Now that it’s back on HULU, let’s talk about Legion! THIS show is the Twin Peaks of the current era, if anything is, a groundbreaking, mindbending thrill ride that’s artistic and unpredictable, but full of heart, and characters you’ll care about. It substitutes Dan Stevens, who’s quickly becoming a sought after star, for Kyle MacLachlan, as the lovable pseudo-everyman in a topsy-turvy world.
As with Twin Peaks, viewers seem to either love this show or hate it. Going in with an open mind and letting go of the need for linear, mundane storytelling is crucial. We spend time in a mental institution this season, trying to determine what’s reality and what isn’t, for some very good reasons. Unlike Twins Peaks, the writers of this show actually know where they’re taking us, so don’t worry, just strap in and enjoy the ride!
Chapter 1 begins with a montage of the infancy and childhood of David Haller, otherwise known as Legion. It’s set to The Who’s Happy Jack. By the time he’s a teenager, David is drinking, doing drugs, and involved with petty crimes, in addition to the auditory and visual hallucinations he’s dealt with for his entire life. And he occasionally moves things with his mind.
After a suicide attempt, he’s committed to the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, with orange throughout the color scheme, in case you didn’t get the Clockwork Orange reference. What’s roughly the current time for the story begins five years later with David’s sister visiting him on his birthday. She brings him a cupcake that he can’t eat and lights a candle that he can’t blow out. Then she eats some of the frosting herself in front of him. It’s not the best birthday he’s ever had.
This series is told in just about the most nonlinear way possible, by a very unreliable narrator. Part of the fun is trying to figure out where and when we are, and if what we’re seeing is even real, while David himself is doing the same thing. He’s a super powerful telepath and telekinetic who’s also been diagnosed with schizophrenia. His mind is so busy and filled with other personalities, some of whom are malevolent, that he’s never been able to get his powers under control.
While David is in the hospital, he hangs around with his friend Lenny, played by Aubrey Plaza. The two share their ironic observations of life while waiting for medication and group therapy time. David also has his eye on a cute patient named Syd Barrett (this show loves a good rock reference), who is in the same therapy group.
The group therapy scene is one of my favorite TV scenes of all time. Both Syd and David question the nature of mental health vs mental illness vs intellectual and artistic genius. They are totally cagey about their own sanity. Lenny sits next to David and heckles them throughout the conversation. Then, out of the blue, David leans forward and asks Syd to be his girlfriend. She says yes, as long as he never touches her. He says okay. They decide to sit together at dinner. Modern romance in a nutshell.
We also get an adorable romance montage of them doing adorably coupley things while never touching. But the spell is eventually broken when Syd sneaks into David’s room one night and slides onto his bed. On top of the covers and with a bolster between them, of course. She’s being released the next day.
She waits at the hospital door to say goodbye to David, who finally runs up to her. He can’t resist going in for the kiss now that she’s leaving. When their lips touch, there’s a bright light and both are knocked backwards. Syd is stunned. David is screaming.
The doctor takes Syd to an examining room to makes sure she’s okay, then brings her back out to the lobby. There are now walls all over, creating rooms that have locked everyone in. Lenny has been encased in a wall and is dead. David is in one of the rooms, and is still screaming.
Actually, it’s Syd, in David’s body, that’s screaming. David is in Syd’s body. Syd never wanted anyone to touch her because she’s a mutant and her power is body swapping.
The doctor hustles David in Syd’s body out the front door before someone decides she can’t leave, since the first responders are showing up. He goes to sit in a sidewalk cafe. After a few hours, he returns to his own body, but stays in the same place.
Not knowing what else to do, David stays with his sister while searching for Syd. The hospital says they have no record of her. A man and a woman chase him every time he leaves the house. He eludes them, only to be caught by armed guards from a shady government agency, drugged, and taken away.
They take him to an old school and question him in an empty swimming pool. When David rebels against his captivity, they gas him unconscious, fill up the pool, and tell him that they can use it to electrocute him if he misbehaves. They want to know where Syd went. They know both Syd and David are mutants, and they want them both.
Syd comes to David in one of his memories and tells him that he’s about to be rescued. He just needs to go for a swim while they take care of the guards. David slides into the water, the armed guards are fried, and Syd is waiting for David when he comes out of the pool. They leave the school and walk out into a war zone.
The government hates mutants, no matter what corner of the multiverse it finds them in. The mutants fight as they run down a path to the edge of some water. Before they get into the waiting boat, David asks Syd to reassure him that she’s real and everything around them is real. She tells him that she’s real, the place is real, and she loves him. He stares at her, filled with joy. She reminds him to say it back, so he tells her he loves her.
Their leader, named Melanie, is waiting to get them on the boat and escape. She asks David to shake her hand. He takes a long look around. The ugly, yellow-eyed monster that’s tormented him since childhood is sitting nearby. He reaches out for Melanie’s hand.
Interspersed with all of this are memories and hallucinations, presented with stunning, creative visual and auditory effects and editing. The color palette, music costumes, and interior design are all throwbacks to the 60s and 70s, but the cars and buildings haven’t been changed. It’s meant to be timeless, and also to take us back to the scifi of that era, which was hopeful, psychedelic, and apocalyptic all at once.
The government organization has figured out that David is one of the most powerful mutants they’ve ever seen, and some want to kill him there and then.
The mutant group has eyes and ears watching just as closely as the government, and respond just as quickly. They pulled up to the curb at the hospital along with the first responders. They’re also powerful enough to take on a large fighting force. Melanie must have some resources at her disposal.
As far as we’re shown, David controls his powers for the first time as he destroys a room while he’s being held captive and questioned. That’s part of the look of exhilaration on his face when he’s done.
Dan Stevens first became known to American audiences as Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. I can barely make the two characters be the same actor.