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‘Legion’ Recap: Maybe His Problems Aren’t in His Head

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Warning: This recap for the “Chapter 1” episode of Legion contains spoilers.

How do you talk about Legion? Technically, it’s a superhero show. So as far as we know, it exists in the same world where Halle Berry controls lightning and Michael Fassbender bends steel girders with his mind. So it shouldn’t be that weird that there’s a musical dance break in that world, right?

(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)

In the comics, Legion is the son of Charles Xavier, gifted with Omega-level powers but a fractured mind. At various times by various authors, he’s been diagnosed as delusional, having multiple personality disorder, or even autistic. In this iteration, the show’s creator, Noah Hawley, is going with paranoid schizophrenia.

Related: ‘Legion’ Star Dan Stevens on Being ‘Confidently Weird,’ as the World’s Most Powerful Mutant

Which basically means that anything that happens in the show might all be happening in the mind of David Haller (Dan Stevens), or it might actually be happening in the real world, because he has the power to rewrite reality as he chooses. So given that, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, it’s not what this show is about, it’s how it is about it.

The plot

David grows up with powers he can’t entirely control. This leads to social ostracism, a telekinetic blowup in a kitchen that drives his girlfriend (Ellie Araiza) away, and a suicide attempt. After six years in the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, he meets Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller), who doesn’t like to be touched. Eventually, she is released and, when David kisses her goodbye, they switch bodies. Scared and confused, “David” lashes out, walling up everyone in the hospital and killing Lenny (Aubrey Plaza).

Dan Stevens as David Haller and Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett (Credit: Chris Large/FX)
Dan Stevens as David Haller and Rachel Keller as Syd Barrett (Credit: Chris Large/FX)

Ms. Bird, Kerry, and Ptonomy (Amy Smart, Amber Midthunder, and Jeremie Harris) come for Syd and end up pursuing David. He is captured by the Eye (Mackenzie Gray) first, though, who delivers him to a government facility where he is interrogated — first, under the pretense that they are cops (led by Hamish Linklater), then trapped in a pool wired with 100,000 volts of electricity. Syd and Ms. Bird’s team break him out and escape.

Reality vs. fantasy

One of the great things about this episode is that you could remove just a few seconds of footage and it wouldn’t be a show about mutants and superpowers: It would be a show that views mental illness from the inside looking out. His girlfriend, Philly, walks in on the kitchen incident — where David has levitated everything out of the drawers and cabinets into a cloud around him — after everything has dropped to the floor. To her, it looks like he’s just grabbed everything and flung it by hand. Later, he smashes a lamp, and his sister (Katie Aselton) swipes the garden shears and the hatchet: a completely reasonable (and hilarious) response.

(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)

When Syd says, “What if your problems aren’t in your head?” she’s echoing the sentiment of so many people who believe it’s the outside world that’s crazy and they’re the only ones who are sane. This is a story about someone with fantastical powers, but it’s also an exploration of real world fantasy and delusion. If a human being actually had Syd’s power, it would lead to exactly the sort of behavior she’s exhibiting — Dr. Kissinger (David Ferry) says, “All animals need physical contact to feel love” — which would absolutely lead to a diagnosis of mental illness and incarceration. Hopefully it’s a motif that they move away from, but don’t abandon completely, as the series moves on.

Related: Ken Tucker Reviews‘Legion’: Marvel’s Best TV Show Yet

Psychedelia

The aesthetic of this first episode is drenched in the psychedelic ’60s — from David’s orange and yellow jumpsuit to the musical choices right down to the hospital’s name referencing A Clockwork Orange and the hospital itself being vaguely reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Will it persist? Or will we see a completely different look in episode 2?

Katie Aselton as Amy and Dan Stevens as David Haller (Credit: Chris Large/FX)
Katie Aselton as Amy and Dan Stevens as David Haller (Credit: Chris Large/FX)

And the Grammy goes to…

Best Soundtrack for a Childhood of Misdiagnosed Mental Disorders: The Who — “Happy Jack”

Best Love Song for an Affair in an Institution: Rolling Stones — “She’s a Rainbow”

Best Song to Have a Telekinetic Freak-Out to: Jane’s Addiction — “Up the Beach”

Best Fantasy Dance Number While Partially Submerged in a Pool: Serge Gainsbourg — “Pauvre Lola”

Blink and you’ll miss it

  • There are two ominous references to dogs. There’s the red-lit cage in the control room with what looks like a growling dog, and there’s the carving that the Eye places in front of David as a warning. In the X-Men canon, Hounds are mutants who are used to track other mutants. Presumably, we’ll see more explicit references soon.

(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)
  • There are a couple of flashes of something — it looks like a red light surrounded by metal that looks like the entrance to Cerebro, Professor X’s telepath-boosting device.

(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)
  • The physics of the battle at the end are scary in a way that the wire work and greenscreen action of the movies aren’t. Could you imagine being a soldier, then finding yourself flung 1,000 feet into the air with the wave of a hand?

(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)
  • As previously established in Stranger Things, telekinesis is powered by waffles. Do all these production companies own stock in Eggo or something?

(Credit: FX)
(Credit: FX)

Legion airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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