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Why Now Is the Perfect and Most Important Time to Catch up on Legion
Stop bingeing lesser comic book shows and get on the bandwagon before it’s too late.
By Joanna Robinson

SPOILERS BELOW

“As I’m writing this, the seventh and penultimate episode of Season 1 of Legion has just aired on FX. It answered a lot of baffling questions, brought together several plot threads, and set up all the players for a final showdown next week. For those of you who gave up on the show midway through its eight-episode first season—or never bothered to start the series in the first place: now is the most important time to tune in. The series is at a creative high, and could beautifully stick the landing next week. It could also stumble at the finish line. But either way, you don’t want to miss out. So turn off those other, subpar comic-book shows: this is the series you should be bingeing.

If you’ve managed to avoid any information about the series whatsoever, the gist is this: Legion is a loose (very loose) adaptation of a Marvel comic-book story about a mentally deranged young man, David Haller (Dan Stevens), who discovers that his disordered mind also houses a tremendous number of uncanny powers. He’s the son of Charles Xavier—though this show is about as far away in tone from the X-Men cinematic universe as you can get. It’s also (probably) divorced almost entirely from the world of Professor X, Storm, Jean Grey, Magneto, and the rest. It’s from the very thoughtful mind of Fargo creator Noah Hawley and is, for my money, the most inventive and entertaining show currently on television.

Unshackled from any of Fargo’s realism constraints, Hawley on Legion is like a kid in a candy shop, packing each episode with boundary-pushing visuals. The show flirts with but never achieves alienating levels of disorientation as the camera whirls upside down or shifts into gummy slow motion. Inspired by creative freedom of both his protagonist’s subjective reality and the comic-book medium, Hawley is free to insert a Bollywood number, check in on Jemaine Clement grooving out in a space ice cube (really), or, in the latest episode, switch to a black-and-white silent film (complete with dialogue cards) while a scorching version of Ravel’s “Bolero” plays.

All this experimentation with form is saved from feeling overly precious and exhausting simply because it’s anchored by the emotionally honest performances of its leads. Given his mental condition (or at least years of mental abuse), David Haller could be a slippery character to latch on to. But in Stevens—who has been both cuddly and appealing on Downton Abbey and dangerously seductive in The Guest—Legion found the perfect leading man. When Stevens makes his enormous blue eyes go wide with innocent confusion, viewers are instantly sympathetic. When those same eyes then gleam with manic evil seconds later, audiences may cringe in fear. Very few performers could contain such multitudes.

A steadier sympathetic figure is David’s would-be girlfriend, Syd Barrett (yeah, that’s right), played by Fargo Season 2 alum Rachel Keller. Syd is given a more typically X-Men-esque mutation-as-curse plotline. Like Rogue, she can’t endure skin-to-skin contact—the lightest touch will force her to temporarily swap bodies with the other person. This puts a wrinkle in her dating life and, eventually, is revealed to be attached to some serious childhood trauma. But though she’s a guiding light for David, Keller doesn’t play Syd as victim or sap. She’s complicated, dark, brave, and, despite the genre setting, one of the more nuanced female characters currently on TV.

All of these very human portrayals—seen also in the somber serenity of Jean Smart’s psychiatrist-to-mutantkind Melanie Bird—are countered by some zanier performances. Famous physical comedian Bill Irwin gets to play it straight until he doesn’t, bending and clowning through some of the later episodes while Clement gets a chance to go full Conchord. But best of all is Aubrey Plaza, who gives a dark, gonzo performance so stunning not even her most ardent Parks and Recreation fans will recognize her.

