Legion, the latest FX Networks drama series, is also the first Marvel Comics collaboration outside of Disney or Netflix. That makes it akin to DC Comics’s Gotham and Constantine, as well as the upcoming NBC comedy Powerless, in that Legion will exist outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The character of David Haller, also known as Legion, belongs to the X-Men line of Marvel Comics; he is the son of Professor Xavier, a character played in the films by both Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy. The character has multiple personalities, each of which has a different superpower. Haller will be portrayed in the show by Downton Abbey alumnus Dan Stevens.
The FX series was created by Noah Hawley, who has had success on the network with the television series Fargo, based on the acclaimed 1996 Coen Brothers film. Speaking to critics at the 2017 Television Critics Association winter press tour, Hawley says he is a fan of Marvel Comics generally, but wasn’t very familiar with the character of Legion before he started working on the show.
Hawley thinks the biggest challenge for Legion is to make it appealing to non-comics fans as well as the Marvel diehards who will no doubt tune in. TVLine reports Hawley saying that he wanted to focus first on the romance between Haller and Rachel Kelly’s character, Syd (a fellow mental health patient) and then write the high-concept genre elements around it.
The FX series is also deliberately messing with viewer expectations in both aesthetic and filming style. Stevens went on Variety‘s podcast, Remote Controlled, and spoke about how the aesthetic of Legion is reminiscent of “strange” filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson.
Hawley also spent a lot of time talking about how Legion is a very subjective series.
“Every moment you’re experiencing is what he’s experiencing,” he says, per USA Today. “His perception of reality sometimes feels retro and sometimes feels futuristic.”
That should make the series a good match for fans of USA Network’s Mr. Robot, a series notorious for the use of subjective viewpoints. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hawley expands on this subject a little more.
“This whole show is not the world, it’s David’s experience of the world. He’s piecing his world together from nostalgia and memory and the world becomes that,” he says, adding soon after that there aren’t very many cars in the entire series because cars can provide a definitive time and place. (This was something LOST struggled with in its middle years, when the show really started to mess with time travel and flash-forwards.)
Legion is shaping up to be Marvel’s weirdest show to date, but the executive producers on the film and television side are fully on board with the series.
Lauren Shuler Donner, a producer for the X-Men film franchise, who is also serving as executive producer for Legion, told Deadline that Legion is a chance to explore characters from the X-Men comics who won’t necessarily be included in the films. Marvel executive Jeph Loeb was struck by Hawley’s pitch for the series as one that focused on mental illness instead of superpowers.
This actually echoes the direction of the Marvel Netflix series. While most of the Netflix characters have superpowers, their individual series have unique identities and themes: Daredevil on Catholic guilt and redemption in a corrupt city; Jessica Jones on sexual assault and emotional abuse; and Luke Cage on the African-American experience.
A sharp take on mental illness through Legion, then, is a welcome addition to Marvel’s growing stable of live-action television series, though Dan Stevens tells TV Guide that the character’s struggle with his multiple personalities in the series will not necessarily echo the depiction in the comics.
It remains to be seen how exactly Legion will be depicting and talking about his powers, as the trailers provide only brief glimpses of Legion’s abilities in use. If the show manages to successfully navigate the tricky waters of depicting mental illness — a key element in the recent boycotts of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film Split — then the series should find and keep a strong audience at the intersection of Marvel Comics readers and psychological thriller fanatics.
Legion premieres on February 8 on FX.
[Featured image by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP]