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Legion - Chapter 1 - Review + POLL

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Chapter 1 of Legion written and directed by master storyteller, Noah Hawley was a highly original piece of television that other superhero projects should strive to be. To be so bold in the face of such a crowded televised landscape is one that catches my eye. So many adaptations have become repetitive and without flair, they begin to all feel so similar that Legion was such a breath of fresh air. FX and Marvel should be incredibly proud of this majestic project, it shows that creativity is not dead, just grasping to survive but if we let it and if the right networks grab hold, look what they can accomplish. As a viewer, you want to be excited and you want to go on a journey, one that suprises you, at least I do, this is a show I really want to submerge myself into, so here go my thoughts, a plenty.

The first shot, the branches of a tree superimposed on an image of a baby’s face, a symbolic reference to the brain, the mind, to that of David. I thought that was a strong use of imagery in the opening moments. It’s important to note, that prior to seeing David, there is no music heard, just calmness until his baby face is present conveying how noise is a part of him. The music, Happy Jack by The Who plays in the background cheerful and carefree slowly becoming louder and more chaotic as David grows, his mind expands and his inability to control his powers wanes. Voices become tangled within the music, drowning it out until they strangle you, so much so that you could cause the windows to shatter in the police car you're trapped in (what an excellent visual).

Seeing an adult David ready to kill himself just so the noises will stop shows how much they affect him. The editing of the voices, loud and overbearing even for the audience to listen to allows us to feel as if we are David, that we are within his mind and it's a great transportive technique. The electric cord David uses to hang himself transforming into the sparkling candle his sister brings to him at the hospital was a unique visual cue, showing the movement from death to life.

“On the plus side, I have mastered the art of eating with a spoon”

Meeting David's sister was a nice window into his personal life beyond what we've seen from his perspective. David very much wants to return home, "when can I come home", to be free or at least be with someone he loves instead of this isolated building in which he feels trapped, he can't even have a piece of his own birthday cupcake. Scanning the room, the welcome greetings inscribed in multiple languages highlights the space's multiculturalism or rather that this is one of the few all accepting treatment clinics for mental illness.

Soon after seeing his sister David returns to the mundanity of living at Clockworks, "time for your meds". A fast paced violin score plays whilst David gets pushed to sit next to his friend, Lenny, played wonderfully by Aubrey Plaza. David is soon after taken by the beautiful Syd, played by the talented Rachel Keller. This lovely serene music plays whilst he looks at her, captured by her he tries to introduce himself but their first encounter is a little too close for comfort.

"Here at CNN folks, we like our chances"

The cinematography is utterly excellent as we watch David think, new scenes show up in his mind. The editing is utterly flawless as we move from one chaotic memory to another and then he appears, the Devil with Yellow Eyes. The music crescendos until we get a glimpse of the face of this creature. It was startling, to me at least, the way the music and the scene are put together is ingenious, takes you by surprise. The use of a red filter for danger, the quick shot of a younger David, it all works together so well. Waking from this nightmare, the nurses (?) inject David to calm down, I liked this tiny moment as the editing of David's voice as he falls off into a slumber was great. When we return we see glimpses of a picturesque childhood as group therapy ensues and Syd joins in.

"Like normal’s the suit…", the suit they want you to wear until it’s in their favor for you to remove it or for as long as it makes them seen and you not heard.

"You got with the kids these days call moxie", Lenny continues to have some fun dialogue. Aubrey Plaza pops in her scenes, her eccentric personality is a lot of fun to watch.

"What if they aren't even problems", Syd trying to show David that there might be more to his delusions than what he's lead to believe was great insight from her part. "When you see stuff and hear voices, that's what makes you, you", that was fantastic, part of the thing that is so exceptional about X-Men is embracing your uniqueness, it’s your very defining characteristics that make you, you. Never deny yourself that peace of mind that comes from (self) acceptance. I really loved Rachel Keller in this scene, we got a slightly deeper understanding of her character and how she's more accepting of her peculiarity. We also saw how strong she is, to have such a steadfast belief without it being destroyed by other people speaks volumes and shows her self-awareness. She really gives David a much-needed dose of reality, "that's sad, you're in a mental hospital".

"All animals need physical contact to feel love"

“Do you wanna be my girlfriend”, another great yet sort of awkward moment because it takes place during group therapy but Dan's sweetness about it and Rachel's shyly acknowledging yes was quaint. Their odd ways of showing their affection are really special. David being so highly expressive, one of the best things about Dan Stevens’ performance, is always fun to watch, “why are the hot ones always so crazy”.