So, why catch up with Legion now, versus some months from now? That has as much to do with potential spoilers as it does with me simply wanting you to experience some great TV. Certain mid-season twists—like some additional information about Plaza’s character—may have already leaked onto your radar, via various unavoidably porous social-media outlets. And there’s another big twist on the horizon. As Legion star Jean Smart said in an interview with The Independent:

Oh my goodness, when we did the seventh episode we were sitting around saying, “How is this going to tie together? They’ve just one more episode. It’s just impossible,” and of course, he does it. In his own way. And then there’s a twist at the end and I mean the end—the last seconds of the show. We were like, “Oh my God.”
I wouldn’t want any viewer to be held hostage by spoiler or twist culture. These twin trappings of modern TV shouldn’t dictate when you watch any given show. But I also wouldn’t want that final twist—or more pertinently, any groupthink reaction to that final twist—to ruin your Legion experience. Hawley isn’t one to not stick a landing, but there is a real danger that Legion won’t deliver on its promise in those final seconds. Like most shows with a mentally unsound protagonist (::cough:: Mr. Robot ::cough::), there’s a slight possibility that this season and all the characters we’ve met are merely a projection of David Haller’s troubled mind. If anyone can execute a concept that high, it’s Noah Hawley—but the show also runs a risk, à la Westworld, of souring the audience in its final moments. I’d rather that reaction not distract any viewers from the creatively dazzling eight hours of television that precede it.

But that’s not the only reason the days between now and next Wednesday’s finale are ripe for a Legion catch up. (Nor should it be.) Both FX and Noah Hawley may disagree with me, but I’d argue that Legion is actually a better experience when binge-watched. (This is not true of all shows. Some reward a week in between episodes, and space to catch your breath and meditate.) Legion is the kind of series that sends a lot of information at its audience very quickly and also one that, at first, fosters an intentionally disorienting experience. The show wants to put audiences in the mentally unbalanced shoes of its protagonist.

But having just re-watched the series in one fell swoop (after taking it in episode by episode), I can attest that little threads, visual hints, and narrative links make much more sense to the viewer when watched very close together. (Of course, re-watching in general doesn’t hurt either.) Episode 6 in particular—which is a looking-glass retelling of the season premiere—is even better when watched fairly shortly after Episode 1. In short, Legion can only benefit from the binge-watch model, which encourages viewers to be more accepting of confusion when they know an answer is just a few episodes away. (In this case, Episode 5 serves as a big “a-ha!” moment.)

Unlike some of its comic-book series brethren, Legion isn’t quite as easily accessible to stream. (FX is famously more elusive than most networks for cable-cutters.) But all seven episodes of Legion can be found on demand via your local cable subscriber, or on the FXNow site/app. The first six are currently available on Hulu, with Episode 7 going up on Sunday. And, as far as bingeing commitments go, seven hours is relatively light. In fact, other comic-book shows should take a page from Legion’s economical episode order: the Netflix Marvel shows, in particular, have a considerable amount of fat to trim.

Ultimately, I appreciate that TV watching shouldn’t come with so many rules and provisos. We should watch what we like when we like it and not worry about external factors like timing, twists, spoilers, bingeing, etc. But, reasonably, this is the TV-watching culture we live in. So, for your own good and for the good of this distinctly creative show (and the incredible performances of Stevens and Plaza), make Legion your weekend plans. Other comic-book shows can wait.

Jessica Lange interview - Vanity Fair 1991  “Jessica In Love” Part 3

Their  relationship lasted “on and off for years. There was something very seductive about someone so caught up in self-destruction. It was very much like what you saw in All That Jazz, with his drinking and smoking. But he was unbelievably sweet, tender, and generous. He was so kind at a time when a lot of people had dimissed me.”

There was, about Fosse, something sad. Profoundly lonely. That’s what I connected with more than anything, becuase I understood that lonliness.

Jessica Lange was introduced to Mikhail Baryshnikov by Milos Foreman in 1976 at a party thrown by Buck Henry in Hollywood. ”I remember seeing him standing at the pool,“ she says through half-closed eyes. ”I had never seen anybody so white. It was like he was transparent.I didn’t know who he was,“ she continues with a sly smile. ”In fact, I confused him with Nureyev. I didn’t know anything about the ballet world; I’d been totally unaware of his incredible defection. I had no idea the scope of his fame”.

“I was definitely interested,” she adds, “and I knew he would call me, even though he didn’t speak English. We spoke French in the beginning.

Baryshnikov was in town to film The Turning Point, but he was no ordinary movie star. “I was stunned at how people fawned over him,” Lange exclaims. “I’d never seen anybody treated the way he was. Balletomanes are some of the worst fans, and I fount it irritating, how people kowtowed to him. I couldn’t stand the attention, but Misha was great about it. And the more dimissive and rude he was, the moer adoring they became. It was an extraordinary phenomenon in this country, his arrival, his ‘leap to stardom.’”

