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Legion is designed to hypnotize, change viewers’ state of mind, creator says

As the debate over style versus substance continues

Michelle Faye/FX

Legion showrunner Noah Hawley has made it very clear that a large part of the show’s success is due to the intense and hypnotic visual effects used in each episode.

Hawley was on stage at South by Southwest (SXSW) for a conversation about his career, which led to questions about Legion and the way he decided to handle it. Hawley said the point of Legion was always to hypnotize the audience. He wanted the series to take viewers and transport them to a different state of mind, experiencing similar viewpoints to the show’s main character, David Haller.

“‘Legion is meant to be a show that is a state of mind. But the problem with TV is that there are commercials,” Hawley said, as reported by Variety. “There’s a hypnotic quality to the way we put it together. I need to get you out of your life in the first seven minutes of that show.”

It’s something that Hawley accomplished from the very first episode, with both fans and critics hailing the showrunner for his use of lighting and effects. As the season has progressed, however, some people have begun to take issue with the confusing narrative and complex nature of the series. Many have argued that Hawley uses the astonishing visuals as a way to mask problems with the storytelling.

“Am I the only one who feels that if you strip away the (admittedly impressive) visual flair, you're left with a somewhat messy and meandering story?” one Reddit commenter wrote. “I'm still on board but rather disappointed.”

Michelle Faye/FX

This isn’t the first time fans have complained about the show’s story — and they’re also not the only ones left confused by what’s happening. Actress Jean Smart (who plays the questionable therapist Melanie Bird) told Digital Spy that the cast doesn’t necessarily understand what’s going on either. Smart added, however, that Hawley was the type of showrunner who’s proven what he’s capable of with other series, and they have nothing but trust in his overall vision.

“The thing is, even if you don't completely understand it, you know that it comes from an absolutely crystal clear vision on his part," Smart said. "You know that it's all going to come together in some fantastic way, so you're willing to just go with it and trust.”

Other fans are on Smart’s page, admitting that even though the story is confusing right now, it’s stunning. One fan said they weren’t necessarily watching it for the story, but had become invested in the experience each episode brings.

“I'm watching it as a work of art,” they wrote on Reddit. “The entire story could be sketched out on a short page, I'm sure, but that's not the point: it's an experience, with emotional heft and connections between different expressions of the same ideas. A beautiful experience.”

Legion has been described by multiple critics as the television equivalent to an acid trip, and in a way, that’s been Hawley’s goal all along. Vanity Fair called the show, “The TV version of dropping acid, all colorful and explosive and loose-limbed. Scenes do backflips on a nonlinear timeline, showing no concern for the shell-shocked viewer.”

Hawley did promise on stage that by the end of the season, people would have a better understanding of what Legion was trying to accomplish with his story. He added that as the head writer on the show and the man behind every episode, it was important for him that Legion felt like a product of his mind, not someone else’s.

“TV is all about learning to write in someone else’s voice, so if you do it long enough without selling your own project, they assume you don’t have your own voice, you’re just a good mimic,” he said. “When you’re only making 10 hours there’s no excuse to not make it your own.”

Legion airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET on FX.

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