"Okay… but don’t touch me" I loved Lenny's reaction to their courtship and I appreciate David never pushing Syd, a sense of good character I'd say.

Cue the montage of Syd and David falling in love. Their bond growing in its unusual nature was sweetly defiant. I find it a joy to watch people be happy without being forced. There's this natural chemistry between Dan and Rachel that's magical. Nothing too overdone just simple. The music playing was energetic, full of life whilst also being overlain into memories of David's childhood showing how deep this connection could be/is becoming. I liked the little nod to Titanic (I interpreted it in that way) whereby we see a quick glance of David on a seat, legs held, slightly uncomfortable but willing whilst Syd draws him quite well. There's this Pushing Daisies vibe as to how they interact with each other, through the piece of cloth which was charming. Without an immediate need for intimacy through direct contact, this sort of push and pull between them makes their relationship more enduring. It’s rare to see couples on TV that aren’t jumping at one another at first glance, I appreciate getting to know each of them, seeing them have a deeper conversation.

One of my absolute favorite scenes was the window reflection moment. "If you kind of unfocus your eyes", Rachel Keller's voice is so gentle and soft as she tells David what to do, to let the hospital disappear in the reflection and become free whilst still being trapped was gorgeous. The lighting on their faces moving from a soft blue to red as they lean in for a reflected kiss was stunning. That is before the memory becomes disrupted by a man questioning David. It was so beautifully poetic and romantic with a lot of depth. They want to be normal to some degree and this scene allowed them to and Noah’s direction really made such a difference.

"Life you’re in here, watching yourself outside..."

Dan Stevens is incredibly excellent, if you follow each movement on his face, from the little crease of his eye to his smile incrementing up and down, every little detail is perfect and makes you connect with him/love him even more. The casting director found such a capable actor and more in Dan Stevens. The moments of happiness, joy to those of paranoia and delusion are done with exceptional believability.

As the interrogation develops, the audience notices that this is more than meets the eye. With one man in the back taking notes, the one in front questioning. There's a quick glance of the floor, David's barefoot on a tiled floor, this isn't the usual office space! We switch between scenes with David's psychiatrist to the interrogation, a huge difference is an intimacy between them, Dr. Kissinger and David had nothing between them, there's no table present, it was more relaxed whilst the interrogation with Hamish Linklater's character is controlled, the communication is divided by a table.

Flashing back to one of David's memories, Syd comes into David's bedroom, lies next to him on his bed, the use of the overhead shot of the two characters, showing their distance but closeness was a nice touch. I also loved the editing of memories before this, a circular dream capsule bursts over his bed/his body which matches the circular carpet, such a unique feature, you don't see such creativity like this (I just love these little details). During all of this Dan's performance is so impressive.

"I did at one point but they helped with that.. the drugs"

The place where they are interrogating David is even more fascinating, hidden in a school, a fake room within an empty swimming pool. The music as the interrogator exits the room is cool, very techno, and the one tracking shot showing us the width of the area the captors possess is nice. The discussion between the two men on what needs to be done with David was fun, the farting dialogue especially because usually, these moments are tense, and this was, but had some humor injected in, "If the readings are right, he may be the most powerful mutant we’ve ever encountered"

"He believes he's mentally ill"
"Divison 1 thinks we should kill him before he realizes who he is"

David’s flashback to a moment where he saw his powers for what they were was breathtaking, the music quiet then turning into something so terrifyingly loud as the kitchen cabinets shake and explode open sending the room into disarray. The flashes we see, the way it's edited like that of a child blocking out a haunting memory is perfect. The glimpses of red light, the sign of danger that's tied to the Devil with Yellow eyes is creepy and so well done. The expression David has during all of this is just excellent too. The way these objects circulate around him in chaos whilst he watches quietly was so poignant.

Hamish's character returns with additional staff to help David remember more of what happened to Lenny (and the hospital). These tests are to help David remember, to make him but as David becomes calmer he realizes he has the power, they are "afraid of him".