For the next seven years they conducted a realtionship the defied time zones and convential morality. “Misha and I ahd a great love for each other, but it certainly never anything you could term traditional. We didn’t share an apartment, didn’t do that whole number, but we had a great romantic life. He’s be on tour and I’d meet him at some wonderful spot, Paris or Brazil. Not falling into husband/wife roles sustained it…Besides, we couldn’t have really lived together–we had these knock-down-drag-out fights.”

Still, admits Lange, there were moments when she wondered if this was what she really wanted. “I wasn’t ready to settle down, but all the time, in the back of my mind, I’d think, Well, maybe we should be living together, becuase I’d come from a very American point of view: you had a man, you lived with him. So this was very European. It was a good thing I’d lived in Paris all those years, because there you just took lovers. And, more than anything, Misha and I were lovers. I always knew he loved me and was absolutely committed to me in his particular way.”

This did not include, she says, any requirement of fidelity. “We didn’t have a monogamous relationship, as far as I was concerned, until toward the time Shura was born.” Baryshnikov’s womanizing cause her little concern. “Every man I’ve ever been attracted to has been a ladie’s man. I like men who love women.

I’ve never found a man who was easy to live with,” she continues. “Each comes with his own set of difficulities. There’s a side to Misha that’s very brooding, Russian, melancholy. That romantic Russian-poet kind of thing. On one hand, that can be extremely enchanting. On the other, it can be kind of lonesome.

Things become more complicated when Shura arrived, “because that was a transition we couldn’t make–into a family, Mom and Dad.” Shura’s conception, Lange says, was an accident but, for several years, Lange had been consumed with the idea of having children. “All my life I’ve been tremendously lonely. Having a child was a salve to my loneliness. You have these relationships with men, are in love and loved, but there’s nothing like the need of a child.”

Who knows? We might still be together if things hadn’t happened they way they did,” she says, clearly haunted by the memory of this failed romance. “But we were both very carelss about the relationship. We were young, you don’t understand how much time something like that deserves. Sometimes I think we should’ve made more of an effort to make it work, beacuse we did love each other so much. I think of him as such a great friend. We’ve come full circle.”

Baryshnikov feels the same pangs about Lange. “I regret that my relationship with Jessie didn’t work out the way we’d wanted and planned,” he told me not long ago. “It’s a big regret that will be there for the rest of my life. She was–and always will be–one of the very few women I have loved in my life. But now we are very good friends. In fact, we have a much better relationship now than we ever had before.

The link in that relationship, of course, is their beautiful daughter, a willowy blonde ten-year-old who has her mother’s flawless porcelain skin and her father’s azure eyes. This morning, she left the house wearing baggy pants, a sleeveless T-shirt, and tennis shoes laced up with metallic orange ribbon, exuding and elegant sensitivity, “a goodness,” as her mother calls it. “Shura has a great sense of herself,” Lange says. “For a triple Pisces, she’s very grounded…She has an innate understanding that her father and I went our seperate ways…that I found Sam, and Misha found somebody else. Sam has been a great friend and a really good parent on a daily basis, but she’s never been confused who her father is. It’s always been clear it’s Misha.”

For his part, Baryshnikov has made himself a tough act to follow in his daughter’s eyes. “She adores him,” reports Lange happily. “She’ll probably find a man as romantic as her father. He sits down at the grand piano, plays a song he wrote for her, and you think, This is it, it’s not going to get better than this.”

I’ve never seen anthing like it in a restaurant,” remembers a TV producer who spotted Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard around 1982 at Butterfield’s, a neighborhood restaurant down Sunset Strip from the Chateau Marmont. “They were literally attatched to each other over the top of the table. They kept twisting around, holding hands, then a hand would go up the arm, into Jessica’s mouth. I don’t think a lot of eating was going on, because her mouth was constantly full of his hand. They were just gorgeous and madly, wildly, passionately involved with each other. Once you realized who they were, you were fascinated: 'That couldn’t be Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard because she’s still with Baryshnikov!’”

