We Are Legi(x)n
I’m now two whole episodes into Legion on FX and I’m sure I’m not the only person to come to something of a revelation: this may be the most X-Men thing to ever X-Men. Ever.
It’s not a terribly big secret, but I guess it sort of is: I haven’t noticed the word “mutant” being used (yet…it’s due in the third episode if I’m to believe the trailer) but it’s probably starting to become obvious that the series is thinly connected to the X-Men universe. At this moment in time, main character David Haller (played by Dan Stevens) is the only characters to have a direct relative in the world of comic-books, but it’s a pretty explicit connection.
(Other readers have noticed the M-word in the show and mentioned it to me after publishing this. So I just want to mention that here: didn’t hear the word, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t in there.)
Boom, told you.
If you didn’t know that, this might be a good time to go and find something else to read, because I might be about to drop some spoilers.
Not that I have any spoilers on the series or anything: it’s only two episodes in, and I’ve tried to avoid looking up anything too specific in terms of where the series if going. Instead, these are just the thoughts and theories of a guy who likes the character and the X-Men universe, who knows how books and narratives exist and likes to analyse stories.
If, like myself, you know the history and origins of David Haller, the series is taking its time to reveal all its tricks, and I’m not entirely sure whether this is an attempt to develop dramatic tension, or if the producers are going to make some significant changes to the source material to stop things from going too crazy too soon. In the world of comics, David is the illegitimate son of Charles Xavier, or Professor X. He’s also schizophrenic, has multiple personalities and each one of his personalities has a distinct look, voice and ability. And that’s why he’s called Legion: because of the varied personalities in there (pretty clever, eh?)
This, of course, hasn’t been revealed by the TV show yet, and that’s proving both interesting and frustrating. David is portrayed as paranoid and certainly hears voices, but the depths of that paranoia remain to be explored: up to this point, the show has been suggesting that David’s paranoia is actually a reaction to his telepathic abilities.
That’s an interesting premise to go with in order to start the series off, but it’s also not entirely fair: despite the show’s maybe-obvious title, the show has been playing its cards very close to its chest with regards to its world. I’ve already mentioned that I haven’t noticed the word ‘mutant’ used yet, but the show has avoided anything else familiar from the X-Men world or their universe.
I can’t tell whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Work with me on this one. You’re a viewer who wants to watch this interesting quirky drama on TV about a guy in a psychiatric hospital where there’s something more going on. It is the same network that’s brought you American Horror Story after all, and I’m pretty sure this is the direction that the show wants you to go in.
But it’s also a show that connects to an X-Men universe of some sort, and if you have any knowledge of the character himself, the show is asking a hell of a lot of questions without giving enough hints about answers. That’s a really good thing for a show touching on mental health and identity, but I’m still waiting for the show to reveal to all of its viewers, even the ones that aren’t comic-book nerds, just where the show is going.
Sure, there’s been some nifty visuals and some quirky scenes, whether it’s the squat monstrous figure that David keeps seeing or in the dream-like flashbacks to his past, a past where David’s father’s face remains hidden. (Although David is Xavier’s son, it’s not something either are aware of for many years in the comics, so it’s fitting that the character is unseen.)
But this also raises some questions about where this series fits into the bigger X-Men universe: if David is to encounter his biological father at some stage, will that man be the mid-to-late -20th-century James McAvoy, will it be 21st century Patrick Stewart, or will it be yet another actor? (After all, TV series based on comic-books are slowly introducing the world to differences between the TV and cinematic universes.)
Or maybe David’s powers and mental issues mean that he (and we) will never be able to see his father.
Maybe it’s something to do with rights and keeping this show in its own world, but the show features several characters that are just a little bit familiar: whether it’s Xavier-stand-in Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) or glove-wearing (but totally-not-Rogue) Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller.) Both are supposedly original characters (pending a later reveal, of course) but both are so uncomfortably similar to Xavier and Rogue that one wonders why the show is using original characters at all.
And that’s why I’m wondering if instead of new characters, we’re being treated to a TV show where every single character we encounter is actually just a figment of David’s disorder?
I’m personally hoping that this is the case, and that Legion as a series, regardless of it’s placement in an X-Men world, is actually a study on sanity and mental health. The series certainly suggests that its reality is thinly defined anyway: we’ve already been treated to a Bollywood-style dance sequence and numerous flashbacks or dreams-within-dreams.
As a writer, it’s incredibly exciting to think that a show might carry out this sort of deception on such a grand scale, creating such deeply bound levels of fiction in its own world. Not only does it call attention to the fragility of mental health in itself, but also by questioning the relationship between a TV show and its audience, and the many things that they perceive to be true and ‘canon.’ Perhaps the show is taking the notion of an unreliable narrator and going full-tilt with it.
From a creative point of view, if every single character is a fragment of a personality of one singular character, it allows a character to talk to themselves in the third person, to love and hate and hurt and even kill themselves.
I’m wondering if the show has already dropped a lot of signs to this fact: some part of me expects that, by the end of the season, we’ll be treated to a retreating camera revealing David asleep (or in some other state) wherein the entire season has been in his head. It would certainly help to make sense of Aubrey Plaza’s character Lenny, killed in the first episode in the mental hospital, but still haunting David in a fashion so sane and confident that she may as well be a different character. Maybe we can then assume that Dr. Bird’s pseudo-telepathy, Ptonomy’s ability to replay memories, Syd’s ability to swap bodies and every other character we encounter is, in fact, just one more facet of David’s personality.
This could also make sense of some of the show’s minor skips: we were treated to a terrakinetic character in the first episode’s jail-break scene who hasn’t been seen since, and there are some tiny anachronisms (the 1970s-style fashion and large tape recorders combines with modern army-fatigues, a computer tablet and a voice-controlled lift.)
Of course, I could be wrong and the show is just having some stylistic fun with a narrative about a telekinetic character who’s about to get caught up in any number of scrapes thanks to his telepathic powers.
But if I’m right, and oh how I wish I’m right (even if I’m over-thinking it), I’m excited to think that maybe we’ve finally been given a superhero outlet that can deal with gender, depression, identity and mental health…and still get superpowers out of it.
Also published on Medium.