After a lengthy run-up, Legion premiered started last night, firing on all cylinders, and has proven without a doubt that TV comic book adaptations can be artfully and intelligently done. While we at Screen Rant are lovers of all the superhero movies and shows that have come out (well, almost all), the artistic promise of Noah Hawley’s new FX show is definitely a cut above the rest.
Legion follows David Haller-- a man who does not realize he is one the most powerful mutants on the planet, but is also seemingly insane. Haller sees people who are (probably) not there and hears voices. He also, for a time, assumed he could control objects with his mind, but has said the drugs he receives at the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital have helped with that. In this article, we’ll cover some of the things we learned from the fantastic first episode of this trippy, singular superhero show.
15 The X-Men Connection
David Haller, aka Legion, is a well-established character in the Marvel comic universe. Created by legendary comic book men Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in the 1980s, Legion has had a rough run in the comics world. Because of his mental illness, which he shares with the main character of the show, he has vacillated back and forth between hero and villain, between ward and prisoner. The comic version of Haller is actually the son of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and has a long, storied history with the X-Men.
Showrunner Noah Hawley has, in interviews, not entirely ruled out the X-Men connection. It is clear from his comments that he’d like the show to stand on its own, but that it does take place within the X-Men movie universe (or maybe just the Logan universe). As of the first episode, there is no clear link between the show and the larger X-Men picture. There is also no direct indication that Haller is Xavier’s son, though nothing has been ruled out either.
14 The Loose Adaptation
In the comics, David Haller has spent a good deal of time locked up in an institution. Clockworks, however, seems to be something entirely different. At the present time there is no indication that Legion will follow or even heavily borrow from any of the Chris Claremont stories or other, older Legion tales.
Given the timing of the greenlighting of the show, it was widely assumed that Legion would most closely follow or resemble the short (and incredible) series, X-Men: Legacy. Written by Simon Spurrier, Legacy dealt with David Haller coming to terms with all the personalities in his head. Since his fractured mind put one of his many powers into each personality, it winds up taking training and a good deal of internal psychic battle to set things straight and make him the mutant he was supposed to be. As Haller gets a tighter grasp on his abilities, he takes to concocting complex plans to help rid the world of anyone that would threaten his fellow mutants. Legion decided it best to follow in his father’s footsteps in making the world safe for the mutant race, but does it with his own personal spin.
Again, as with the X-Men connection, nothing has been totally ruled out from the first episode. It is, however, very unlikely that the show will resemble Legacy all that much given the trajectory the show appears to be on. We’re likely looking at a Noah Hawley original.
13 When Things Go Downhill
The show opens with a short montage of scenes from David Haller’s infancy and childhood, done in slow motion, and set to The Who’s “Happy Jack”. The juxtaposition of the happy childhood memories (with the peppy song) and the slow motion is unsettling… but things appear to be honky-dory. That is, until he starts to get older.
After a few idyllic scenes (which just slightly hint that maybe more is going on than we’re seeing onscreen), we see an adolescent Haller screaming in the dark and rain. As he scream, a swarm of (mostly old) people seem to descend on him like angry villagers surrounding Frankenstein’s Monster.
The rest of the montage changes tone after that and we begin to see one struggle after another. There is the time David punches another boy at a school dance. There is the time he sets a science experiment on fire in class and seemed ecstatic about it. There is the time that he walks away from a liquor store during what looks like a riot, drinking a beer (while still visibly underage). There is the time he is caught in the back of a cop car. And then there is a psychiatrist giving him medication.
In accordance Marvel’s rules on the matter, it appears as though maybe David’s mental issues (and therefore his mutant abilities) began to manifest once he hit puberty.
12 Undercover Brit
By now it’s no secret that British actors are often cast as American characters in movies and on television. Such is the case with Legion’s lead actor, Dan Stevens. While some British actors have a hard time hiding their accents to comedic results (we’re looking at you The Walking Dead), Dan Stevens seems to have it pretty much down pat.
The only clue that David Haller might not be a Yank was the unusual way he said the word “spoon” when talking to his sister in the very beginning of the episode. Apart from that, he was pretty spot on. It is a bit of a trip to see Stevens talking like an American considering he is probably best known as Edwardian aristocrat Matthew Crawley on Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey (perhaps the most British television show of all time). It is a testament to Stevens’ acting ability (and his dialogue coach, no doubt) that he makes for such a believable American.
11 Kick Out The Jams
With the aforementioned intro montage, Legion established immediately that it would incorporate licensed music as well as its original score. Other television shows have done this to varying degrees of success, but it appears that Legion understands the right times and places for a song to pop up.
The big question is, though: Can they keep it up? The first episode featured The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jane’s Addiction. and the immortal Serge Gainsbourg. Licensing songs is not cheap. Will they continue to go at the rate of 4+ songs incredibly well-known songs per episode? Only time will tell.
It is also very easy to overuse music licensing in a show. For some series, it becomes a crutch. Other times it can take the viewer out of the moment and put the emphasis on the song (which then seems out of place). Based on the premiere alone, Legion has struck the ideal balance.