You go through life,” explains Jessica Lange, “you’re kind of in love, and then suddenly you have a great love.” She is curled up in an oversize armchair in her family room, ready to talk about Sam Shepard. “The worst part,” about life with Sam, she says, “is the separations. He’s not the kind of man who’s going to follow a woman around. He’ll come see us [she always takes the children], but he’s not going to pack his bags, sit on my locations for three months, and twiddle with the kids….Sam would’ve been happy if I never made another movie, if we could’ve lived together in the wild, idyllic manner we had in the beginning. But I kept wanting to act. Those separations became sources of real, um, difficulty for us.”

Isn’t she concerned that if she’s not with him, another woman might be?

That’s probably a blind side of me,” Lange answers, “but I never think in those terms–maybe that’s partly the thing with Paco and Misha. I would go away, or Misha would go away, and I’d never imagine he was sleeping with somebody else–of course, he would be. It would never occur to me that Sam would be unfaithful, although he has a long history of it.”

And if she discovered he was?

“I’d kill him,” she laughs. “Absolutely, I consider myself lucky because I fell into the relationship with Sam–the only monogamous realationship I’ve had in my life–right at the beginning of the eighties. I was very lucky not to have been promiscuous during the last ten years. It would’ve been disastrous.”

If Shepard had had his way, Lange muses, he would have kept her “barefoor and pregnant. I was pregnant for three years. Sam’s one of those men who loves you when you’re pregnant–just thinks you look more beautiful than ever before, loves the big belly. It was great, except I get real dark sometimes when I’m pregnant. My mood swings are extreme anyhow, but when I’m pregnant I could be like Medea any moment, I’m so hard to live with. Sam says he went through it twice, he doesn’t want to live through it again.

(When asked to be interviewed for this article, Shepard stayed in character, always the strong silent type. “I’ve decided not to talk, ” he said. “I’ve taken too many risks in that area and been burned too many times. I’m not going to put myself out like that anymore, particularly when it has to do with something private.”)

Lange says their relationship is “constantly changing. I keep hoping that it settles into a certain dynamic where there’ll be no question Sam and I are best friends, which is hard to come by. To me, it hasn’t settled in completely. Because of the the obsessive nature of our beings, the passionate nature of your coming together–and it’s still there, the jealousy, the passion, the insanity–it’s hard to let the other thing emerge. When you’re in the throes of a love affair, it’s about darker emotions. You can sustain that for a while, but you’ve got to find something else at the foundation. We’ve got a lot, a whole life together, but we’ll also be best friends at some point. We’re very close to it.”

And what would she do if Shepard ever left?

Lange laughs, “I don’t think he ever will. You get inextricable connections with people…Sam actually buried my dad–he dug the grave. I was the one who told him his dad died. He was with me when I gave birth to two children. I never discard the possibility of anything happening in life, but his leaving,” she says, “would suprise me.”

What has suprised so many people is the way Shepard’s career, so brillian in the eighties, when he added movie-star status to his Pulitzer Prize, seems to have drifted. In May, the production ofhis latest play, States of Shock, a father-son drama revolving around the Vietnam War, was trounced by critics; three years ago, his cinematic directorial debut, Far North (starring Lange), was also panned.

The criticism was so personal, so aimed at Sam,” says a puzzled Lange. “They create a myth about somebody in America, and as soon as it’s been created, it irritates them. They love him because he’s a Renaissance man, and then, when he branches out, they slap his hands. But Far North was a very personal, funny movie. It has Sam’s mark on it, his way of seeing things. I think Sam is one of the greatest American writers, especially in terms of dialogue, because it’s musical.

I only saw States of Shock once. When I read it the first time, I was so moved because it was such a strong statement about men, war, this country, fathers and sons. Critics are so stupid. Look at what they did to Tennessee Williams inn the end. Maybe he wasn’t writing his greatest plays, but he was still one of the greatest playwrights. A certain honor should be paid these people. You don’t just dismiss them flat out. When critics are so hard, you get Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals on Broadway and nothing else.“

Lange and Shepard weather these storms together, retreating to the solace of their country life. Even sheltered from the outside world, however, Lange says she goes through black periods of depression, a lifelong problem. ”Sometimes, I feel like a borderline schizophrenic because the depressions are so bad,“ she says softly. She pauses, fiddling with two simple silver braclets on her wrist. ”But it’s something you’ve got to work against–and I have for the last ten years. You have to be diligent, a warrior. It’s a daily discipline, a real concerted power you have to bring to your life to keep it on track.

