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Legion

Legion, the comic character is one of the most unsettling characters I have ever read.  His insanity (and his gravity defying hair-do) really don’t jive with the rest of the X-Men, or even the Marvel universe for that matter.  I checked out Legion as an obligatory measure, fully expecting it to choke on its own mediocrity, like Agents of Shield, and a whole host of CW iterations before.  But it doesn’t choke.  It breathes just fine, with deep, healthy breaths.  Legion’s first season is organized very uniquely, almost like an eight-hour movie.  Its first two episodes are the first act, the rising action.  The 3rd, 4th, and 5th are the rising action.  The final three are the climax, and the conclusion.

The show begins as sort of wry comedy.  David Haller has been diagnosed as insane, and he doesn’t understand his powers.  He doesn’t understand he has them for that matter, everything abnormal about his life is just marked down as a side effect of his schizophrenia.  He has learned to live with the voices in his head, but he only understands them as arbitrary voices, and not offshoots of his own personality.  In the first episode, when an interrogator asks him if the voices told him to kill himself, he answers with a face as straight as a line; “No, they told me to stop.”

David is broken out of his prison, and brought to Summerland, a place with like-minded people, and other superhumans.  He learns that he isn’t exactly crazy, but just special.  He is, in fact, one of the most powerful beings in the world.  He and his allies delve deep into his mind, bringing to the table some excellent visual effects.  The memories that David relived first episode are now walked through by Ptonomy Wallace, an “artist” of his trade, who can reconstruct and manipulate a person’s memories in exact detail.  The events transpire just as normal, but with David and those trying to crack the code of his abilities observing and subtly interacting with the things that happen.

A perfectly horrifying character appears here and there as the show progresses, and his appearances grow more and more frequent.  “The Devil With The Yellow Eyes” as he is known menacingly looks on at David, rarely making any sound, save for a disconcerting grunt.  This, as well as plenty of other terrifying figments of David’s imagination, make the show’s second “section” if you will, a bit of a cerebral horror mystery.  Some moments where someone is trapped in one of the various cranial spaces, with the evil monster approaching are nerve-rackingly unnerving, and downright fear inducing.  Without necessarily understanding what David goes through, we still are just as afraid as he is.  Show creator Noah Hawley is a modern genius.

Legion also manipulates reality, on a level just short of Deadpool’s obliteration of the fourth wall.  Legion doesn’t knock it down, but it definitely taps at the glass.  Sound, and color are the toys of the director, and he does with them what he pleases (this is one instance where six different directors, and four different writers isn’t really a bad thing).  At one point, a pitched ringing goes through the air, and the character’s mouths begin moving, with no sound coming out.  Another, more obnoxious still, features overpowering music, and all dialogue broadcast via intertitle cards like an old-fashioned silent movie.

The last couple of episodes take place in the same moment in time, with the clock frozen just before David and his lover are about to be mowed down by — an oddly included — Thompson machine gun.  The characters move back and forth on the astral plane, trying to figure out how to deal with this quite vexing conundrum.  Suddenly, Oliver, a confusing character, who has more or less lost his mind after years of cryogenic stasis appears to save the day.  He begins waving his arms like a conductor, and the smoke from the bullets transforms into musical notes, producing the music of a beautiful symphony.  Inside the astral plane, the same song rings out, but with technological manipulation, giving watchers (or listeners rather) a twisted, chaotic, distortion of the original melody.

There has been a lot of talk about how Legion will fit into the X-Men universe, maybe too much talk.  As many have pointed out, David is in fact the son of esteemed psychic Charles Xavier, and in a flashback sequence, we catch a glimpse of his Iconic wheelchair.  This is an enticing prospect, but if you ask me, Legion just isn’t compatible with anything else the FCU has produced.  Can the conflicted David Haller share the screen with the squarish Wolverine?  Only if Legion’s visual punch is severely neutered; otherwise, extreme tonal disagreement would ensue.  I’ve always been as huge a fan of the interconnected Marvel universe as the next guy; Combining five different movie characters into one alien blasting spectacular is one of the greatest decisions any movie exec. has ever made.  However, I think we as comic fans, moviegoers, tv watchers, and as members of a media consuming populace, have lost sight of what made these properties so compelling: the stories behind them.  Marvel’s Agents of Shield was a great show, until it introduced Lady Sif, and Enchantress, (not the hula-dancing one, although that is one hilarious premise) both characters from Thor.  After this, the writing floundered, and lost all the intrigue that propelled its first few episodes forward.  I’m happy to say that Legion has plenty of this energy to spare.  The psychedelic superhero vehicle has come blasting out of the gate with its foot glued to the accelerator for eight straight episodes.  I only hope that it is able to keep its foot on the gas.

