Post Mortems
Legion Recap Series Premiere FX Dan Stevens David

Legion Boss Makes Sense of the Trippy Series Premiere — Plus: Grade It!

Warning: The following contains spoilers for Wednesday’s Legion series premiere.

It’s understandable if you came out of Legion‘s total mind-warp of a series premiere with lots of questions. Heck, by the end, even the main character wants to know: “Is this real?!”

Wednesday’s premiere of the FX superhero drama (based on the Marvel comic) introduces us to David Haller, a troubled patient at a psychiatric hospital. When new patient Syd arrives, David falls in love — and gets zapped by a supernatural force when he tries to kiss her. Suddenly, he’s switched bodies with Syd, a nefarious government organization is interrogating him, we learn David is a mutant with telekinetic powers, he’s rescued by a team of outcasts… and oh yeah, there’s a massive war going on outside. So you can see why even David is confused.

Luckily, we have Legion creator Noah Hawley, who wrote and directed the pilot, to help explain all of this for us. TVLine sat down with Hawley to make sense of David’s surreal journey, explore the cinematic influences behind Legion‘s distinctive look and get a preview of what’s next for David and his merry band of mutants.

TVLINE | First of all, I can really relate to David when he asks Syd at the end: “Is this real? Are you real?”
[Laughs] Yeah, every time you walk out a door, you’re like, “Where am I?” You’ve been in this hospital, and suddenly you’re in this interview room, and then you’re in a pool… and then when you run out of the pool, you’re in this crazy cliffside. So there is this sense of “Is this real?” I think that’s interesting: this idea of “If something feels real, maybe that’s as important as if it is real.”

Legion FX Series Premiere Syd Rachel KellerBut the love story [between David and Syd], as long as that’s real, we’ll go anywhere. You’ve got to give an audience something to root for. The minute you get into more dystopian shows, where everything’s really dark, and no one has any hope, and there’s no positive goal we’re working toward, it’s a bummer. You run out of gas with them. Because you need to know, “What am I in this for? What am I rooting for?” And it can’t just be about a negative. It can’t just be about the destruction of something. It has to be about the creation of something.

TVLINE | David’s mental illness is a big theme in the pilot. So is his biggest battle the one he has within his own mind?
The most dangerous thing, when you have a serious mental illness, is convincing yourself that you don’t have it. And you see it all the time. People get on medication, and they feel better, and they stop taking it. And some flirt with unreality on some levels. But it feels so convincing to them that it feels real. So I think that part of the story is important. I think this idea of fighting the enemy within is sort of more interesting than fighting an external enemy. This is a guy who, for twenty years, has been trained to think one way, and is trying to think another way, but his own mind is sort of fighting back.

You know the X-Men [comic book] is called The Uncanny X-Men, right? And that word “uncanny”… Sigmund Freud has an essay about the uncanny, and what it talks about is: When familiar things operate in unfamiliar ways, it’s really unsettling. Which is why haunted-house stories are so scary. Because a house isn’t supposed to do that. So we really steered into that idea of the uncanniness of this story.

TVLINE | OK, some quick practical questions: Was the mental hospital connected to the government agency interrogating David?
No, they’re separate. It’s not until he uses his powers in a big way — or Syd does, when she’s transferred over — that he does something loud enough for them to hear. And then they come to get him, and they end up with her.

Legion FX Series Premiere Aubrey Plaza LennyTVLINE | Will we see Aubrey Plaza again, even though Lenny was killed in the pilot?
There’s a story, yeah. There’s an identity, a mystery to it. We are exploring memory, and the reliability of memory. And if your whole life, you thought you were mentally ill and you have all those memories, then that’s the reality. But what if some of those memories aren’t real? What are you, really, and how do you figure that out? But she plays a character that evolves. And it was a challenge for [Aubrey], I’m sure, to say, “Wait, I thought I was this person Lenny, but now who am I?” It’s not clear, necessarily, over the first few hours, and then it becomes clear.

TVLINE | What about that grotesque creature that David sees, the Devil With the Yellow Eyes? Do we learn more about that in future episodes?
We do. Again, it’s sort of detached from information in the first couple of hours. It’s compelling because it’s such a horrifying image, and we know that it means something, but we don’t know what it means. In the way, in Twin Peaks, that those first images of Bob… you would see things. I talked a lot about how, in Mulholland Drive, that scene in the [diner] is one of the scariest scenes ever committed to film. It’s daylight, it’s a conversation, there’s nothing frightening in it. But there’s something about the oddness, the uncanniness of the scene. So we always looked at that as an opportunity.

