‘Legion’ Finally Finds A TV Cliche It Can’t Dress Up Enough

Senior Television Writer
03.15.17 34 Comments


A review of tonight’s Legion coming up just as soon as I wash the dishes while singing along to “99 Luftballons”…

“Something’s wrong. Like a dream, you know? But not an interesting one.” –Syd

Through its first five episodes, Legion took a lot of old storytelling devices that have been worn out to the point of annoyance — chief among them the question of whether any of this is real, or if it’s all taking place inside David’s head — and breathed new life into them through the sheer audacity, imagination, and execution of this creative team. It’s a show where I’ve had reservations almost every week, but reservations that quickly get swept away because OHMIGOD IS JEMAINE JAZZ-DANCING INSIDE AN ICE CUBE?

With “Chapter 6,” the series finally crashes into a trope even it can’t dress up with its usual style and attention to detail. David and the Summerland team find themselves trapped inside a version of Clockworks constructed by some combination of David’s powers and The Devil With The Yellow Eyes, with their real powers and traumas presented as psychological symptoms, like Kerry and Cary’s pathological closeness, or Ptonomy’s fixation on the memory of his mother’s death in Germany.

Placing characters in an asylum and telling them that everything they’ve experienced in the series to that point isn’t real is among the oldest, hoariest of TV cliches. (Airwolf did this when I was a kid, and even then I recognized it as something that had been done a million times before.) It can have value if done right(*), and Legion, with its focus on the mental health of its main character, is more entitled to use it than most, but it’s still a drag, and one that feels like a way to stall the story that Hawley and company are telling across these first eight episodes.

(*) For an example of it being done wrong on every level, I invite you to watch the second episode of Iron Fist— which attempts the whole Gaslight routine before anything has actually happened — when it debuts on Friday. Or, better yet, don’t.

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