Updated: Apr 17, 2018
“LEGION: THE COMPLETE SEASON ONE”
Blu-ray, DVD; 2017; TV-MA for violence, frightening images, gore, some nudity and sex; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Fractured Reality: A Different Kind of Hero”
I’VE LOVED comics since before I could read, chasing adult-types around asking them to tell me what was happening in the balloons hovering over the action.
By the 1990s, though, I was overwhelmed – too many alt-universes, alt-characters … too much soap opera! Also, the cost of keeping up with all the titles – Marvel, DC, independents – could have seriously dented Tony Stark’s gross annual profit.
So we parted ways, though I held on from a distance. Then came the four-color Renaissance of cinema and TV. Yes, alt-universes and characters are still annoying; soap opera drags plotlines and characters. (I don’t know anyone with that much trauma-drama in their lives, much less super-trauma-drama.)
Marvel heroes – Ironman, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow – have been shining at the multiplex. Not so much on TV. Then along comes “Legion” starring Dan Stevens, formerly of “Downton Abbey,” except there’s nothing of Merry Olde England here. The show is based on stories and art by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz, credited with the rebirth of the “New Mutants,” an offshoot of “The Uncanny X-Men.”
“Uncanny” is what we get. “Legion” is not your mama’s X-Men, by golly. It wasn’t even my old X-Men. Together, Claremont and Sienkiewicz put the weird back in the series. Thirty-years later, there’s “Legion” on FX helmed by Creator/Director/Writer Noah Hawley, scrapping all the soap opera diversions and paring it down to its best elements. (Pick up a compiled, “Legion” graphic novel and find it studded with footnotes directing readers to other comics to fill in story gaps. Gaah.) You may know Hawley from his work on “Bones” and the “Fargo” series. Events told in flashbacks, dreams, and the astral plane now takes “Legion’s” story forward – and back. It is not a linear tale; it’s a story-telling experience.
Diagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenic, David Haller (Stevens) has spent most of his medicated life in therapy or a mental institution. He is vulnerable, likable – and authentic. “If you have a guy who is either mentally ill or he has these abilities and he doesn’t know what’s real or not, then that becomes the show,” Hawley says in “Fractured Reality: A Different Kind of Hero.”
“It’s almost as if Kubrick was making ‘Inside Out,’” Stevens says.
One thing remains the same in this Marvel Universe tale; human beings are evolving, born with and developing supernormal talents such as telepathy, transformation and other powers. The world is divided into those who accept the changes, and those who are threatened by the new “gods” and want to control or kill them.
Summerland, led by Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) wants to help mutants. She’s something of a Charles Xavier, and is assisted by memory artist Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), a kind of mutant therapist who wades into memories to reveal troubling events for analysis. Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) and Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) are two, complimentary-halves: one specializes in physical abilities, while the other is the braniac. Haller meets Sydney “Syd” Barrett (Rachel Keller) at Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, where he and his friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) are have been institutionalized. Syd and David spark instant chemistry; she’ll be his girlfriend – as long as he doesn’t touch her. There's an instant body-switch between her and whoever comes in contact with her skin.
Division 3 is a U.S. government organization working with international agencies committed to the identification, study and frequent extermination of mutants. Interrogator Clark (Hamish Linklater) pleads for more time to investigate David, while Division 3 psycho The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) keeps watch over the proceedings. Still, Division 3 isn’t the only evil David and his friends at Summerland have to look out for.
Digitally shot cinematography and CG effects push the story – and the visual envelope – of “Legion’s” first season from 20th Century Fox. Viewers must pay attention to minutiae and camera tricks. If you’re up for the challenge, payoff is rewarded as the season charges toward a mega-conclusion.
“The show to me is not an information delivery device. It’s an experience delivery device,” Hawley says.
The 1080p transfer (switching from 1.78:1 to 2.38:1 ratio throughout) is an existential exercise in color, detail, movement and CGI. Color jumps from natural to neon; expect skin tones to be in a state of flux. One sequence is in black-and-white. Detail is excellent, but there’s so much going on, prepare for repeat views to take it all in, especially after surprises are revealed.
Hawley has attempted a timeless-look, with ‘60s wardrobe and set details. Contemporary touches zap us up to the present. Hawley and crew deserve a shout-out for their use of solid, sometimes terrifying, black.
This is an awesomely dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. There are as many specialized sound effects as dialogue and music. David is often pursued by a cacophony of inner-voices ranging from whispers to screams. They flood every speaker as do battle scenes and a great “boom” when an MRI machine lands after an unexpected flight. How fantastic to experience the combination of picture and sound combine in a consistently immersive mystery.
Jeff Russo, Emmy winner for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series (“Fargo”), composed the original score. Pop songs including The Who’s “Happy Jack”; Robert Plant’s “Monkey”; Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”; Radiohead’s “The Daily Mail”; The Rolling Stone’s “She’s a Rainbow”; Pink Floyd’s “On the Run,” and others push emotional impact.
“Fractured Reality: A Different Kind of Hero” is the 10-minute short about “Why I did it” from Hawley, Stevens, Marvel reps and other actors. Seven mini-shorts – “Uncanny Romance,” “Production Design,” “Powers,” “Make Up,” “Visual Effects,” “Costume Design,” and “Locations” – provide a decent making-of.
There is nearly a half-hour of deleted and extended scenes. Most come from the first episode. There’s also a fun, extended Bollywood-type dance sequence.
I’m going to hope “Legion” – off to a fabulous start – doesn’t get itself bogged down with super-mutant angst. The possibility is there even if first season action kept it at bay. Season Two debuts Tuesday night on FX – and I’m eager to tune in. Right now, “Legion” is a rare entity that earns its TV-MA status for excellent storytelling and suspense. Let’s see what happens next!
- Kay Reynolds