For all its seemingly infinite possibilities, you wouldn’t associate genuine originality with superhero films or television. The approach so far (with very few exceptions) seems to be working within a pre-determined set of parameters established to give a certain degree of financial security and audience satisfaction. When we talk about having "superhero fatigue", I suspect this is what we’re referring to, seeing the same thing just dressed up in new clothes... which is what makes Noah Hawley’s television series ‘Legion’ all the more special. In all the many incarnations of the superhero story we’ve seen in cinema and on television, there’s never been anything remotely like it.
Terribly troubled David Haller (Dan Stevens, 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Downton Abbey') is hospitalised because he has schizophrenia... or at least that’s what he’s told. After being rescued from a surprise government interrogation, he’s taken to Summerland, a hidden retreat where he is told he isn’t ill at all, but a mutant of extraordinary power. Something doesn’t seem right though, and as much as his girlfriend Syd (Rachel Keller, TV's 'Fargo') and the team at Summerland try to convince him, David isn’t sure what is real and what isn’t. And why does he keep seeing his dead friend Lenny (Aubrey Plaza, 'Ingrid Goes West', 'Parks and Recreation') everywhere?
Based on comics set within the X-Men universe, ‘Legion’ is a shockingly original and endlessly daring piece of television storytelling, as if Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch created a superhero story together. Its design defies definition of time and place; its narrative approach is frenetic and non-linear and the demand on its audience is enormous, not waiting a second for you to catch up if fall behind. It’s as if the form of the show reflects David’s psyche, fractured and surreal and often unreliable. And it’s absolutely brilliant. What Hawley and his team have crafted is a magnificent puzzle, a labyrinth filled with startling images, both beautiful and horrifying, and daring sequences that are amongst the most jaw-dropping we’ve seen on television in a long time. Nothing about ‘Legion’ feels tired or familiar, especially in its groundbreaking narrative approach. Its brilliant pilot episode is almost nonsensical but endlessly intriguing, and only as you follow the breadcrumbs over the eight episodes do the pieces all begin to fall into place. It really is a remarkably daring achievement, all the more so because of how beautifully it works.
It also helps that the ensemble cast submit and contribute to making the mechanisms of ‘Legion’ work. Dan Stevens has never been better as David, an unforgiving part that moves between the erratic and the sympathetic. Rachel Keller might hold the humanity of the show as Syd, but she doesn’t want your sympathy and ends up driving the narrative forward, to the point where you begin to suspect that Syd might actually be as much the protagonist as David. She’s backed up by the rest of the Summerland team, including Jean Smart, Bill Irwin, Jeremy Harris, Amber Midthunder and Jermaine Clements. And as for Aubrey Plaza... well, to say too much would ruin the surprise, but rest assured, this might be the best work she’s ever done.
It really is a remarkably daring achievement, all the more so because of how beautifully it works.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to acknowledge Noah Hawley as some kind of magician. He somehow pulled off the impossible with ‘Fargo’, and has now shifted the superhero genre in a way we haven’t seen since Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. ‘Legion’ is an extraordinary achievement, a technical triumph that challenges its audience endlessly while also still managing to capture everything we love about the superhero story. How many shows can have intense philosophical discussions one minute and kick-ass, jaw-dropping action set-pieces the next - and make it all work? And the great advantage of its Blu-ray release is not having to wait week-by-week and try to keep all the threads going in your head. This is the perfect show to binge, and with the second season just around the corner, there’s never a better time to do so. ‘Legion’ opens up the world of superheroes on screens like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
PICTURE & SOUND
All eight episodes are spread across two discs, with consistently gorgeous 1080p 1:78:1 transfers. Visuals are incredibly important to the experience of ‘Legion’, and the screen bursts with colour and clarity. Aspect ratios shift, the camera spins and zooms endlessly, and the series offers endlessly inventive set-pieces, making it imperative for the transfer to be as robust as possible, and thankfully it is. The aural landscape is equally important, and I found no issue with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, the engulfing design of which gives your speakers a real work-out. Blu-ray really is the best place to experience the richness and uniqueness of the world created for ‘Legion’.
There are only a few extras included on the second disc, but there’s a surprising amount of information hidden in their short running times. ‘Fractured Reality: A Different Kind of Hero’ (10:35) gives a good overview of the creation of the series, how it fits into the X-Men universe and how the daring approach was developed. This is expanded upon in ‘Legion: Inside Look’ promotional featurettes, focused on particular aspects of the production. There’s a bit of doubling-up, but mostly they expands on details touched on in ‘Fractured Reality’. They including ‘Uncanny Romance’ (3:09), ‘Production Design’ (2:28), ‘Powers’ (2:37), ‘Make-Up (Making the Devil with the Yellow Eyes)’ (3:00), ‘Visual Effects’ (2:34), ‘Costume Design’ (2:58) and ‘Location’ (2:24). Finally, there’s a healthy collection of deleted scenes (26:50) from across the season.