Every decade seems to generate a good superhero TV show. The 1960s threw forth the brilliant Batman. The 1970s were all about Wonder Woman. The Incredible Hulk took us into the 1980s. And Superman got a couple of solid shows in the shape of Lois and Clark in the 1990s and Smallville for most of the 2000s.
There’s a very different kind of show taking the genre to the next level, however. Legion is only a handful of episodes into its first season right now, but the show is already receiving rave reviews. And for the following three reasons, we think it might just be the best of the lot.
David Haller – Legion‘s protagonist – is about as unreliable as narrators get. As this is his story, that fact calls into question pretty much everything we are watching. The things he says might not be true. The memories he’s exploring might not be real. The people he’s conversing with might not exist. And thanks to David’s confused mental state, he may be blissfully unaware of all these facts.
Which means that the show requires serious concentration. But as proceedings progress, that concentration is paying dividends, with the fractured storyline slowly but surely becoming more focused. Though being brutally honest, we’ve still got no idea who to trust.
But that’s the genius of Legion. The good might be bad, and the bad might be good. So rather than being the black and white of most superhero shows, these characters are painted in shades of grey.
That’s particularly true of Haller himself, the show frequently hinting that he might be bad. He was once ‘the angriest boy in the world’ – is he turning into the angriest man? We know that he’s hiding some of his real memories behind fake ones, but could they be villainous? It would be brave and ballsy to turn David into the show’s most evil entity, but such a twist would certainly make Legion unique.
Either way, it’s an intriguing mystery that we’re having a blast trying to solve.
From the music and visuals to the performances and clothes, Legion is out there. The other Marvel and D.C. shows play out in recognisable cities, most of them either a bit like New York, or New York. But Legion unfolds in a time and place that’s entirely of its own. And often pretty weird.
Showrunner Noah Hawley hasn’t really committed proceedings to a specific period, so the look borrows from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, making the action feel a little off-kilter. The colour scheme is also pretty lurid, most noticeably when our eyes are being burnt by the bright oranges and yellows of the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital.
The sounds are pretty wild, with Hawley referring to the show as a TV version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Songs by The Who, The Rolling Stones and Robert Plant lend proceedings a Brit-rock vibe, while tunes by Talking Heads, Feist, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane’s Addiction don’t just soundtrack proceedings – they help narrate them.
The performances also range from understated to larger-than-life, with Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement very much in the latter category. Their bizarre characters and unhinged line deliveries add to the unpredictability of the show, and the screen lights up when they are onscreen.
Thus far, Dan Stevens has reigned it in as David Haller, spending much of Legion either scared or confused. But as he becomes ever more angry and frustrated, so his powers become more pronounced, making for a very different kind of superhero protagonist.
The bulk of superhero shows are positive and upbeat, the good guys using their amazing powers to defeat the bad. There’s often a pretty miserable back-story. And a spot of guilt and grief. More recently the likes of Preacher and Jessica Jones have journeyed into some pretty dark places.
But few have faced a reality as grim as David’s. He’s been drugged, institutionalised, and told he is mad. Which in turn has led to substance abuse, paranoia, and a merging of fantasy and reality in his mind.
He also hears voices. Hundreds of them. All shouting at once. Because David’s main power at this point is telepathy, and until he can control that tool, it’s less a blessing, and more a curse. Amplifying his loneliness. And brought to life in terrifying fashion onscreen.
More frightening still is the devil with yellow eyes, a foul-looking creature that makes deeply unpleasant appearances in David’s dreams and memories. We reckon he’s probably Amahl Farouk – aka powerful telepath the Shadow King – but whoever the character ends up being, he’s most definitely the stuff of nightmares. And sure to play a more prominent role as the series progresses.
Which makes for a show that isn’t just weird, ambiguous and compelling. But one that’s also genuinely terrifying. Meaning Legion is unlike any superhero show that’s gone before. And has the potential to be the greatest yet.