The FX series (premiering Apr. 3 at 10 p.m. ET) is a spinoff of the X-Men franchise, though it’s more accurate to describe it as: “What if the X-Men took all the drugs we’re too lame to know about?” In the first season, powerful mutant David (Dan Stevens) struggled against a villainous telepath and a shady government agency. But what actually happened mattered less than how it all felt. And creator Noah Hawley blasts into season 2 with all the tricks his camera and the editing software can manage. There are dissolves, splitscreens, wide-angle lenses, fourth walls broken, fifth walls exploded. A voice that sounds like Don Draper narrates parables of madness. The astral planes have astral planes. “The colors, the colors!” I marked in my notes, and when the season premiere climaxed with a dancefight, I wrote: “Like someone made the showdown from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly into the final competition on America’s Best Dance Crew.”
That’s meant as a compliment, of course. This is eye-popping TV, probably the first series to bear the influence of Seijun Suzuki, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Lady Gaga. Legion is as energetic as a film student—and just as pretentious. Somewhere around the middle of last season, you started to feel like the exuberance was a distraction, avoiding an overly familiar story about a misfit self-actualizing towards heroism. The finale deadended into a weirdly standard Hero Fights The Bad Guy super-fight. The sheer energy was exciting, but that just meant it went nowhere faster.
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In season 2, David returns from a mysterious absence. His beloved Syd (Rachel Keller) and the other mutants have allied with the mutant-hunting Division 3. They’re after last year’s baddie, the Shadow King, who was played by Aubrey Plaza, is now sort played by Jemaine Clement, and is also definitively played by a swaggeringly cool Navid Negahban (Homeland‘s Abu Nazir of yesteryear). Plaza is still on the show, though don’t ask me who she’s playing. More importantly, the Shadow King is up to something that could destroy the world as we know it. But wait: There’s another force at work that could also destroy the world as we know it. What’s a world to do?
Lots of X-Men stories are about a race to stop the end of history. Legion‘s main contribution is dressing up in aold tale in vintage-boutique clothes. Consider the new character Fukyama, a Division 3 honcho who wears a basket on his head and speaks through androidal mustached women. It’s kind of cool, but also parodically twee. See also: The high-water pants, a government cafeteria serving waffle boats, the feeling that every character’s defining trait is whatever shirt they’re wearing. And look: I love Westworld, but I never need to hear people talk about a symbolic maze again, and Legion season 2 is all about the symbolic mazes.
Between the music-video grandiosity, there are genuine humane charms. I love Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder as Cary/Kerry, a double-person with an indefinable chemistry somewhere between squabbling siblinghood and true romance. The great Jean Smart is still here: Her matriarchal Melanie is in a windowless room on a drug binge, possibly a suggestion for the proper Legion viewing experience. Moment to color-blasted moment, this is the most show on television, but I don’t really mean that as compliment. A little goes a long way, and on Legion, the opposite is also true. B