FX unveils its Legion finale tonight, wrapping a technically marvel-ous Season 1 that fell short on a compelling narrative.
Historically, it hasn’t been very difficult to judge the Emmy prospects of a Marvel television series. Straight to the Creative Arts categories you go, Daredevil! No love for you Agent Carter! Thanks, but no thanks Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s too hard to type your name, anyway. This year, though, the story could change. Last fall’s Luke Cage Netflix series took critics and audiences completely by surprise. Series creator Cheo Hodari Coker transformed what felt like a slight property into a brilliantly acted and thematically resonant success. Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard both factor into the Emmy conversation for their stunning supporting work. But that’s not the only option for the Television Academy. With the Legion finale airing tonight, can Emmy-winner Noah Hawley (Fargo) deliver again?
Legion‘s pilot episode fascinatingly explored mental illness. Playing David Haller, star Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast) delivered an intriguingly quickly performance that wasn’t carried away by tics and mannerisms. There was real emotional undercurrent beneath the schizo surface. Also, co-stars Aubrey Plaza and Jean Smart seemed prime for meaty supporting roles. And the visuals. The stunning camera work. The elaborate special effects. The experimental Jeff Russo score. All of the elements seemed to blend into a compelling series start. With the right campaign and a successful first season, Legion felt like Hawley spreading his Emmy wings.
But… There’s always a but.
Problems and The Legion Finale
I failed to find the remainder of Season 1 as compelling as the pilot. In fact, it became something of a repetitive slog. The dreamlike narrative allowed for fascinating visuals, yes, but dedicating the entire first season to saving David’s sanity and possibly the world felt like a miscalculation. Aside from Jean Smart’s mentor role (a female Professor X), none of the other characters had a compelling, independent narrative.
A college professor of mine once told me that the most boring thing a writer could do was recant his/her dreams. At the time, that statement felt vaguely snobby and irritating, but it stuck with me. Now, it provides the perfect description of Legion. At least 75 percent of Legion Season 1 is spent wandering in someone else’s dream. Reality becomes connected to dreams, memories, and the astral plane. Actions in this non-tactile world influenced the real one. Personally, none of that worked for me.
A late-breaking character revelation kept me going though (no spoilers here). The Legion finale answers a lot of questions, which is a good thing, but it also frustratingly feels incredibly pedestrian. After 7 episodes of some of the wildest narrative and visuals you’ve seen on television, the final chapter in Season 1 crashes down to earth in a jarring way. The best thing I will say about the finale is that it resolves the question of “Who is David Haller.” It gives Haller authority over his own life. It frees him from his demons and establishes him as a more intriguing character for Season 2. One of my main requests would be to give him worthy teammates to bounce off. Frankly, no one holds a candle to Haller’s power or to Dan Stevens’ near-transformative performance.
The Emmy Play
So, what to make of Legion‘s Emmy chances? The creative team tries hard to distance themselves from the standard Marvel property while simultaneously keeping enough sly references to engage the faithful. Legion hasn’t been a huge ratings hit, but it doesn’t have that sense of urgency around it. People are likely to binge it and discover it on their own. Perhaps the Television Academy will do the same.
Legion‘s best Emmy chances reside within the Creative Arts categories. The cinematography, hairstyling, editing, visual effects, sound, and production design feel like strong possibilities. Bet strongly on visual effects with production design running a close second. I’d also like to see Jeff Russo’s eclectic score merit attention as continued reward for his on-going partnership with Noah Hawley.
The above-the-line categories feel thinner from this vantage point. I was once very high on Dan Stevens’ chances, but I’ve since cooled as the series kind of spiraled out of control. Jean Smart simply isn’t given enough to do to warrant serious contention either. I’ve no idea why Hawley engages such a talented actress and fails to give her any money scenes. Aubrey Plaza gives a performance like nothing you’ve seen her do before. She twists that Parks and Recreation smart ass into something far more sinister. Saying anything more would be giving too much away. Still, there are scenes toward the end where she gives good Beetlejuice.
Not sure if the Television Academy will respond to that. Or, really, to any of the performances at all.