10 The Devil With Yellow Eyes
So far, we have seen a couple different ways that David’s mental illness seems to manifest.
First off, there are the old people. In the opening montage, and throughout the episode, David appears to be hallucinating old people in clothes that all have a sort of green-and-brown aesthetic to them. Is that to differentiate them from the real people in the scene?
Comic book David had multiple personalities, many of which appeared as non-human. Television David might not have multiple personalities, but it is implied that at least one (if not more) person that David interacts with is in his head. Much of the plot of the first episode revolves around him swapping minds with his girlfriend (who may or may not exist).
What is safe to assume, though, is that The Devil With Yellow Eyes is a personality of David’s. Portrayed as a fleshy pear of a person with a disgusting and evil smile, the Devil is spotted in several places at different times in the show. It seems to be implied that the Devil is the source of doubt or negative thoughts or suicidal tendencies.
When introduced to the Devil, he got his own little title on-screen. If Haller has more personalities, it is entirely possible that they will all be introduced in this manner. And if that’s the case, then that would imply that everyone else we’ve seen is either real or not technically a personality of David’s.
9 References Abound
It is entirely possible that we have missed many, many Easter eggs and references in the show since it is so fresh. We may well have to go and revisit the subject once we get further into the season. That does not mean, however, that there have been no noticeable references so far.
David’s girlfriend/rescuer is named Sydney (or Syd) Barrett. Syd Barrett is the name of the original singer/songwriter (a man, unlike the Syd Barrett of the show) for the band Pink Floyd. Due to mental illness and drug abuse, Barrett left the band before they found their major success. Barrett still has a cult following for his intelligent and creative solo songs, and for the songs he performed for Pink Floyd.
David Haller’s “incident” at Clockworks is mentioned as having happened in Red Hook. Red Hook is a city in New Jersey, but it is also the site of an especially horrific story by legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. In the story, ‘The Horror at Red Hook’, a cult is committing human sacrifices in the city. Eventually all the cultists are killed by a collapsing roof. The horrific and unexplained tragedy in Red Hook in the show hardly seems a coincidence.
8 Power Set
In the comics, David Haller possesses a number of different powers. He can read minds, travel through time, manipulate fire, freeze time, and much more. Legion is the Swiss Army Knife of mutants.
The season premiere of Legion has made it very unclear whether this is the case on the show. We witnessed Haller ‘exploding’ his kitchen-- having everything fly out of their drawers and cupboards in a storm of food and cooking tools. We saw Haller levitate his bed while sleeping, only to have it crash down suddenly. We saw Haller command a pen to stab his interrogator’s face. All of those come down to telekinesis, or the power to move things with your mind.
We also saw some other unexplained stuff. Some of it might be made up (since Haller is seemingly crazy), and some might actually be the work of other people. But what we’ve seen so far is an apparent mind switch (which he maintains was Syd’s doing and not his own; a good reason for her avoiding physical contact with anyone). We have seen some bizarre heat/mirage/confusion power (which also seems to be Syd). And we have seen David trap the whole hospital by erasing all its doors. It remains to be seen where Haller’s powers begin and end, and we might not get the straight story until the end of the season… if we get it at all.
7 Why Are We Here?
Things at the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital don’t look normal from the get-go. The decor and the way the facility is unlike any institution we’re seen. Legion is very stylish, and it all could just be a function of design choices made by Noah Hawley and company, but more likely, we are seeing things through the lens of Haller’s mind... or maybe Clockworks isn’t a mental hospital at all.
During a crucial group therapy session (where Haller and Syd start dating), Syd casts doubt on the true nature of Clockworks. She asks, “What if your problems aren’t inside your head? What if they’re not even problems?” It intimates that she has a better understanding of what is happening, and that there might be an ulterior motive for people residing at Clockworks.
Given that Haller is a mutant and things look really strange (like a guy who hides way too well in the bushes, and Aubrey Plaza’s character Lenny having inexplicable ring tattoos all around her fingers), it implies that maybe the hospital is really a holding facility for mutants. Of course, the kind of message that comes from Syd could also easily be construed as a person who has a mental illness and has not come to terms with it.
And that’s not to mention that Syd may wind up being a construct of David’s mind, which further complicates the issue. Maybe all of Clockworks is just how David views his shattered mind. Only time will tell.
6 The Men In Black?
“The Incident” refers to when David (or Syd in David’s body) wreaks havoc at Clockworks. All of the patients and staff of the hospital seem to get trapped behind the walls of the hospital, as all of the doors are turned into walls (though the room number tags stay intact). The exception is David’s friend Lenny, who is killed when she is trapped halfway inside the wall.
Following “The Incident”, David seems to be willingly cooperate with the authorities. At first blush, they appear to be police officers, but all is not what it seems. The interrogation room is a facade, built inside a drained swimming pool which appears to be in an old high school or recreation center. It looks like a makeshift military compound, with tents and a temporary command center. The uniforms of the armed soldiers do not appear to be regular government military, and the insignia resemblesa domino.
What is the deal with the nearly silent agent known in the credits as The Eye? Who is the old man calling the shots and trying to gas David? And what is up with that creepy dog-thing in the glowing red dog crate?
