On the one hand, it’s easy to describe Legion. It takes part in the Marvel X-Men universe, and is something of an origin story for “Legion”, a lesser-known X-Men character who is the son of Professor X. Legion, known as David Haller, was diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was young, and his actions do little to dissuade us from that diagnosis. But it turns out he has mutant powers, which, since no one really understands them, leaves him extremely confused.
So far, this is simple. The cast is an interesting blend of people you know from various projects. Dan Stevens, who plays David, was Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. There’s Rachel Keller, who made a name for herself on the second season of Fargo, which, like Legion, comes from Noah Hawley. Jean Smart, who has been around for a long time, agreed to join the cast without knowing anything about it, because she loved working on Fargo so much. Aubrey Plaza is Aubrey Plaza, but there are so many parts to her character that she expands the definition of an Aubrey Plaza character. (And since I love Aubrey Plaza without ever actually watching her in anything other than talk shows, I’m glad she’s finally in something I like.) There’s Bill Irwin, who founded the Pickle Family Circus, and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords.
All of this sounds quirky, but it doesn’t prepare you for what turns up on the screen. Because Hawley spends much of his time inside the head of David Haller, who, it is safe to say, is the ultimate in Unreliable Narrator, since he isn’t ever sure what’s happening in his head, or if it’s actually outside of his head. He can’t be reliable even if he wants to. Hawley dumps us in the middle of this ... he doesn’t really explain what’s going on with any clarity until the next-to-last episode of the season, which means we spend six episodes asking each other, “what the fuck?” Legion is as trippy as any show you’ve ever seen, and while there are good reasons for that, you have to allow yourself to be confused.
There is a lot of strong acting on the show ... if you’re expecting Matthew Crawley 2.0, you’re in for a surprise. And the look of the show perfectly matches the themes and the “reality” of this alternate world. It’s a pleasure to watch, even if/when you are clueless about what you are watching. And maybe it’s because I love Fargo the TV series so much, but I spent the entire season of Legion assuming that Noah Hawley knew what he was doing, so instead of my usual frustration at obscurity, I gave myself over to his vision.
I am nowhere near fluent in the X-Men universe, so I can say with confidence that such knowledge is not required to enjoy Legion. And if you don't like superhero sagas, trust me, this isn't like the ones you're familiar with. If you think the world has gone downhill since the 60s, when trippy visuals were the norm, you will love Legion. Just be warned that there are few shows as weird as this one. A-.