs overhead.
Just as ‘Fargo’ is not a direct adaptation of the Coen Bros. film of the same name, ‘Legion,’ borrows only the basic conceit of the Marvel Comics property and the types of characters therein. The main character for whom the show revolves around is David Haller, who in the comics is a side-character to the X-Men and their freshman class, the ‘New Mutants.’ He is the son of Charles Xavier and a very powerful mutant plagued with dissociative identity disorder – each of his multiple personalities has their own separate mind powers (telekinesis, telepathy, etc.), rendering him uncontrollable and confining him to hospitalization. While the show only slyly hints at these details, it does deposit David in a mental institute and explores the emerging realization that he is a very powerful mutant with various mental abilities.
David is played with impressive versatility by Dan Stevens (‘Downton Abbey’, the Beast in the live action ‘Beauty & the Beast’). Since many of the scenes are meant to occur in David’s head, Stevens gets the opportunity to play him at various ages and states of being, from a druggie suppressing the chaos in his brain, to a fully unleashed rage monster, and everything in between. He’s supported by a talented cast of characters, most notably an unhinged Aubrey Plaza as best friend / imagination figment(?), Lenny. Her performance is a singular one that takes a variety of twists and turns, somewhat of a departure from the sarcastic, droll, wise-ass parts she has played to this point. Another stand-out is the presentation of a symbiotic relationship between middle-aged mutant Cary (Bill Irwin) and young woman Kerry (Amber Midthunder), who share a body – as their screen time increases, so does their co-dependent side-story deepen.
With Hawley in the driver’s seat, directing and overseeing the whole series, ‘Legion’ feels like something new and exciting in the super-hero genre. Lacking the constraints and studio meddling that can sometimes mar a big-budget, shorter run-time tent-pole film, the artists involved can flesh out and inform these characters and the overall story in an organic way. There is no need for overly descriptive exposition and no desire to create easily digestible entertainment. Due to the artistic freedom the studio (and risk-taking cable network channel FX) bestowed on a fringe X-Men character, ‘Legion’ looks to be a welcome deviation from the comic book hero playbook, as exciting to think about as it is to experience . . .
* * * ½ (out of 4 stars) -OR- A-