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FX goes thoroughly mondo Marvel -- and brilliantly so -- with Legion


The visual artistry is almost not to be believed in Legion. FX photo

Premiering: Wed., Feb. 8th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Aubrey Plaza, Katie Aselton, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder, Bill Irwin, David Ferry
Produced by: Noah Hawley, Johh Cameron Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Jeph Loeb, Jim Chory

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Even David Lynch might be stunned into submission by the beautifully hypnotic weirdness of Legion.

FX’s latest weekly drama, loosely inspired by the character from Marvel’s X-Men comics, catapults Noah Hawley into the forefront of TV auteurs. First he accomplished the seeming impossible by adapting the sainted Fargo into an arguably even better series. Now he’s given the Marvel franchise a true marvel to behold with this seriously bizarre story of a diagnosed schizophrenic who’s much more than that but also quite possibly beyond control. This is anything but another quippy superhero/super villain outing. And a big thanks for that, because TV screens and movie houses have gotten well beyond the bursting point.

Legion’s central character is David Haller, who’s stunningly played by Dan Stevens. This is the same British actor who came to international fame as formally attired and tragically fated Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey. What a transformation he’s undergone in Legion as a deeply tormented guinea pig whipsawed by voices and visions.

David’s growing pains, from pure, diapered baby to all-hell-breaking-loose young man, are fast forwarded to the tune of The Who’s “Happy Jack” before he lands hard in the Clockworks Mental Hospital. Its administrators strive to get a fix on him. And “if the readings are right,” says one of David’s tormentors, “he may be the most powerful mutant that we’ve ever encountered.”

His best in-house friend is hollow-eyed drug addict Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza from Parks & Recreation). But he’s immediately smitten by a new patient named Sydney “Syd” Barrett (Rachel Keller).

“Do you want to be my girlfriend?” David quickly asks her. “OK,” she agrees. “But don’t touch me.”

Any physical contact basically makes Syd’s skin crawl. So to have and to hold is out of the question, at least throughout the first three episodes made available for review. FX has ordered just eight hours for Legion’s first season, which gives Hawley the luxury to take his time while also having ample time to closely monitor Season 3 of Fargo, which is due this spring.

The visuals and goings-on in Legion are both consistently amazing and intendedly perplexing. Getting a handle on David’s actual realities can be a hellacious work in progress, whether he’s being poked and prodded at Clockworks or subsequently soothed by the outwardly goodly residents of the woodsy and well-hidden Summerland. Its head therapist, Melanie Bird (Jean Smart), yearns to liberate David’s tortured mind and then use him as an awesomely powerful weapon.

“We’re at war,” she declares. “And we’re losing. And you may be the most powerful mutant alive.”

Melanie’s top aides include Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), a “memory artist” who can recreate possibly pivotal scenes from David’s past. “Pretend we’re in a museum. A museum of you,” he says. This gives Legion a device akin to Ebenezer Scrooge’s time travels in A Christmas Carol. David can silently witness himself as a bright-eyed young boy in hopes of seeing where the scarring and scaring began. Or he can try to deduce what triggered his mind to explode the contents of a kitchen during a fit of unbridled rage.

Both Smart and Keller co-starred in Season 2 of Fargo before Hawley took them with him to Legion for the respective key roles of Melanie and Syd. Their performances are solid, but Stevens is the full-blown revelation as multi-traumatized David. Is there no end to what he can do? And should one and all be very, very afraid of finding out more?

FX remains in league with Netflix and HBO as a growingly indispensable provider of high caliber original programming. Legion jars the senses as a jagged-edged jigsaw puzzle that can’t easily be put together. But there’s no inclination to ever stop trying because the overall artistry is beautiful to behold and just won’t quit.


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