TVLINE | That epic final battle scene: Was that all filmed in one long tracking shot?
It was. It’s certainly ambitious on a TV schedule. A lot of moving pieces, a lot of rehearsal, a lot of luck… some visual effects, but not a crazy amount. Because my feeling was: The more you can do these things practically, the more believable they’ll be. Even if everything’s flying around in the kitchen. We shot that with a repeatable camera arm, high-speed, high-frame. So we blew everything out of those drawers and cabinets, and we filmed it, and then we put David in the now-clean room and we filmed it. And then we composited the two together. And the same with the table in the interrogation room. Your eye knows when something is practical. But it’s a challenge on a TV schedule.

Legion Recap Series Premiere FX Superhero Noah Hawley MarvelTVLINE | I see all kind of film-geek influences in the look of Legion: Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson. What were some of your visual influences?
Well, I wanted it to have a distinctive visual style, and a humor to it. But not in the sort of quippy way that some of the [comic-book] stories are told. More just: Smart people are funny, and these are smart people. And also, there’s a playfulness to the genre that I feel should be in there. Which there is, obviously, in Wes’s work. And Kubrick was playing in a different way… there’s an air of menace in the way that Kubrick uses the camera, or [David] Fincher uses the camera, in a sense of framing and just ambience and atmosphere.

Kubrick has this quote, which I’ll butcher, but he talks about how filmmaking should be more like music. The meaning and the information of it is not your first experience. It’s experienced emotionally, and it’s experienced visually. So I wanted to create something that was more of an experience-delivery device, and not necessarily an information-delivery device.

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TVLINE | And the music seems very British Invasion, with the Who and the Rolling Stones.
It’s a very distinctive musical sound. I told the composer a couple years ago that it should sound like Dark Side of the Moon. And he went out and got those patch-cord synthesizers from that album. So much is created in that mix of sound and image, and the mood that it creates.

FX knows how important music is, and they saw the power of it. We spent an ungodly sum on the second year [of Fargo], and I kept waiting for them to stop me. But I think they understand it enhances the experience geometrically, when you feel like there’s this soundtrack to it… which you also kind of need if you’re going to say, “Is this period? Or is this modern?” So yeah, it’s part of the fun of it.

TVLINE | What can we expect to see in the weeks to come?
There is a sense that there is a war going on between the sort of government agency and these people with abilities who are just being discovered. There’s a sense, on Jean [Smart]’s character’s part, of “We have to get to them before they get to them.” But hers is a more mothering role, to say, “I don’t want to weaponize you. I want to help you understand who you really are.” That’s something she’s done with all the people there. But when she starts to do it with David, weird things start to happen. And she realizes that the enemy within might be more powerful than the enemy without.

What did you think of the Legion premiere? Give it a grade in our poll below, then hit the comments and help us make sense of all the craziness.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Nathan Everett says:

    Inception wasn’t this damn confusing.

    • ManOfBronze says:

      i found it quite easy to follow, just give it time to fill in the blanks. unlike a movie where its all wrapped up in 2 hours, we have an entire season to have fun with this…

  2. mooshki says:

    “The minute you get into more dystopian shows, where everything’s really dark, and no one has any hope, and there’s no positive goal we’re working toward, it’s a bummer. You run out of gas with them. Because you need to know, “What am I in this for? What am I rooting for?” And it can’t just be about a negative. It can’t just be about the destruction of something. It has to be about the creation of something.”

    And that’s why I stopped watching Walking Dead.

  3. Will says:

    I’m…confused. LOL May….be I’ll re-watch it.

  4. AngelWasHere says:

    I’m usually the confuse one, but I understood it and I loved it! lol I will admit it is pretty weird tho!

  5. TvLover says:

    That was definately strange. I have admit though that the strange stuff didn’t really bother me. I’m excited to see what happens next.

  6. James D says:

    It was very good but they need to dial down the crazy a few ticks, it was a little much, like the Bollywood dance scene was totally unnecessary (even though watching Dan Stevens dance Bollywood was hilarious). Visual style was straight out of Kubrick handbook, if your going to take from someone might as well be the best ever. I’m also glad they don’t seem to be the going down the crazy person route Legion is nuts but that is only because he has a bazillion psyche’s inside his head. I hope they explore the plethora of powers he has. I always loved reading his stories in the comics.

  7. Hamza says:

    My concern is did they try to be too trippy and turn off potential viewers? I’m all sorts of confused with the pilot..

  8. LAwoman says:

    I’m not familiar with the source material, was confused by the episode at times, yet I loved it! I’ll keep watching.