The Wire: Season 1

As a lifelong resident of Baltimore there is a certain interest I took in The Wire; simply because it is set, and was filmed barely an hour from where I live.  The location of the show plays a major part in the show’s progression as it is partially based upon the accounts of the show’s creator David Simon who was a Baltimore City reporter during the 80s and 90s.  This basis in reality makes it more than a disposable cop show.  In fact, it really isn’t a cop show, as much as it is a show where a large percent of the characters are cops.  The drug dealers are focused upon very extensively as well, making the show a well-rounded experience.

The Wire details the ordeal of the Baltimore City Police Department and their struggle to bring to heel the illegal operations of drug dealer Avon Barksdale (who was based on a real Baltimorean kingpin).  Various people are introduced throughout the series, all of which receive a satisfying amount of development.  There are no disposable characters in The Wire; each serves as a driving force to the progression of the story, a cog in the machine of the narrative.  There is Jimmy McNulty, a detective, and the show’s main character for the most part.  He is a man motivated by a desire for justice, but increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy of the city’s law system.  Almost parallel to him is D’angelo Barksdale, nephew to Avon Barksdale.  His arc is a fascinating one.  He feels a need to “get out of the game” and leave crime altogether, a feeling that strengthens as he sees more and more the horrors of Baltimore.  Also providing a fascinating performance is Idris Elba, as Russell “Stringer” Bell, Barksdale’s right hand man.  Bell seeks an exit to the dealing operations, but less because of moral obligation, than desire for entrepreneurial legitimacy; we see him working at a printing and copying business and taking business economics classes in his spare time.

Slightly outside the main story progression, is the arc of Omar Little, a stick up man who targets the gang men in Baltimore, but lives by a code that doesn’t allow for the hurting of civilians and innocence.  When one of his associates is brutally made an example of by the Barksdale organization, he embarks on a rampage, no longer using his sawed-off to rob the gangmen, but to kill them.  His haunting whistling of “The Farmer and the Dell” is genuinely intimidating, as is the way he casually strolls down a street in a trench coat while residents hurry away shouting “Omar’s Comin'”.

The Wire is what Simon calls, a “Visual Novel”.  The show’s episodes are like chapters in a book.  The first seven episodes or so are rising action, setting the stage for the main events.  The middle five are hectic and action packed climactic chapters, and the final episode is the falling action, and the closing off of all these loose ends.  As each episode is not in itself a story, but only a fragment of one, the larger story is made all the more impactful.  The show is also devoid of artificial stimulation of any kind.  There are no voiceovers, or on-screen texts.  Any music the viewer hears comes from a car radio or a restaurant sound system somewhere within the scene.  I’m not opposed to these things necessarily — as a matter of fact, my favorite movie of all time is almost always accompanied by background music, and begins with the mother of all onscreen texts floating through space — but their absence in this case adds to the story’s realism and authenticity.

Despite being made in 2002, The Wire somehow still feels fresh, and new.  Far from growing irrelevant with age, its deep story transcends time.  Simultaneously, it can also works as a period piece, reminding viewers of a time when cloning a drug dealers pager, so they could know when they were going to a wiretapped payphone was cutting edge police work.  Low-res box-shaped computers frequent the BCPD offices, and in some cases, reports are done with type writers.  The focus on technology of a decade past adds an entirely new layer of interest to the show’s events fifteen years later.

The Wire follows all of its characters through a three-dimensional lens.  Even the drug dealers — whose actions are nothing short of despicable — are given layers that make them interesting to the viewer.  Even though we hate what they do, we sympathize with them, and their plight.  The city really does trap people, and for many, the only way out is criminality.  Nothing illustrates this better than a conversation between D’angelo Barksdale, and Stringer Bell.  Stringer orders D’angelo not to pay their employees for a week, since he suspects a mole in the gang’s midst.  When D’angelo suggests that a man may not work without pay.  Stringer smartly retorts, (I quote from memory) “Where are they gonna go, college?”  We emphasize with the police and their pursuit of justice, but also with the men they hunt, trapped by circumstance in a viscous cycle of violence and illegal activity.  We condemn their action’s but in an odd way, understand the motivations behind them.  Nonetheless, the Wire  draws a line of morality, never in any way shape or form unsure about what is right or wrong.  It has been often hailed one of the best TV programs of all time, and while the truth of this is debatable, it is certainly worth consideration.