Warning: The following contains spoilers for the first episode of FX’s Legion.
We often hear complaints that the pop culture sphere is overstuffed with superhero material. No longer just beholden to summertime cinema, superheroes are now regular fixtures of the year-round big screen release schedule, and are swiftly making a play for every corner of the television realm. They aren’t even exclusive to niche networks and streaming venues, as some of basic cable’s most esteemed stations are getting in on the comic book gambit. Close on the tails of AMC’s latest series, Preacher, is FX’s first go at the game: Legion, a series adaptation of the story of the Marvel Comics character of the same name.
On Sunday morning, FX and Marvel Studios brought the first half of the two-part premiere episode of Legion to the Hammerstein Ballroom for the viewing pleasure of a crowd of excited New York Comic Con attendees. Above all else, the episode exemplified why chides about the ubiquity of superhero properties seem to evade the understanding of why these stories are making a play for screens all over—there isn’t one way to tell a story about super powers, heroes, and villains. Case in point: the Marvel Cinematic Universe vies for glimmer and whimsy; the DC films choose intensity and severity; the X-Men features get as geeky and esoteric as they can; now, Legion looks altogether different from anything we’re seeing in superheroism these days.
The premiere opens amid a Boyhoodian montage through the upbringing of the central character, known at this point only as David (Dan Stevens); his childhood deviates from good old normativity, landing instead on violence, terror, and what is ultimately diagnoses as paranoid schizophrenia—his symptoms include the hearing of voices and visualization of nonexistent people.
We catch up with David in his late 20s, condemned with great frustration to his life in a psychiatric institution following a post-college breakdown and suicide attempt. Despite support from his Pollyanna sister Amy (Katie Aselton) and a kinship with sardonic fellow patient Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), David’s personal isolation is only first assuaged when he meets hospital newcomer Syd (Rachel Keller), who wins him over thanks to her validation of his secretly held belief that there might be more to his “problems” than the hospital is letting on. Despite Syd’s aversion to human contact, the pair develops quite a life-affirming rapport… which makes the next element of the show all the tougher to bear.
Leaping ahead in time, we see David in the clutches of an unidentified law enforcement institution, questioning him about some nebulous “accident” resulting in the disappearance of a number of people. Most suspiciously, the unnamed agent with whom David grapples (Hamish Linklater) insists that Syd was never a patient at the hospital, suggesting that she may have never existed to begin with, and was perhaps just another vision in David’s head.
While the episode caps with a pretty good reason to believe that there’s more truth to David’s side of the story than the interrogator lets on, we’re still left in the dark about what exactly to believe. As showrunner Noah Hawley said to the crowd following the broadcast of the episode, “He doesn’t know what’s real, and… and you’re in his head, you’re in this world, so you don’t really know what’s real either.” He added, “We’re seeing this world through multiple layers of the confusion and mixed signals that Dan is getting.”
Truly, Legion doesn’t feel much like any X-Men movie we’ve seen thus far, or even any superhero movie across the board. Citing some of his artistic influences for the project, Hawley said, “It wanted to feel like a 1964 Terence Stamp movie for some reason,” and later added, in reference to a conversation with the show’s composer Jeff Russo, “[I told him] this show should sound like Dark Side of the Moon.”
Why did Hawley feel the need to veer off in a different direction for Legion? “Maybe it had to do wit the fact that the last three X-Men movies have been period pieces,” he said “Some things [in Legion] feel very retro, some things feel very modern.”
On every level does Legion deviate from its fellow properties, especially visually. Star Dan Stevens wears a track suit through the bulk of the first episode, which is quite a departure from the usual superhero garb. He joked, “No dumb horns,” adding, “Sorry. I have to tease Tom Hiddleston about those occasionally.”
Harris said of his character Ptonomy Wallace, “I remember a lot. I remember everything that happened in my life. I can bring people through their memories as well and serve to help them grow and heal.”
Midthunder spoke on her character Kerry, “My character, she’s a doer. She’s a fighter. She’s really not one to dwell in anything. She’ll lead the charge. And she has a very interesting relationship with someone else.”
And finally, Irwin summed up his character Cary quite simply: “Geeky scientist. Brilliant geneticist.”
Stylistic differences aside, Legion shouldn’t be accepted as completely independent from the X-Men world we know and love. As executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner said, “It is far away from the X-Men movies, yet it still lives within that universe.”
As such, there may well be some illustration of the connection between David and one Prof. Xavier. Hawley said, “I don’t think you can really tell the story without that element to it, so I’ll say that you probably will see a [connection to Prof. X].”
Of course, when asked if we’d see any of the stars from the movies make cameo appearances, Shuler Donner admitted, “Probably not, but you never know.”
Are you excited to check it out? Tell us in comments.