AndersonVision Best TV of 2017: #3 – Legion: Season One (FX)
“Legion” shouldn’t have worked. Outside of very limited comic appearances, the character never worked. Legion co-creator Chris Claremont attempted to kill him off when ending his legendary X-Men run. It didn’t take. Later comic artists tried to match the experimental style that Legion co-creator Bill Sienkiewicz and they failed. Why would Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley be able to make it work? Where could a TV outsider improve upon the multiple failed attempts to extend the shelf life of the comic character?
Noah Hawley did it. Hell, this was the first half of his glory run through 2017. The Marvel Universe in its infancy worked best when segmented and taken away from the bigger characters. Think about the mutants we meet in the various X-Men junk. Kitty Pryde has a headache and phases through her bed. Rogue kisses a crush and puts him into a coma. Jean Grey enters the mind of a friend, right when she gets hit by a car. I’m sure the guys had interesting stories too, but those were the first that jumped to mind.
David Haller is one of the first major X-bastards. His mother was a Holocaust survivor that Xavier unethically treated, knocked up and then left in Haifa. Naturally, Legion’s TV origins have to be updated. On the show, he’s an adopted kid left by Professor X with the Haller family. He lives a terrible life of emerging powers, anxiety and mental issues set against an uncaring world. When he finally gets thrown into the nuthouse, it seems like the perfect home.
That is until the inmates start to take too much of an interest in him. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to look past Dr. Bird’s efforts and her team of mutant rescue people. Hell, Syd doesn’t even impact me outside of a trippy sequence in the first two episodes. What balances out the series is Aubrey Plaza as Lenny. The character is an avatar of the Shadow King, as that ancient mental enemy reaches out to the trophy that it wants the most.
While Plaza gets to delight and break the TV boundaries as a mental demon, she serves a greater purpose. Due to the Shadow King’s ability to take on different hosts, it even gives Plaza an out to leave the show. Lenny/The Shadow King is realized in a way that must make Claremont squeal in glee. Claremont created The Shadow King as well as Legion. Shadow King is another character that’s a better concept than an actualized creation.
It’s only by breaking the TV ideas of perception and understanding that we find a way that makes hero and villain work. Nothing has to make sense and natural order doesn’t matter. Time stops, silent movie aesthetic can take over and you never know the POV that is observing a scene. This show in a scant few episodes figured out the best cinematic way to present telepathy and possession. Does it matter that the show doesn’t aggressively connect to the other X-Men stuff. No. Hell, that might be working in its favor.