February 12, 2017

Legion Flies above the Tropes of the Superhero Genre

Print More

Legion already separates itself from other superhero shows through its use of a largely character-driven story and departure from long-winded exposition. The first episode takes its audience on a visually stunning journey as it diverges from typical superhero tropes and commits to its unique style.

The series follows the journey of David Haller (Dan Stevens), a young man being treated in a mental hospital after being diagnosed with schizophrenia and attempting suicide. The causes of his illness are vague as he is also a mutant with telepathic and telekinetic powers. While he is undoubtedly able to move things and cause serious damage with his mind, it is unclear whether the voices in his head are entirely hallucinations or if they are a result of his mind-reading abilities.

During his time in the mental hospital, David Haller spends most of his time with Lenny (played brilliantly by Aubrey Plaza) until he meets Syd (Rachel Keller) who becomes his girlfriend. Their relationship is complicated by Syd’s complete avoidance of human contact. Syd is finally released from the mental hospital, but as she is leaving, David kisses her, causing them to switch bodies as a result of Syd’s mutant powers. Overwhelmed by David’s abilities, Syd kills Lenny and traps all the patients of the mental hospital in their rooms. Meanwhile, David leaves in Syd’s body, safe until their bodies switch again. David is captured by the government and while he thinks that they’re interrogating him to find out what happened on the day of Lenny’s death, they monitor his powers, speculating that David may be the most powerful mutant they know. Ultimately Syd and two other mutants, who David saw at the hospital the day of the incident, break David out of the facility, leaving us to wonder where they go from here.

Legion stands out from other superhero shows in its narrative strength and unique tone. Instead of wasting time on backstories, Legion places a larger emphasis on developing the plot. The first scene jumps right in, showing how David deals with his powers through his childhood and adolescence, ultimately ending up in a mental hospital. This quick, mostly visual introduction puts the audience inside of David’s head, provides a greater understanding of the character and saves the show from clunky explanations. The show focuses on how David deals with the aftermath of his power’s destruction rather than the development of his powers, avoiding an extremely overused superhero trope. This keeps the plot moving and human-focused. While the character’s personalities have been shaped by their powers, they are not necessarily defining. By giving David a diagnosis of schizophrenia, David’s struggle becomes more ambiguous and universal than if he were dealing with a more stereotypical power.

Legion commits to a unique aesthetic and tone that mirrors David’s plight and brings its audience into David’s perspective. The show has a trippy quality to it. Everything about the sets, the costumes and the music is slightly off-kilter, suggesting that the creators may not be showing the events exactly as they occurred, but rather David’s perception of these events. Legion excels through its effective use of ambiguity and uncertainty. Because David has schizophrenia and cannot see the difference between reality and his delusions, we are shown the story through an unreliable narrator, and the show’s aesthetic quality further emphasizes this vagueness.

The show constantly blurs the line of what is real and what is imagined. It’s unclear to what extent the voices David hears and his skewed perception of reality is the result of his powers. Some of the voices are likely the effect of his telepathic powers, as Syd appears to him in a vision explaining that she’s coming to rescue him, an event that unfolds in reality. Some of his visions, however, are delusions of some sort. Lenny appears to David after her death, making it impossible for him to be reading her mind or receiving a message from her. The use of ambiguity in storytelling moves away from a straightforward plot and leaves much more to interpretation. It also adds a layer of psychological suspense and thrill. The audience, like David, can never be quite sure what is real.

Legion’s pilot is a strong start to a series with a lot of potential. If Legion stays committed to its style and tone, it has the chance to rise to a higher tier than current superhero shows.


Brynn Richter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.  She can be reached at [email protected]