    • Jim says:

      It had almost nothing to do with the source material from what I can tell. Basically, David is Professor X’s son, and he’s crazy because his mental powers are too strong, which has fractured his psyche. He’s usually a super-powerful problem the X-Men have to deal with, an antagonist, but he’s not evil, just sick. I kind of wish it had more to do with the comics, actually. All of those supporting characters were invented for the show, they couldn’t have used one recognizable X-Man or New Mutant? Ah well. I’m sure Hawley designed them all for specific story purposes and that’s why, but still. It feels somewhat like a hedge against his “art” project being associated with comic books (and therefore being snubbed for awards and such). Guess we’ll see. I do think this opening episode was a bit much, a tad indulgent in its psychedelica before all the players and the dramatic setup of the series had been defined. I hope it doesn’t turn off viewers because of that.

      • Pure says:

        “Basically, David is Professor X’s son, and he’s crazy because his mental powers are too strong, which has fractured his psyche.

        He’s usually a super-powerful problem the X-Men have to deal with, an antagonist, but he’s not evil, just sick.”

        Wow JIm, you explained the premise better than the writers did in the episode.


      • ManOfBronze says:

        I love that they are creating something and not copying and pasting the confusing marvel comics universe to television

  9. Jared says:

    I lasted a good 15 minutes then turned on The

  10. mike says:

    Someone said, ” Can we do an Xmen series, and make it weirder than Mr Robot?” And Noah Hawley said ‘hold my beer…”

  11. Joey Padron says:

    I like the first episode a lot, it was so good. Some crazy and trippy stuff happened in first episode. I’ll keep watching.

  12. fatalsin says:

    I really think im gonna need stronger drugs for this series… im not sure what im watching but i dont hate it but im not sure i like it yet either… very strange.. i love all things comic but.. this is strange so far!

  13. Ben M says:

    I do r think I’ve seen anything g like it on TV before. I definitely said “what did I just watch,” after it aired. I liked it though. It’s so different.

    I basically don’t trust anything in the show, though. If David is the ‘narrator,’ then what he/we see can’t be trusted. I wouldn’t be surprised if almost everyone in the show are just aspects of his split personalities. His doctor, the girlfriend, sister, guy w a whole in his cheek, his rescuers etc. Right now, I doubt all of them.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if the people he sees/his possible personalities are tied to what powers he’s using at the moment. As in, maybe he can’t access his powers all of the time. When he sees his ‘sister’ may e that lets him tap into his telekinesis (as an example.)

    I could be completely off though! That’s why I’m excited to watch.

  14. Carla Krae says:

    Syd Barrett was an original member of Pink Floyd that was mentally ill. Using the name for David’s girlfriend is a nice touch. ;)

  15. John036 says:

    literally what the heck did i just watch

  16. John036 says:

    literally what the heck did i just watch

  17. Lauren says:

    I loved it. It’s one of those shows where you can’t look away or else you might miss something. I will definitely be tuning in for more.

  18. Cat says:

    Loved it! Thought the “Clockworks” psych hospital and the “Orange” jumpsuits were a reference to Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange”. Lots of dreams are like that, taking you seamlessly from one improbable location to another and from one scenario to another…doesn’t have to make sense. Can’t wait to see the next episode. Also loved the music at the beginning of it.

  19. Volp says:

    Some of you are so boring. Not having read the comics or knowing the story, I’m pleasantly delighted at how much this explored the depths of the human psyche in such a realistic way. Some of you are complaining, yet have any of you actually taken any trips or had any moment in your lives that is the complete opposite of normal? Or what is perceived to be normal anyway.. If TV like this puts people off, and all you can manage is The Flash instead, then your brains are already calcifying and you need entertainment fed to you off a spoon. This really combined visual effects and combat feeel good action scenes, with a beautiful blend of lucidity that is rarely done with any sense of intelligence in it. I mean come on! Someone is dissing the dancing scene? And someone else is complaining about it being too ‘trippy’ for people to get into? You all need a dose of something colourful, maybe it will let you think laterally for once..

  20. gadlaw says:

    Puzzled, intrigued, entertained and fascinated. I am watching zero TV shows but after watching the first episode of this and then reading this interview with Noah Hawley I bought the 8 episode season from iTunes. Hawley seems to know what I won’t tolerate watching – the dark, endlessly dark show with no hope. No cookie cutter blah blah here. I’m glad I took a look at Legion.

  21. QueenB says:

    Its crazy good. Im hoping that eventually they introduce some characters from the X-Men