Warning: A few spoilers ahead.
A mental hospital/Marvel universe/hypnotic alternate reality/FX drama doesn’t sound like automatic style gold, but Legion has more than one trick up its sleeve. The nearly impossible-to-describe show (there’s a man with Godlike telekinetic abilities, plotlines with parallel realities, and curious dance sequences) demonstrates how smart aesthetic directives can wrap a dweeby superhero premise into a visually awesome, spellbinding spectacle. There’s no greater evidence of this than in each character’s hairstyle, which, as Sanna Sappanen, Legion’s head hairstylist explained to me, is like a character all its own as it steers the plot’s direction.
Here’s a little primer: The arc of Legion’s story begins in a mental hospital, continues in a forest-nestled hideaway à la Frank Lloyd Wright, and then curves back to the mental hospital and further into chaos. This all falls under the veil of 1960s allure — big hair, headbands, and all. To provide a style jumping point for the show’s creative team, Legion creator Noah Hawley told the crew to lift cues from The Mod Squad. “It takes place in a couple of different alternate realities,” Sappanen says. “For the hospital we wanted everyone to look clinical, but also groovy: A little more buttoned-up, a little more put together. When they get into the house, that’s when things start to fall apart.”
We first meet Syd Barrett (played by Rachel Keller), the haphephobic protagonist, in the mental hospital. “The wide, Brigitte Bardot headband holds her together in the hospital, and it becomes thinner as the series continues to show that she’s growing up, loosening a bit, and falling in love,” Sappanen explains.
In a similar vein, Dr. Melanie Bird, Legion’s all-knowing force played by Jean Smart, softens as the episodes push forward. Her tight updos turn looser and less fussy.
Aubrey Plaza’s Lenny takes on an anthology of shifts. “Lenny starts to have an organic transition where she’s sort of a devil-like character, and that took on its own life as well. She grows this power and then wanes in power, and the messiness of her hair shows that.”
Even the wonkier styles elevate the show’s visual grandeur. Katie Aselton’s beehive-cum-bouffant hampers on the rigidity of her character, and Legion’s mysterious nemesis, The Eye, takes on a dorkier appearance toward the end of season one when he lands in the false-reality projection of a mental hospital. His curls (which arrive via a wig) tighten and dip into Chas Tenenbaum territory.
Shows as aesthetically intelligent as Legion don’t come easy, but when they do, the creative canon is dictated from the top down. “FX and Noah gave us such an allowance to create looks that were totally unique,” says Sappanen. “They gave us license to really go out there.”