The first season of Legion, FX’s comic book series set within the X-Men universe, is the least accessible superhero property on the big or small screen. Unlike Netflix’s cadre of Marvel shows, which are more or less straightforward, Legion is cerebral and aggressively nonlinear. According to creator Noah Hawley, the show’s offbeat style is an attempt to evoke the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic. Even more appropriate for a series about a man’s (Dan Stevens) discovery that his lifelong battle with mental illness was, in fact, the manifestation of superpowers.
Legion is also a pastiche piece, a mishmash of genres, musical influences (from David Bowie to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero) and more direct nods to movie history that can conjure a feeling of déjà vu. Here are a few of the easter eggs you may have missed this season:
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A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Legion is drenched in the imagery of director Stanley Kubrick, from sets rendered in the sharp lines of The Shining to the bold colors of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The most overt Kubrick reference is in the pilot. David Heller (Dan Stevens) spent six years in a mental hospital called Clockworks, an obvious borrow from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Apart from just the naming convention, Clockworks evokes themes of incarceration, government tampering and madness present in the 1971 film, which is itself based on a 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Another standout Kubrick reference comes later in the season, when we meet Oliver Bird, played with stunning bizarreness by Flight of the Concords actor Jemaine Clement. The reclusive, delusional Oliver lives in an astral plane of his own making, in a room he calls an “ice cube.” The floors of the room evoke the iconic futuristic tiles seen in the final scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Legion toys with horror movie tropes throughout Season 1. The second episode, “Chapter 2,” sees in the inside of David’s brain as a kind of haunted house, with rooms leading through different corridors of his life and memory (and a childhood book that reminds us of The Babadook). The penultimate episode, “Chapter 7,” becomes straight horror, notably in a scene where the characters Syd and Kerry navigate an astral version of Clockworks polluted by The Shadow King, the season’s Big Bad. The women are attacked by what look like astral zombies, with shots directly mirroring moments in George Romero’s zombie classic Dawn of the Dead.
The Craft (1996)
That same scene from "Chapter 2" gets even weirder moments later, when The Shadow King takes the form of David’s friend, Lenny (Aubrey Plaza). With frazzled black hair and a manic walk, Lenny is a spitting image of... Tim Burton? Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan? I say Fairuza Balk’s Nancy in the latter half of the teen goth classic, The Craft, apt to Lenny's nastier behavior. One thing missing: Nancy’s taunts ("If were as pathetic as you, I would have killed myself ages ago - you should get on with it."). On Legion, this scene plays out as a black and white silent film, complete with title cards.
Legion's layered storytelling and misperceptions of reality make allusions to Christopher Nolan's Inception easy. The most obvious moment is the scene from the pilot when David, in a fit of rage, blows apart his kitchen with his telekinetic powers. In Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio teaches Ellen Page how to manipulate their shared dreamscape by exploding cartons of food in slow-motion while they sit in a restaurant.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Like Kubrick, Wes Anderson is a notable influence on the set design, color palettes, and lack of a concrete time frame in Legion. And like Anderson’s films, it draws those inspirations from touchstones of 1960s fashion and set design. One fun nod comes in “Chapter Six,” when Jean Smart’s character Melanie Bird is seen in Clockworks wearing an outfit that looks right out of Margot Tenenbaum’s closet, right down to Margot’s signature single hair clip.
Let the Right One In (2008)
The Legion pilot ends with a fantastic, surreal action sequence that sets the show firmly in the world of X-Men: characters manipulate bullets, throw objects with their minds, and escape a government facility by frying guards telekinetically. The sequence kicks off with a moment that recalls a memorable scene from the Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In. In that movie, a young boy is held underwater in a swimming pool by bullies, who are then killed by the boy’s vampire friend. The scene plays out silently, with the violence occurring off-screen – it’s not until a dismembered arm floats by the camera that we realize what happened. Legion's big action sequence kicks off in similar fashion: David slips into a swimming pool while trying to escape the government forces holding him captive, then watches as flayed corpses fall into the water with him.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Director: Michel Gondry In “Chapter 7,” after the mutants learn that David is possessed by The Shadow King, scientist Cary (Bill Irwin) equips him with a headband-like device that, in theory, isolates the parasite from David’s memories until they can figure out how to destroy it. The hi-tech, low-tech contraption evokes the cobbled-together headpiece Jim Carrey wears in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another film about memory extraction.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Hawley cites the famously reclusive Terrence Malick as an inspiration for Legion, which is especially obvious in the pilot. David -- in the body of Syd, after a very X-Men-like consciousness swap -- has memories of his childhood, playing in the streets with his sister and dog. The scene is lit with flares of sunlight, the camera at swooping Dutch angles, and David’s mother narrates the scene with a whispered voiceover. It’s reminiscent of Malick’s seminal 2011 film, The Tree of Life.
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Lindsey Romain is a writer and editor living in Chicago. She covers politics for Teen Vogue and has also appeared in Vulture, Birth.Movies.Death, and more. Follow her on Twitter @lindseyromain.