You know the greatest thing I loved about comics as a kid?
They suspended reality.
It was an opportunity for me to escape reality, if only briefly. Even though some stories would be emotionally driven and mirrored real life events, they still served as a fantasy world. They formed a mythology. This mythology only existence on thin pieces of glossy paper. It was a fantasy world, but it felt very real to the reader.
I felt like Peter Parker when reading The Amazing Spiderman. This was a world I enjoyed escaping to.
This isn’t the preferred medium for most. Some people simply don’t like to read. It doesn’t become real until they can see it in action. Comic book movies and TV shows are as old as time, but we’re currently experiencing a boom. As they movies/shows grow, so does the examination of this mythology. Animating those pages takes these mythical characters, and makes them real.
Just like all mythology, the mythos questioned.
“Why doesn’t anyone recognize Superman if he doesn’t wear a mask?”
“Batman doesn’t have any powers so how does he protect a city all by himself?”
and the most relevant one:
“Why does the government hate mutants? What’s the difference between a mutant and a superhero?”
These questions usually get thrown at me due to my basic knowledge of comics. I’m admittedly a novice, maybe even slightly below intermediate, but I know more than the average person would.
In short, a superhero gained their powers by some outside stimuli. Mutants gain their powers biologically. They are born mutated genes encoded into their DNA and are more superior to homo-sapiens. Mutants are believed to be far more dangerous because there’s no regulation for genetics. A combination of two mutant gene pools could create a totally new mutation. In a world where humans are supposed to be the most advanced species, mutants being genetically advanced challenges that existence.
Now, if this all sounds new to you, it’s because the X-Men movies do a shitty job of explaining this. It’s easy to show a man who can extract claws from his fist or the lady who can summon up a storm, but what ago the guy who can’t control his thoughts? What about the guy who doesn’t know which little voice in the back of his head is the right one to listen to?
This mutant is David Haller (also known as Legion). He’s the son of Professor X which means he inherited those telepathic powers. What makes him unique is that he suffers from multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia. Each one of his personalities can unlock a new power. These personalities often rage inside of him in order to gain control of his body.
If dealing with multiple personalities wasn’t enough in the “real” world, it’s even more difficult to manage when David’s mutant powers are involved.
Is it all real or is it all in his head? These are the questions viewers have to ask.
Legion follows a pattern of two of my favorite shows currently, Mr. Robot and The Leftovers. It reintroduces the theme of the unreliable narrator. We see the show in first-person but since the character is introduced as an untrustworthy storyteller, we’re left to sort out what’s real and what isn’t. At the end of episode one, David turns to Syd Barrett and “Is this real?”
[Note: David’s love interest, Syd Barrett, is named after former Pink Floyd member who left the group due to mental illness.]
Can we really trust the perspective of a schizophrenic mutant when he can’t even trust himself?
This show could have taken two routes. It could have remained above the surface. This version of the show would have been good, not great. The best version of this show goes deeper. It makes you question everything you think you’re seeing.
Just as the character Syd remove her glove, touch someone, and swap bodies with them, we have to swap with David to enter his mind.
Legion works so well because it knows when to lie to you and never makes a promise that the truths will be revealed later. This is evident from the pilot. It starts off as a collage of nonlinear images in a broken narrative, but every single image matters. This is the best representation of David’s mind. In order to understand David’s mind, you must be willing to release control and submerge yourself in his consciousness.
There’s the chaotic state of his mind that offers no stability and there’s the meta level that makes him believe he’s fine. Which are we seeing as the viewer?
This experience pulls you in, teases you, damn near makes you uncomfortable. If you experience even the smallest amount of discomfort, it doesn’t compare to what David, a fictional character, has to go through. And that’s the mark of great TV.
We have to enter the complex mind of this power mutant in order to know what it means to be a mutant. Mastering one’s power isn’t as simple as learning to swim, it’s hacking the entire mainframe of your body in order to gain control of it.
You see David as a mutant with a troubled mind, which makes you feel empathy. This unreliable narrator with different levels in his mind. When you begin pondering these things, they take precedence over the questions you ask yourself while attempting to suspend reality. Suddenly, this preposterous premise about a mind-reading, time-altering, reality shifting mutant doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. Entering David’s mind, we realize maybe he’s not so crazy. He’s no hero, but it’s hard to be when you have this living inside of you.
Just like the touch of Syd’s ungloved hand, the lunatic is now in our head.
Legion is definitely a frustrating show to watch at times but that’s only because it commands your attention and won’t let you go. If you haven’t watched this show, I urge you to.