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A hallucinatory 'Legion' brings Mutant TV to FX

When we first see David Haller, he tells us it's his "260th Thursday on the cruise ship Mental Health."

He resides at a place reassuringly called the Clockwork Psychiatric Hospital. He's been there six years. What they tell him about himself is that he's a paranoid schizophrenic. And, no doubt, he is. That explains the frequency with which he sees and hears people who aren't there.

The Devil With Yellow Eyes, as one example.

But that isn't the half of it with David. Stick with "Legion's" wild hare tale-telling on Wednesday on the FX Network and you discover that he has secret powers that make him notably dicey company in "polite society." Telepathy is the easy one. The touchy one is telekinesis -- the ability, for instance, to blow up everybody and everything inside a small room. In the original Marvel Comics Character of the '80's called "Legion," we're also told about pyrokinesis -- causing fires with your mind. Stephen King's "Firestarter" is the most famous work about that.

Just an ordinary member of Marvel's "X-Men," (whose tales initially inspired "Legion").

On first acquaintance, David takes some of his daily meds. His druggie pal Lenny temporarily removes her earphones and sagely observes of life in Clockwork "You're in here because somebody said you're not normal. You know who isn't normal? Einstein and Picasso."

You know who else isn't normal? Noah Hawley, the show-runner who created "Legion" out of a fairly obscure Marvel Comics tale and gave it his own spin. Hawley is the master spinner who couldn't possibly have made an inventive, non-derivative weekly TV show out of the Coen Brothers movie "Fargo," until he actually did. While more and more people watched "Fargo" every week, Hawley stunned his audience.

So now we've got an eight-week series called "Legion" and it's absolutely nuts. But then all the best cable TV is these days.

I'm nothing if not fond of TV's 2017 idea of "nuts." On weekly television, there's something exhilarating about shows that bring you things you've either never seen or imagined before or are so full of variations on old themes that they might as well be brand new.

That's "Legion." Anyone who's put in dutiful hours watching "The Twilight Zone" or "The X-Files" has seen before psychiatric emporia that are really secret governmental facilities where crazy scientists can weaponize freaks and geeks.

Our boy David (played by Dan Stevens) has a lot that can be weaponized -- when they stop giving him zombie pills to make him tractable for hospital purposes.

The most satanic governmental exploiter played by David Selby (who's seldom up to any good on TV), says "If the readings are right, he's the most powerful mutant we have ever encountered."

But as we learn from the opening minutes, he also has a lot of features which are standard issue for young men his age. When he spies a beautiful young woman walking into the hospital's common room (Rachel Keller playing a character named Syd Barrett), his hormones speak up.

"Do you want to be my girlfriend" David asks her almost immediately.

"Yeah," she answers after thinking it over very quickly. "But don't touch me."

Syd's malfunction is that she can't stand to be touched. That, in Syd's case with David is notably difficult because her first appearance is accompanied by the Rolling Stones' "She's a Rainbow." An inclination to touch, even kiss such beauty, is going to be standard equipment in any young male endowed with a functioning endocrine system. But her deal is that they can hang out together with maximal proximity. They can bill and coo, even sleep together but they can't kiss or even touch. They're held together by a black piece of cloth which each of them holds by opposite ends.

If you're looking at this thing as ordinary TV, Legion" doesn't make a lick of sense. But, as the Talking Heads might have put it, stop making sense. It is, if not exactly hallucinogenic, certainly hallucinatory, full of phantasmagorical doings that you have to figure out on the fly.

It's a good thing that in the 21st century many of us have become very good at that. Haven't we seen "The X-Files?" "Twin Peaks?" "Homeland?" "Hannibal?" "La Femme Nikita?" "Westworld?"

"Legion," is probably the first official Marvel version of what might be called Mutant TV - a whole bunch of well-photographed hallucinatory stuff which makes no sense itself but only makes sense when you discover its meaning on the fly. Tempos can be vivace, as in the opening of "Legion." Or they can be stately adagios, as in the lunatic "The Young Pope" on HBO.

Those who loathe TV shows that require deciphering  will be ready to commit assault after 15 minutes of "Legion." But those who cherish the new world of Mutant TV will be happy to work on things as "Legion" brings them to us.

Down the road in the first eight episodes of "Legion:" Jean Smart returns to TV as David's shrink, another actress with the altogether spectacular real name Amber Midthunder plays one of David's more venturesome fellow mutants.

Not every one of FX's candidates for Mutant TV splendor is as nutty or as tantalizing as "Legion." See "Taboo" after all.

But "Legion" and "The Young Pope" on HBO are, perhaps, getting us ready for the return of "Twin Peaks" later this year.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

 

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