5 Melanie And The Gang
After David trashes the fake interrogation room, he is sat in a chair inside the now-filled swimming pool. High power cables are rigged inside the pool and attached to a trigger that will zap David if he attempts to use his powers or escape. It is then that he is contacted by Syd, who has found her way inside David’s memories, and told to slowly slip out of the chair in the pool and wait until he sees her.
Syd arrives (after a short skirmish that seems prompted by mutant abilities) with the duo that had previously showed up at the hospital escorting a mysterious older woman. Ptonomy and Kerry were tracking David as he made an attempt to find Syd following his escape from Clockworks.
They all (and a couple other guys, including one who can use powers to launch things into the air) seem to be in the service of the mysterious older woman, Melanie Bird. She meets David at the end of the episode and shakes his hand. It appears from her reaction to him that she might have previously known him or, at the very least, has a very different understanding of him from others. They look to be the good guys of the story, but this show has us on our toes until we learn more.
4 The Time Slot
Legion was a pretty heavily hyped television show. In the works for a considerable amount of time, FX dropped major money on advertising the premiere. We were treated to a Super Bowl commercial, billboards, and bus advertisements, several stylish and creepy and funny teaser trailers, and a full-page takeover of IMDB. The amount of advertising within the show, too, shows either how much faith the network and advertisers have in Legion... or how much money it takes to keep the show afloat.
That’s where the time slot becomes crucial. The season premiere of Legion was 90 minutes. But it also started at 10:00 at night on a Wednesday night. Clearly, this indicates the show was targeting a younger adult demographic (who either don’t need as much sleep or don’t have to get up early in the morning) and people with DVRs. Will the time slot hamper the show’s success? Will the DVR and digital numbers be enough to bolster what might be a likely smallish live audience? Will the viewers forego sleep in order to avoid spoilers?
Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead made their bones at earlier slots and went on to be monster hits. FX, though, has a track record of success at its 10:00 time slot with both Louie and Baskets and Atlanta. However, none of those show are what we’d consider fraught with major spoiler potential-- and that might well change the equation.
3 Family Matters
Legion’s premiere jolted viewers with several different incidents of flashbacks (or seeming flashbacks) and cuts to what looked like home movies of David Haller’s childhood. Whether these memories are authentic or not remains (as with all things in this show) to be seen. But we do have a fairly good idea that the kids featured in the flashbacks are David and his sister, Amy . She came to visit David on his birthday at the beginning of the show and reluctantly took him in when he showed up after his “release.”
During the flashbacks, we hear a woman’s voice sometimes, calling out to David, her son. It is apparent from the voiceovers that David’s mother loved him… but where is she now? We have not seen David’s mother yet, and it is possible that she is no longer among the living. This may not be a barrier for David to have a mommy moment (more on that later). What we haven’t been clued into is his father. Given that the comic book Haller is the son of Charles Xavier, David’s father’s absence in the premiere is awfully conspicuous. Will David prove to be an Xavier? Will we see other family members as time goes on? To be determined.
2 Haller's Haunt
Aubrey Plaza’s character, Lenny Busker, was portrayed in the press and advertisements as a main character in the show. Plaza, too, might have the most name cache in the entire cast. It is interesting, then, that she is killed partway through the first episode.
After David attempts to settle down in his sister’s basement following his escape from Clockworks, he is visited by what appears to be the ghost of Lenny. She looks much healthier now that she is dead and appears to be very happy in death. She tells David not to worry about killing her because she didn’t really have much of a life inside the hospital. She also warns David that “They’re coming for you, babe. They’re coming and they’re going to kill you.” Who is the “they” that she is talking about? Is it the organization that almost electrocuted David? Is it Syd’s group? Is it someone else entirely? Or maybe it’s all just talk (this last one isn’t very likely).
More importantly, does this mean that Lenny will be with us for the rest of the ride? Is she a ghost or is she just inside David’s head? Did Lenny actually exist to begin with? We’ll say that she did, because that’s what we’d like to believe. But we’re not ruling the rest out.
1 Let's Get Weird
As mentioned earlier, Legion is a highly stylized show; perhaps one of the most stylized shows in the history of television. We can only assume that this will continue throughout the series’ run. We’re all on board for the artistic overhead shots, the fine use of symmetry, the bold use of color, and the surreal and off-kilter set pieces. The show has tackled Haller’s broken mind and the confusing action going on around him with the use of several flashbacks, quick cuts, seemingly non sequitur inserts (like a creepy puppet and what looks like a frog vape), and the like.
The show, too, is not afraid to take risks and run with them. There has already been a Bollywood-style dance number to a Serge Gainsbourg song to indicate David’s joy at dating Syd. As the show goes on, we look forward to more stylistic deviations and asides like this, and more creepy randomness thrown in. We’re also anticipating having much of it explained to us.
Legion looks like it will be one hell of a ride. We can’t wait to take it to the end!
What were some of your favorite scenes from the Legion premiere? What did you notice in the show? What are your hopes for the rest of the season? Sound off in the comments!