There are time I feel so close to the edge that I could easily tip over. Then, other times, I feel much more centered. If it weren’t for the kids, I could very well be gone, emotionally or physically. These kids have been my salvation.

It is Friday morning and Jessica Lange is tired. The night before, she hosted a sleepover for four of her children’s young cousins, and now she’s giving a full report on the evening’s revelry to her mother and older sister Jane. It was a night of dancing and musical beds. An impromptu "prom” was held in the living room, complete with corsages of wildflowers and dancing to the Rolling Stones, with Lange herself boogying to that family classic “Sympathy for the Devil.”

While her mother grinds coffee beans, Shura Baryshnikov begins dancing around, waging a heartfelt negotiation to spend the afternoon with her grandmother. Lange demurs, saying that Shura will tire “Dotie” (as Jessica and her sister call their mother). In a moment, Hannah Shepard marches into the kitchen, accompanied by her noisy gang of cousins.

There stand, for an instant in the same room, several generations of Lange women. Seventy-eight-year-old Dorothy Lange, dressed in simple cotton pants, and sweater, quietly observes the scene. From the broad forehead and high cheekbones of her softly wrinkled face, you can see where her daughter got her looks. Jessica’s sister Jane, meanwhile, is a knockout in her own right. A big blonde beauty, as tall and long-limbed as her sister, he hair pulled back in a hurried ponytail, Jane has Jessica’s enviable skin and a more classic lovliness, along the lines of Candice Bergen.

Standing together, these women radiate a sense of strength. Though they’ve each been drawn to magnetic, unpredictable men, you feel they are capable of withstanding any crisis, of carrying on, even if only for the sake of their children.

“I’ve lived my life so wildly, without forethought and without repercussions,” Lange says later, “spooning honey into a late-afternoon cup of tea. ”You don’t understand the repercussions of your own actions until you see them reflected in your children. That’s where it comes home to roost.“

She describes five-year-old Hannah Shepard as a "powerful personality,” and, indeed, she is all dimples and determination. Her brother, towheaded Walker, is an unusually tall four-year-old whose thin face echoes his father’s.

I am trying, with all my will, to move these children into music,” says Lange firmly. “But they’re not buying into it.” Shura has studied the Suzuki method for the violin for five years. Hannah has begun the cello. When asked to play, however, Shura purses her lips; “I hatethe violin.”

She hates it because I’m so insistent,” concedes Lange. “It’s so tied up with my will, it becomes impossible to separate for her…She’s going to do whatever she wants to do. If it hadn’t been for his mother’s determination, Pablo Casals said, he might well have been a carpenter. I have that quote pinned to the refrigerator door….She’s very talented, has beautiful form and tone. She could be a violinist if she could get the passion behind it.”

All of her children, so far, “handle all this really well.” All this, of course, is fame, glamour, and the expectations of an impressive gene pool. “Misha doesn’t have any pretense about who he is,” Lange says. “At home he’s just like this Russian kid who loves to eat, sleep, talk and see friends. That’s the side Shura knows. Although she’s gone on tour with him, she doesn’t get caught up in that. The only time I get a sense people look at her is when I take her to ballet class. She has a beautiful foot”–but, no, neither she nor Baryshnikov wants their daughter to follow in his slippered footsteps.

