11 Feb 2017

Screen Time: LEGION: Episode 1, Season 1: 'Chapter 1'

Screen Time: LEGION: Episode 1, Season 1: 'Chapter 1'
Cast: Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubery Plaza, Bill Irwin, Jean Smart
Directors: Noah Hawley

Matt C: On paper, this seemed like an unlikely project. A minor X-Men character introduced during Chris Claremont's initial run on the New Mutants comic book series, one that was eventually revealed to be the illegitimate son of Charles Xavier, becomes the star of his own television show on FX, home of Sons Of Anarchy, The Americans and Fargo. Fargo is the key series to note here because at the helm of this new show is the brains behind what many initially dismissed as a pointless spin-off from an acclaimed movie only for it to turn out to be arguably the most ingenious and compelling new series in the last few years. With Legion, Fargo maestro Noah Hawley has taken a vastly familiar concept and spun it into something that becomes immediately compulsive and disarming viewing, a show that has its roots in superhero drama but feels quite unlike any visual interpretation of one of Marvel's premier cashcows that we've seen before.

Largely based around a psychiatric hospital where David Haller (Stevens) has been committed as a patient following a succession of disturbing incidents, the daily routine and insanity is interrupted by a new arrival, someone who brings hope to Haller but also danger and pain, shifting his world off its axis, inviting sinister forces to explore whether there is true power behind his madness. Stevens is thoroughly convincing as the man at the centre of the maelstrom, shaking off his Downton Abbey persona completely; he's always engaging, with hints of danger constantly simmering under the confused surface. Hawley's directorial skills reveal themselves to be a match of his brilliantly crafted scripting abilities, visual trickery keeping the audience guessing as to whether or not we're being lead astray by an unreliable narrator.

By the end of the episode it becomes abundantly clear that Hawley has found a way to refresh the paradigm, making the standard X-Men tropes feel vital again, as well as viewing things through the prism of mental illness and asking the question: does seeing the world differently from everyone else mean you're seeing it wrong? It's a brave, disconcerting and devilishly constructed opener, one that not only confirms Hawley as a major talent to be reckoned with, regardless of genre, but also that this is the debut episode to beat in the televisual landscape throughout 2017. It's that good, and it shows that in the right hands the concept that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought to life over 50 years ago still has relevance and the potential to enthral. 9/10

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