Legion arrives on FX from the pages of Marvel comics, but if you didn’t know that going in, you’d have no idea this is a story of a superhero. The show, brought to the screen by Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley, upends your conception of a tights-clad champion armed with extraordinary powers that defy physics and – sometimes – logic. As the premiere episode opens we meet David Haller, a man who is in no way “super”. In the hands of actor Dan Stevens(now fully removed from his buttoned-up character on Downton Abbey), David is a strung-out patient who hears voices and sees a ghoulish yellow-eyed figure in dark corner. He wears a yellow tracksuit, has darkened circles around his eyes and has lost his grip on reality, diagnosed by his doctors as a schizophrenic. Except that David might not actually be mentally ill. He might just be telepathic.
In the comics, David is the son of Charles Xavier, the mutant leader of the X-Men. Here there’s no mention of that superhero gang, no ties to Fox’s film franchise. These events, which unfold slowly over the first few episodes of the series, take place in a parallel universe where mutants exist, but don’t spend their time dashing around to save the world. For David, the biggest hurdle isn’t the end of the life on Earth, but whether the fragmented existence around him is real or in his head.
The strength of Legion, which grapples with mental health in a way many TV shows might veer away from, is in Hawley’s approach to David’s mind. David is not a reliable narrator, and neither is Hawley. The camera movements are fractured and set at strange angles, and the editing is quick, often jumping between images in an unsettling manner. Sometimes it’s very dark, and sometimes David’s face glows red. It’s all because we’re in David’s head and since he doesn’t always know what he’s seeing, neither do we.