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radiantfracture

September 2017

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Recently LB & S & I finished the first season of Legion.

The visual and sound design are amazing – particularly the sound, actually, which was reminiscent in parts of (what little I know about) Gaspar Noé’s soundscapes – for example, the use of low-frequency tones that make you tense and/or vaguely nauseous.

Legion is giddy and intoxicating, and each night when we were finished I walked home in a genuinely altered state.


I like that the X-mythos is present but not foregrounded or expositioned to death. There are mutants and there are government forces and, yeah, that's it.

I like the way everyone's powers are about fragmentation / reconstitution of identity: shapechanging, body switching, remembering, splitting and reuniting. Some of this is gendered, if not really deconstructive of gender per se.1

As an exploration of minds and memories and how they're layered and compressed and self-contradictory, I enjoyed it.

The show performs a neat sleight-of-hand in that it seems shattered in time and space, and yet by the end of each episode I was pretty clear where we stood in terms of advancement of the narrative.

The horror elements kept surprising me in a good way.

Dan Stevens. I mean, Dan Stevens.

AUBREY PLAZA. Is. Fantastic.

By the end, I did stick a bit on some thematic/conceptual points. These are familiar issues for superhero stories:

a) To save the world we must solve the emotional problems of a white guy.2

We meet a group of intriguing and fairly diverse characters, but as we dash towards the climax, they mostly end up as ground to David's figure.

b) The Cary/Kerry relationship is sweet and inventive. Amber Midthunder and Bill Irwin's performances are great and full of conviction. Kerry is kickass. Their relationship is an unusual kind of bond, and I like that.

Still – the way the relationship works, the way it's structured, and the way it plays out – it also isn't not this other thing, or at least it bears the traces of this other thing – appropriation, literalized and embodied, where the white person gets to be the centre of every possible experience.

c) Originally, Syd says that not only is it a bad idea for her to touch people (as she switches bodies with them) – she also doesn't like physical contact or even proximity to others. However, this situation turns out to have an astral solution: when David brings Syd to the astral plane (without, by the way, asking if she'd like to go), she can touch and be sexual without the risk of switching bodies and apparently without discomfort.

This was, in a way, disappointing. I didn't need this part of Syd "solved." Maintaining the integrity of Syd's withdrawal from touch would have given the character an interesting kind of built-in autonomy, and while it wouldn't have directly associated her with any particular sexual, emotional, or neurological identity, it would have had interesting echoes of many.

These – differences of opinion – did not ruin Legion for me, but they were irritants in an otherwise joyfully surreal experience.

To sum up: brilliant sensory experience, clever structure, rollercoaster-of-the-mind plot, and slightly disappointing lack of risk-taking with the characters/focus, given the other accomplishments of the show.

{rf}


Notes

1. Though certainly the Kerry/Cary dyad doesn't split along traditional gender lines.

2. To be fair, that might actually be true, but it's not necessarily something to revel in, narratively.

"Emotional problems" might not be the right term here, since the story is at least ostensibly about mental illness, but Legion felt preoccupied with David's negotiation of his powers, rather than with the lived experience of mental illness itself. Then, I don't know where they're going with David's identity, or how close it will be to the comic character.
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