We’ve been in what’s commonly referred to as the “golden age of television” for a few years now.
With each coming prestige project, bets are placed in the critical community on what will finally be the proverbial straw for the camel. So far, nothing has even come close to breaking any metaphorical back. If anything, each new season of television gives more to love, and dramatically improves that which wasn’t working.
One show stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, even dwarfing the film franchise that spawned it and the brilliant Fargo, the other show that took off in an unexpectedly incredible way from creator Noah Hawley. Legion, the FX drama about mutant David Haller, does so much more than the unexpected. Any notion that we have about what television is or could be is turned on its head and gutted, then reassembled into something magical, wonderful, and utterly captivating.
While this is a story derived from comic books, as David Haller is the son of everyone’s favorite bald mutant, it’s so good at differentiating itself from the likes of Agents of SHIELD or even the prestige hero shows found on Netflix. Legion continuously turns the genre on its head, creating mind-bending episodes before blowing them up in the viewer’s faces. Performances are above and beyond, and for an hour every week, it’s impossible to not get lost in this strange, surreal, totally engrossing tale of one man, one mutant’s struggle to find himself and come to terms with his powers that are beyond anything ever seen before.
Legion/David Haller (the character) was created as a straight-up villain, with absolutely no nuance or sympathy for his plight. He’s a schizophrenic mutant, one of the most powerful mutants in existence, but one whose illness supersedes his ability to control his gifts. With Legion, creator Noah Hawley has finally given Haller that extra pathos needed to make him more than just a foil, to make it clear that many of the things David does that end up causing harm is totally out of his control. Haunted by demons of the literal and metaphorical sense, Legion takes the time to take a long, hard look at David’s psyche, while also giving him something to strive for, to live for, in the form of his love Sydney Barrett. With such a wide array of characters to play, this functions as a tour-de-force for actor Dan Stevens, as well as his friend/hallucination/confidante/inner demon played by Aubrey Plaza in what is guaranteed to be an Emmy-winning performance.
Legion had me hooked from the very first moments. Showing baby David in a crib to the tune of The Who’s “Happy Jack,” the exposition takes us on a journey through his adolescence, showing his gradual descent into mental illness as he gets older, the voices he hears manifesting in his head as he robs convenience stores and takes a ride in the backseat of a cop car, illustrating to us the pressure and hardship he’s faced since he was a teenager, culminating in an attempted suicide. That’s all in the first five minutes of the first episode. So many more moments come, from Bollywood-style dance numbers set to avant-garde French music, to Aubrey Plaza’s James Bond-style dance through David’s memories, to a full on silent movie – complete with dialogue card inserts. Legion is filled with moment after moment of hooks that grab you and refuse to let go.
Flitting expertly between so many different threads; mental health, the different parts of us that make us whole, the nature of insanity, the instability of memory; in less capable hands would make for a chaotic show, but in the expert hands of creator Noah Hawley, nothing ever gets skipped over. Even the most mundane background detail has the potential to be a game-changing clue.
Legion is far and away the best show on television right now, and another high-water mark in what this current “golden age” has the potential to bring us. Week after week, this show strives to be something incredible and something altogether different than anything we’ve seen before. With the performances being showcased from the likes of Stevens and Plaza, as well as the stellar performances from any number of supporting characters, Legion is absolutely certain to make it into the annals of great television history.
By the time you read this, Legion will have completed its first season. Each episode is available on Hulu, as well as for purchase through iTunes, Microsoft, and any given video provider. It’s absolutely worth the cost, and then worth sitting through and absorbing all in one sitting. It’s an absolute mind-boggling show, and the more you see of it, the more you get in return, a mark of high quality television if there ever was one.