Warning: Spoilers for Legion Season 1.
Serving as both the first live-action series based on the comic book franchise, as well as the first series connected to the film franchise, Legion is Fox's first official dive into TV storytelling for the X-Men. It has proven to be very successful since its premiere a little over a month ago — the series holds a "Certified Fresh" approval rating of 92% from critics on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes and is earning a couple million viewers every week.
The series, developed for the small screen by Noah Hawley (Fargo), follows David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age that comes to discover he is actually a mutant with incredible powers, but also has a dangerous side.
While the plot certainly sounds like a straightforward setup for a superhero series, the way the events play out actually stray from the cliche superhero formula and go in a unique direction. For fans of the X-Men who were looking forward to a series directly connected to the franchise, this may come as a disappointment, but it should actually be seen as a positive thing. Let's take a deeper look at the show and why its genre-bending is a really strong point for the series.
Just Who Is David Haller?
The series' lead character is based on his comic book iteration, David Charles Haller, otherwise known as "Legion." First introduced in 1985 in New Mutants #25, it was revealed through frequent X-Men ally Moira MacTaggert's notes that Charles Xavier had a son with a woman named Gabrielle Haller, and that he had the abilities of telepathy, telekinesis and pyrokinesis, but that what triggered/controlled these powers was unknown — and that his mental state was deteriorating with each day.
As the comics went on, readers got a deeper look at David's backstory, in which we discovered his powers manifested when he was the lone survivor of a terrorist attack where his family members were killed and he used his powers to incinerate the minds of the assassins. The unique twist, however, is that when killing the terrorists, he telepathically connected with their minds and absorbed their consciousnesses, specifically the terrorists' leader.
This would prove to be David's biggest issue throughout his life and get him in major trouble time and time again, as the personalities David would continue to absorb would keep fighting for control of him and his powers. This resulted in the deaths of many more humans and mutants — including Destiny and Bishop —whose consciousnesses would also both be absorbed by David/Legion.
In trying to combat these other personalities, David would also manifest his other two powers, time travel and reality warping, as he tried to erase himself from existence in order to prevent everything that he had done.
For the TV series, the character's backstory is still being developed, his father's identity seemingly being kept a secret from the audiences, whether it be a mystery the audience must wait to discover to be revealed, or the series trying to tease the connections to the film franchise. But what the show is hinting at positively is David's ability to absorb the consciousnesses of those who "he" kills, as both he and audiences continue to see Lenny "Cornflakes" Busker (Aubrey Plaza), David's friend from the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital, even after she was killed in the pilot.
Though she's currently referring to herself as "kind of like David's conscience" when she appears in his fractured mind, we still get the sense that there's something more to her appearance. The show has also depicted David's ability for telekinesis and reality warping, as we've seen him throw members from the mysterious enemy Division 3, seemingly led by the man only known as Brubaker (David Selby).
How Is The Show Not A Superhero Series Then?
There's no denying that the manifestations of David's abilities in show point towards it being a superhero series, but it's actually a lot deeper than that and strays from typical superhero concepts.
For starters, the show doesn't immediately write off David's schizophrenia once the group of mutants from Summerland rescue him from Clockworks. Instead, the show continues to embrace David's multiple personality disorder and expand on it, diving deeper and deeper each week into David's fractured mind to explore its connections to his powers.
This structure really helps contribute to the unique and quirky feel to the show, as audiences are treated to a surreal and mind-bending journey into this character's head. The third chapter of the first season, which aired last week, exclusively focused on David's troubled past with using drugs, a difficult childhood, as well as multiple appearances of the mental antagonist, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, who constantly plagues him.
This formula for the show is elevated even further by using a nonlinear structure for the storytelling, as well as featuring an incredibly unreliable narrator for the protagonist. Each time the characters attempt to look at David's memories to help try and "fix" his broken mind, they are obstructed by various challenges, including information being hidden from David by what is most likely other personalities.
As David learns to embrace and master his powers, we are treated to some familiar superhero conventions seen in origin stories, and yet it still is very much breaking the mold that has been so popular with this kind of "origin" storytelling. There is an enemy looking to use his powers for malevolent reasons, while there is a group of "good guys" that look to use his powers in the battle against evil, all the while he's trying to figure out who is he and where he fits in his expanding world.
Rather than have him master his powers early on and struggle with whether or not to join the "war," the series chooses to focus on the work of David's mind and schizophrenia, as well as his love story with Sydney "Syd" Barrett (Rachel Keller). This gives a more intimate approach to watching the story unfold, and helps this show feel more like a deep character, psychological character study more so than an action-packed comic book series.
One of the other reasons this show works not being a true superhero series is its lack of an actual connection to the X-Men film franchise. Though the producers initially teased the idea that Legion would eventually directly tie into the film franchise and possibly see the character enter the movies, producer Lauren Shuler Donner recently stated in an interview with IGN that the show would stand on its own to avoid some of the convoluted continuity errors that come from trying to mix worlds and timelines.
"With 'Legion,' we're our own universe. It gives Noah [Hawley] the freedom to do what he wants to do. Because we play with so many different timelines, and we rebooted and not really rebooted and all that, we felt like, OK, we're going to throw it out there and hope the fans accept it."
While it would be cool to see current Charles Xavier, James McAvoy, appear on the show as David's father, it makes all the more sense to keep the two universes separate, especially being that the show has a "timeless" feel to the story. Most of the technology that appears in the show looks like it's right out of the 1960s and '70s, as well as a lot of the characters' fashion choices, yet there's still a somewhat modern feel to the world, making it hard to fit the X-Men into this universe.
In keeping this world separate, it helps to truly develop the characters, especially the titular character, and signs point towards this series hopefully continuing to grow the captivating characters for a good time into the future.
Legion airs on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on FX and FX Now.
What are your thoughts on Legion? Do you think it's a straightforward superhero series? Do you think it should cross into the X-Men film franchise? Let us know in the comments below!