As the test plays out, we return to Clockworks, the faint sound of a heartbeat is heard along with the noise of a ping pong ball, just a normal day whilst Syd readies to leave. I liked Lenny's fun "ladies stuff" moment with Syd. The way the camera follows David running towards Syd is noted, it's very romantic, however, his emotions got the best of him as he goes in for the goodbye kiss. The closeup shot of them about to kiss slowing down with Syd's warnings of 'no' heard throughout was amazing, the way we see time run through across David's eye was fantastic. The use of TV's in a grassy field to represent memories was neat and the actual explosion as a result of the kiss was otherworldly. Movies and TV shows should be jealous at the editing seen in Legion, it's so clean and swift, never messy, always pinpoint perfect. Of course, it can be confusing to some (though that's more the narrative of David's mind) but if you pay attention, it's so worthwhile. Dan's acting as Syd leaves is awesome, his agony, the way his suffering is captured with the lights flashing on and off with yet again the terrifying red light plus haunting trumpet-like bursts of sound, a warning of the Devil with Yellow Eyes' presence was just amazing. Noah Hawley's ability to capture psychological fear is unparalleled.

As we watch, we understand that the body switch has taken place and it makes for Syd as David's response all the more understandable. Her reaction is not without effect, to see evil, something unfathomable and not be able to escape it would result in a huge accident. Sadly Lenny was a part of that carnage.

"Somehow she took my place, I took hers"

As David Struggles to explain what had happened to him, the pen adjacent to the man shakes around, it's a clear sign his emotion is tied to his power hence his constant 'calm down'. Though, you can only say someone to keep calm for so long before they've had enough.

After being forced to calm down, Syd as David returns to Clockworks with his psychiatrist, the music becomes progressively more fast-paced, like a heartbeat quicken in the face of death. The familiar red lights flooding the room screamed of hell and the shot of poor Lenny killed disturbingly as her body lies trapped within the wall was tragic. Syd as David screaming "David" through the wall in a doorless room was even more excruciating, Dan Stevens' was marvelous throughout, as always.

David being told to calm down, grabbed by his neck and pushed back into his seat lead to a phenomenal scene. Seeing that pen shot across into the interrogator's face, the slow-mo shot of David raising his hands with all his might, lifting the room and its contents and then throwing them down was such a fantastic, cinematic sequence.

"Mommy loves you, she does"

Something worth nothing is that whenever David is sad or hurt, he thinks back to his childhood, to calming voices of his mother and like all memories, they lead him home, to his sister once he notices the body swap has worn off. Loved the quick moment in his sister's basement where he switches on the lamp and we see a happy baby David, no care in the world, then cut to adult David and dead Lenny appearing to him, warning "they’re coming and they’re going to kill you".

"Don't worry about me, it’s you that’s got problems, there coming for you babe," as short as Aubrey Plaza's scenes are, she always shines in them and I liked this one, a sort of dream-like projected warning. Lenny's wonderfully funny in a dark way that only Aubrey can inhabit with perfection, "I know, I’m dead, you killed me and I gotta say, not cool man". His dreams are important, in each of them, they have warned him to wake up or helped him in some manner.

"Don’t give a newbie a bazooka and expect her not to blow up shit", Lenny not holding a grudge and David understanding why it happened is honestly just refreshing, too many shows use these sorts of scenarios to hold grudges and just stagnate the narrative (especially on network TV to bring about unnecessary drama).

"I’m insane you idiot, this is my delusion" - The way David spoke, the control and dark undertones in his voice were superb, Dan Stevens nailed this scene, this is the kind of acting worthy of awards. The fantastic writing coupled with talented people to step into these roles make this show really enjoyable.

I loved how Syd was projected into his memory as he recalls what had happened post hospital. As troubling as his mind is, it’s also his salvation, we've seen it a few times now. The scenes in the pool were really trippy, the way David's body seemed longer than usual, the water alluding to such things was yet another fantastic visual.

David being rescued was spectacular, saved by Syd in such a cinematic fashion with a brilliant one-shot Marvel made famous in Daredevil, that entire sequence was remarkable, the work that went into must've been tiresome but it really paid off.

"I'm real, this is real okay. I'm here, I came back for you. I love you. Okay?" - Syd's the best!

"Take my hand", what a beautiful moment to close the episode, the way Melanie extends her hand to help is really loving whilst the background, hidden in the greenery, we see the Devil with Yellow Eyes, sitting, watching David as he tries to escape himself. The final shot before it fades to black, just two hands held in unison, there's something really profound and X-Men like about it. To help, to unify, those are ideals to strive towards.

Noah’s unique sense of style and storytelling flourishes throughout, it’s evident from the moment the pilot starts until it ends, it’s his project, filled with individuality and finesse that only he can do. It’s never subjugated to any other frameworks (like some superhero movies can be). It's fantastically original.

Sorry for the length of this review, so much to talk about, things I didn't even mention so take to the comments and share your thoughts, as much as you'd like. Don't forget to tune in next Wednesday at 10|9c on FX for Chapter 2 and Thursdays on FOX International.

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