Noah Hawley’s #Legion and mental illness

[Before reading on, know that this article contains spoilers, so only read if you’ve already seen the pilot episode of #Legion]

What if anything does Legion tell us about mental illnessness? This program will be discussed by mental health professionals. But to the extent it is it’s likely most will condemn it for providing false hope to very damaged individuals that there is probably nothing wrong with them; and they are no less than victims of abusive psychiatrists and law enforcement officers doing their very best to help them from themselves.

Potentially this program could explore how all of us deal with ‘external reality’, the stuff that goes on outside our central nervous system and network of sense organs. Many of the most respected physicists now seriously consider weird hypotheses about our being trapped inside some Matrix-type virtual reality illusion; or the universe being a hologram projected onto a black hole – something like that.

Noah Hawley may explore some of these themes as the protagonist of Legion asks for constant reassurance that what he is experiencing is real. He knows that some of it isn’t, and finds it hard to know what, if anything, he can trust. Most of us get that feeling from time to time, because other people do have agendas and our own brain lies to us when we go to sleep at night.

One path Legion could go down is the one opened up by one of the most interesting episodes of Buffy: the one where she believes all her memories of being a vampire slayer might in fact be a delusion, and she’s been in a mental hospital for years – her sister Dawn never having existed, her mother very much alive, her parents are still together as a couple. Buffy’s psychiatrist and her parents tell her she can return to reality by killing her friends when she next falls back into her vampire slayer delusion. The final scene in that episode suggests that, in at least one parallel universe, this is exactly what we have been watching every week on Buffy: a crazy woman’s delusions who’s now fallen into a coma in a psychiatric hospital. Very sad.

Wouldn’t put it past Noah Hawley to explore this possibility in Legion – if the network allows him to do that. DC and Marvel comic book fans may not want the show to hedge its bets, but the critical community certainly wouldn’t mind.

Legion’s lack of touch with reality could be down, in part, to the drugs he was taking, and also the particular mutant powers that he’s got. But can any of this tell us anything about real mental illness in our homo sapiens universe, free of superheroes and villains with god like powers?

In the Guardian’s review, there was a misrepresentation of one key scene in Legion. I’m refering to the group therapy scene where Syd Barrett tells the group that the problem isn’t in the heads of those forced to attend this group. The problem, from her perspective, is with the man  on her right, and others like him with the legal power to label them mentally ill simply because they refuse to conform. David’s response is extremely interestingly. Sounds to me like this thought hadn’t occurred to him before. However, I think this is one of the real messages that viewers should take from this series. And to understand that message we need to look at the wonderful introduction to David Haller in the pilot episode.

The first few minutes truncate David Haller’s life from a smiling baby to an adult who tries to commit suicide. There is no dialogue. We are given a montage of David with many actors playing him at different points in his life played out to Happy Jack by The Who.

This introduction to David Haller injects into our souls an empathy overload. We’ve seen a baby grow up, being bullied throughout his life because he is a bit of a rebel, refuseing to conform, getting into trouble, and eventually decides to hang himself as no one cares.

Then we see David Haller in a mental hospital, discovering he’s been there for the last five years since trying to hang himself. Hearing him for the first time, we discover he is hilariously sarcastic, but everyone who doesn’t have an insanity label is tedious beyond belief, utterly devoid of a sense of humour.

David and his platonic female friend in the mental hospital are the only people we can relate to. Everyone in authority is an idiot. Boring. Humourless. Bullies. Liars. When we accept that this is the reality we are dealing with, then Syd Barrett’s comment about the problem being with mental health professional labelling non-conformists as fit for being locked up…. Well, I think this scene is key to at least part of what Noah Hawley wants viewers to think, and maybe do something about. And this happens to be one of the reasons the mental health professionals will not be in the least bit happy with Legion. It’s not the only reason I like it, but it’s definitely one of them. Fans of this program have a sense of humour. Those who locked David Haller up have none. If you don’t evangelize for Legion, then you are a boring as fuck bastard. Comprende?

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