Legends Season 1 Review “Pilot”

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“Legends” is the latest from writer/producer Howard Gordon, of “24” and “Homeland” fame. As with those shows, it deals with spies and undercover operatives and the like, so it’s certainly firmly within Gordon’s wheelhouse. If you like those shows, as well as things like Robert Ludlum’s “Bourne” franchise or the novels of John Le Carré, then this should be right up your alley, though the question remains: is it of a piece with those previous works, or is it simply a thinly-veiled rip-off of those things?

Obviously, it’s too early to tell, but the pilot episode gets things off to a compelling start, at least. Sean Bean, of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “Game of Thrones,” plays Martin Odum, an undercover agent working for the FBI’s Deep Cover Operations (DCO) division. When we first meet him, he is deep undercover working with the so-called “Citizen’s Army of Virginia,” a Tea Party-esque group of radical terrorists upset with the government and the state of the economy and what have you who are thought to be the ones behind a bombing of a Federal building in Wichita that killed 57 people.

Alongside him is a fellow operative Russell, who has already infiltrated the group, and has helped Odum do the same, using the alias Lincoln Dittman. Having been under for some six months, he’s this close to being accepted by the group, but he hits a wall when the ATF busts the training camp they’re living in, looking for illegal weapons. Did the incident blow his and Russell’s cover? Or can he still salvage it?

With a attack already in the works, Odum hopes to pick up where he left off, and a call from his main contact Streeter (Brendan McCarthy, “True Blood”) proves that he still has a chance, as the group’s leader, known only as the “Founding Father” (go-to bad guy Zeljko Ivanek, “24,” “Damages”) still wants to meet with him. So, his assigned team makes sure his cover stands up under intense scrutiny by creating an official online back-story that is in line with his elaborate invented one. It works all too well, and the next thing Odum knows, he’s picked by the “Founding Father” himself to drive a car on what amounts to a one-way suicide mission.

However, his team intercedes at the last minute, taking down the crew in one fell swoop, albeit not without some casualties. Surprisingly, Sean Bean was not among them, a fact that the show itself had a little fun with, at several points flashing the hashtag “#DontKillSeanBean,” along with the message: “In everything else, he dies. In ‘Legends,’ he lives.” Just so you know the lead actor isn’t going to die, which would normally be a safe assumption, but with Bean…not so much, as fans can attest. (IMDB.com has Bean meeting an untimely end in over 20 projects to date!)

Fairly standard stuff overall, but with a few interesting wrinkles here and there. For one, Odum has trouble sometimes coming out of his aliases, here called “legends,” hence the title, which the show defines as a “fabricated ID for undercover work.” For another, there’s the appearance of a mysterious man in a hoodie that’s been following him. Telling him that his real name isn’t actually Odum at all, the man gives him a coded book to decipher, just after a woman stabs the man at a subway station he was scheduled to meet Odum at. Is it possible that Odum isn’t who he thinks he is at all? And if so, who’s in on it, and who isn’t?

Obviously, this show is an assemblage of stuff you’ve seen before, particularly the “Bourne” movies, only with more of a gig-of-the-week format, like most serialized dramas. One assumes that Odum will try and infiltrate new groups each week, while at the same time trying to figure out what was up with the man who was killed trying to warn him that his identity was not his own. Not a terrible premise for a show, to be sure, but it remains to be seen whether it is an original take on familiar material or a tired take on time-worn material.

The presence of Bean certainly helps matters, as he delivers a compelling, riveting performance here. The supporting cast is pretty impressive, too, including Ali Larter (“Heroes”) as Odum’s new partner, with whom he has a past; Tina Majorino (“Veronica Mars”), as a new recruit to the team; Steve Harris (“The Practice”) as his FBI boss; and Amber Valletta (“Revenge”) as his estranged ex-wife.

Not everything works: the bit with Larter going undercover as a stripper to get Odum info on the fly is kind of ridiculous (possibly on purpose), and the premise is obviously nothing we haven’t seen before. Yet Bean is solid and the cast is likeable enough, so I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt for a while, especially as the show is only a ten-week commitment, and perfect for short-term summer viewing. It remains to be seen whether it manages to avoid the clichés typical of the genre, but with Gordon’s past pedigree going for it, hopefully it will.

What did you think of “Legends”? Glad to see Bean in a project in which he doesn’t die? What did you make of Larter’s casting? Did anyone else in the cast stand out to you? Are you a fan of Howard Gordon’s past work? Where do you think the show is headed, long-term plot-wise? Let me know what you think down below and see you next week!