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‘Legion’ is just as crazy and just as compelling in it’s second season

By Jonah Koslofsky

Section: Arts

April 27, 2018

Interpretive dance battling against the forces of evil. Waffles delivered to a hungry protagonist on tiny boats. Time travel. Random narration by Emmy award winner Jon Hamm. Seriously, if you’re not watching “Legion” on FX by now, I’m not sure what else I can do to sell this show. There’s no other series that balances such stylish insanity with seriously compelling, existential character drama. If you like superheroes, good TV or waffles, you will like “Legion.”

For those who are unaware, “Legion” is a show about a young man named David Haller, who is either a) mentally ill or b) the most powerful superhero on the planet. It’s not quite clear which. One part “Donnie Darko” and one part “X-Men,” “Legion” likely wouldn’t be the success it is without Noah Hawley, the main creative force behind the camera. Like “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, Hawley excels at taking existing intellectual property and reinvigorating it with his own aesthetic sensibilities. Hawley even manages to do this without losing what made those series or stories unique in the first place. Hawley, who either wrote or co-wrote every episode of “Legion” season 2, originally worked wonders on the anthology television adaptation of “Fargo.” The difference is due to the subject matter; with “Legion,” Hawley can let his imagination run wild, every frame just dripping with style.

That said, I did have some worries going into the second season of “Legion.” So much of this show is reliant on Hawley, who hit a bit of a creative burnout on the third season of “Fargo” last year. Hawley has said in interviews that he was writing both shows simultaneously, and his workaholic tendency caused “Fargo” season three to be the weakest season out of anything he’s ever made. So while the first season of “Legion” was great, the cynical part of me worried a bit that Hawley had lost his way as an auteur. The good news is that it looks like the second season of “Legion” is Hawley’s main focus, and he seems to be giving it his undivided attention, which leads to some spectacular television.

“Legion” season 2 builds on everything that was great about season one without not resting on its laurels (as any good sequel should). It picks up one year later, with David finally free from the mysterious Orb that picked him up at the very end of last season. Still at large is Amahl Farouk, or “The Shadow King,” an X-Men villain who had been living inside David’s mind for decades. However, there’s a key inversion this season: in season one, David was an insane man in a seemingly sane world, but now, with many of his mental demons vanquished, he’s the sane man in an insane world.

And that’s where Hawley’s style comes into play. Between the narrative detours that the show happily indulges in (which include Jon Hamm’s narration and explanations of real world mental health phenomenon) to the android hive mind that’s casually introduced with a few lines of dialogue to the psychological “virus” that makes people’s teeth chatter endlessly, we don’t know much about the world “Legion” takes place in, but we do know that it’s gotten as crazy as David ever was. Most of the weird stuff on “Legion” last season took place within David’s mind, but Hawley has now unleashed his distinct aesthetic on everyone, which makes “Legion” feel like a show where anything can happen.

Although Hawley may come from a more prestigious background than most comic book showrunners, his imagination is what makes “Legion” so closely resemble a comic book. After all, comics writers and artists have no constraints on their vision, as awe-inspiring visuals don’t have the same special effects cost on the page as they do on the screen. It’s not like comics creatives have to worry about “ink costs” the way showrunners have to balance a special effects budget over a dozen episodes. So while “Legion” is very visually distinct from something like the CW’s “Flash” or any of the Marvel Netflix shows, I’d argue that the creativity and distinct aesthetic makes it closer to the comics it’s adapted from.

I could honestly gush about this show endlessly, without even getting into how the show perfectly pays homage to one specific X-Men comic (Uncanny X-Men 117, which happens to be a personal favorite). But basically I just want to encourage everyone and anyone to give this show a try. With “Legion” and “Atlanta” (another favorite of mine) both airing on FX, it’s clear that the network has a vision for where the television medium is going, and that’s apparently this unique, creator driven and stylish direction. Waffles included.

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