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Before I dive into the fun, flashy insanity of Legion‘s pilot, “Chapter 1,” I want to start with a disclaimer. While the X-Men were my comic drug of choice growing up, I tended to stick to the more mainstream stories and characters, and I haven’t delved into the less-known stories, such as Legion. That being said, I’m aware of the basics of David Haller, but I don’t know the major points of his story. I suspect that this lack of knowledge will have little to no impact on my understanding of the series, but I just wanted to be upfront about my lack of knowledge should I miss an Easter Egg in these reviews. Now, onto the good stuff.
Pilots are notoriously complicated animals. A bad pilot doesn’t necessarily mean a bad show, and a good pilot doesn’t mean that the showrunner has a solid idea of how to maintain that quality throughout the series. But a good pilot from a proven showrunner is usually a sign of great things to come. And Legion had a great pilot from a great showrunner (Noah Hawley, of the excellent Fargo, which you should watch if you haven’t yet), so I’m expecting great things from this series.
Another truism about pilots is that it is silly to spend a great deal of time dissecting the plot of the episode, as a pilot is tasked with telling a story while also dumping exposition on the audience. And that is something that isn’t the easiest thing to do with a single episode. But Howley managed to provide us with the lay of the land (or, rather, explain the various possible explanations for the lay of the land) while crafting a thrilling and twisted yarn that the writers over on Westworld could only dream of concocting.
The biggest takeaway from “Chapter 1” is that Legion is going to be a series that is built upon the question of what is real and what is happening in David’s mind (and, to a lesser extent, whether or not David has mutant powers or if he’s simply mentally ill- although, considering Fox and Marvel are positing this as an X-Men spin-off, one assumes the powers are legitimate). Playing with reality within a series is a tricky thing, and as we saw with season two of Mr. Robot, it’s something that can quickly go from an interesting mystery to a poorly plotted mess. While I have great trust in Hawley to navigate this arc without a misstep, it will be particularly interesting to see if the story can hold up throughout the season.
That being said, “Chapter 1” was engaging, complex, and highlighted the superb cast at the center of the series. Never once within the hour and half running time of the episode did I feel my attention lag. Dan Stevens was wonderful as David, balancing the sympathetic broken man who doesn’t understand the scope of his mental abilities with the possibly dangerous paranoid schizophrenic. At the end of the episode, I found myself desperately hoping his escape was real and that he wasn’t still stuck in Clockworks (or somewhere even worse).
However, the star of the hour was Rachel Keller (who was a surprise standout in season two of Fargo), who has crafted something special with the character of Syd. We know almost nothing about her or her past, but the mystery surrounding the character is such that I cannot wait to find out who she is and what makes her tick. Her reserved nature hints at something much bigger than we have been led to believe about the character (which, at this point, is simply that she is a mutant with the power to body swap with someone who touches her skin). Keller doesn’t overplay anything about the character in “Chapter 1”- which is a hard impulse to resist when surrounded with technicolor and flash. Her performance grounds the episode in an emotional reality that would have been missing had the character not been handled with this much grace and poise.
All-in-all, “Chapter 1” was a great start to a series that will, one hopes, play with the notion of reality and allow for some truly great performances. If this episode was any indication of what’s to come, I suspect Legion will be on par with great comic adaptations like Jessica Jones.
— You might have noticed that the term “mutant” was uttered by the Interrogator, which is a first for a Marvel live-action television series. For those not in the know, Fox owns the rights to the X-Men (and Deadpool) and the word “mutant” thanks to a deal made with Marvel in the late 1990s. As such, the current Marvel Cinematic Universe is barred from using the X-Men characters (with a few exceptions) or the term “mutant” to refer to people with special powers. Legion is a joint venture between Marvel and Fox, meaning “mutant” is allowed, although Fox has retained all their rights from the original deal. Now, this doesn’t mean Wolverine will be appearing with the Avengers anytime soon, but it does indicate a thawing of the chilly relationship between the two studios.
— How great was Aubrey Plaza as Lenny? I’ve been told she will certainly be appearing throughout the series, although I don’t know what form she will take in her appearances (one assumes flashbacks to Clockworks will be one avenue).
— Since it was only the pilot and I don’t want to delve too far into theories until I’ve seen more of the show, I didn’t get into how curious it was that David is surrounded by so many complex female characters. I assume a portion of this is from Hawley, who seems to delight in crafting interesting female characters on Fargo, but for a comic adaptation, it’s sadly rare. I also cannot wait to see how Jean Smart tackles her role.