Lange claims having a movie star for a mom hasn’t affected her children’s choices or behavior. “I’ve always taken them to the set, so making movies has been completely demystified. They see it from the costumer’s point of view, what my trailer’s like. I’ve always had the same makeup and hair people, so it’s like an extended family. When we go on location they know who’s going to be there. I’ve tried to expose them in the most practical terms. This is my work, this is how I make money.“

As for watching their mother on-screen, Lange’s children have seen only Crimes of the Heart, the one video of hers she keeps in the house. ”They like the story of the sisters,“ she says. Her racier fare will just have to wait. ”The Postman Always Rings Twice–Mama fucking on the kitchen table–is one they’ll look at some time on their own in some revival house in New York.“

Lange stops and suggests a walk out to the pond. Though the rain has let up, it’s overcast, cold enough for her to need the faded black sweatshirt she has slipped over her head. As we walk outside, four dogs, including Masah, the thirteen-year-old poodle (named after a character in Chekhov’s Three Sisters), scamper along side. Strolling out onto the narrow wooden dock, Lange explains that when the sun shines she and the children often spend the entire day here, lolling around in bathing suits. Returning, we climb up through the wild grass to the open-air porch.

Depending on the light and the mood, Jessica Lange looks like the fresh-faced thirty-five-year-old or a dangerously attractive woman in her forties. ”But I never did think I was pretty,“ she says. ”There were periods when I liked they way I looked, but most of the time I didn’t. Now I look back and say, 'Yeah, I looked good. I wish I had enjoyed it more.’ I’d like to have appreciated the twenties and thirties more than I did, enjoyed that I was young and looked great, instead of torturing myself about thisn like my soul.“ She rolls her eyes. ”All that soul-searching, doing grim roles, playing unattractive women…now all I want to do is give up 'acting,’ play pretty women and sexy parts…Now that I’m this age,“ she says, half joking, ”all I want is to look…PRETTY!

I find it humiliating,” she continues, “that women in this business are getting all this work done [plastic surgery] because they’re all forty-two. I have aged a lot. And I see it. I don’t like how I look now anymore than I ever did. Sure, I’d like to look like I did when I was twenty-six, but I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to have the face-lift. Fuck 'em. I’m not going to let them dictate that part of my life.

The night before, awake “on mosquito patrol,” Lange says, she contemplated her career and concluded that, with Hollywood, it’s always good to leave before they tell you you’ve left. “I lay awake last night and thought, Maybe this whole period of my work is grinding to a halt. I began to wonder if it wasn’t time to, maybe, really quit, do something else…”

Within the next five years, I’m going to make a real clean cut. I’m not going to let it peter out, do a part every once in a while, because, ultimately, there won’t be that many to do. I want to have an absolute finishing date. I mean, is Jane Fonda still making movies? Faye Dunaway? It gets into this nebulous area and I like things definate…I’ve done many careers in my life, and suddenly“–she snaps her fingers–”I’m on to my next. Maybe directing, I’d love to direct. I’d certainly be good with actors.

Whether this is an announcement or just a stray thought on a summer afternoon, Jessica Lange is clearly taking stock. Though she seems to have everything she could hope for–a successful movie career, a great leading man, beautiful children, money,and health–she confesses that happiness still eludes her. ”If you looked at my life, somebody outside would say it’s happy, but I’m not a happy person. It’s not my nature. I’ve had a great life. It certainly has been jam-packed with excitement–except for the lonliness and depression. I’ve had a blessed life, very blessed. I can’t say I’m wanting for anything. But what’s your value system? You could say I’ve had a full life, unless you’re looking at it from a Zen Budhist point of view, and then it’s a meager life.

I still feel there’s something ahead, that I haven’t found what I’m meant to do yet. I’m not going to suddenly become Mother Teresa, but at some point you have to get a selflessness, and obviously I havne’t done that. Having a movie career is not the end-all...”

Still, Lange admits, “I’ve always felt I’ve had luck, certainly in the obvious areas. And now I have the greatest blessing of all–these children.”

She pauses for a perfect beat. Then adds, with a provocative smile, “And I’ve been with great men, real interesting men…Men were always interested in me. If you sense that from the time you’re becoming a teenager…” Her voice trails off. “There were certainly a lot of girls prettier or more available or friendlier, but I just love men. And they like to have me around. But I’ve never gotten anything from the men I’ve been with. They haven’t gotten me any parts. I’m sure I’d be in the same position now if I had not had anything to do with any of these men.

Still, she can’t deny that a large part of her mystique comes from the men she has known and loved. “They’re certainly the most interesting men I’ve ever met,” she says with a sexy grin. “That’s what I like about them.

So there remains only one question, the one everybody wants to know: How did she get these guys anyway?

How did they get me?