FX's 'Legion' is a very different Marvel show

Dan Stevens in FX\'s Legion-02022017-0004
Dan Stevens as David Haller in "Legions."

FX's Legion has all kinds of potential audiences: people who love everything Marvel, people who cried when Legion star Dan Stevens left Downton Abbey, people who've been impressed with how creator  Noah Hawley takes the essence of the movie Fargo and turns it into something rich and strange for FX.

Lots of those people are going to be surprised (pleasantly, I hope) by Legion, whose eight-episode show premieres Wednesday in a 90-minute installment that may leave even viewers paying close attention slightly disoriented.

That's kind of the point.

FX's first Marvel series is inspired by a mentally ill character from the X-Men comics named David Haller, who's capable of summoning enormous powers but can't necessarily control them. In a sharp departure from the realism of Fargo, Hawley is inviting us inside David's head. Let's just say it's hectic in there.

Stevens, who has transformed his look since Matthew Crawley was pinned under his car on Downton, plays David. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he's living in a psychiatric institution, passing his days with a talkative friend, Lenny (Wilmington's Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation), and longing for freedom, when the arrival of a new patient, Syd (Rachel Keller, Fargo), changes everything.

The challenge in writing about some shows is to describe them without giving away too much about what happens. That shouldn't be a problem here -- no one in Legion, including David, knows exactly what's going on in David's head, or how that head affects the world around him.

 The fantasy that fuels so many stories, from The Ugly Duckling to Harry Potter, is that misfits are literally mis-fit and that their strengths can be appreciated only when they're with their own. Legion feeds that fantasy and challenges it, because bringing David to a place, and among people, where he can be appreciated isn't necessarily the same as understanding him, or curing him.

The frenetic first 90 minutes are both a puzzle and a prelude. Jean Smart eventually will appear, reuniting her with Keller, who played her granddaughter in the second season of Fargo, and introducing David to a treatment that may remind some of Scientology.

There is, not unexpectedly, a shadowy government agency taking a deep interest in David's doings. This is a Marvel show.

Three episodes in, I'm less interested in the harnessing or suppression of David's powers than in Legion's acknowledgment that his illness is real and that illness is only one part of him. He's capable of love, of laughter -- the character and the show share a dry humor -- and maybe of learning to live a little more successfully with the voices and people in his head.

I haven't  a clue where the rest of the story is going, but I'm prepared to be surprised.