Watching the first episode of Legion was a bit of a thrill ride. Going into the premier, I had high expectations, and boy did Noah Hawley and his team deliver. It was nice to see the X-Men franchise take a turn for the better here and hopefully that trend will continue with March’s upcoming Logan. Minor spoilers ahead, so continue at your own risk.
When the show began, it was a little tough to grasp what was going on- there were obviously a few different timelines, changes between what was real and what was in David’s head, and the mystery surrounding the event that brought him to the mental hospital. Normally, a show that reveals so little after one episode can be frustrating to follow, but in this case, everything came together just enough to point us in the right direction and tell us what to expect in the upcoming weeks. We kind of know what to expect here- Legion is Professor X’s son and one of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men universe. We also do get a taste of mutants not being welcome in society, hence the interrogation of David and all that shady government stuff that long time X-Men fans are familiar with. Being on the run is another common X-Men thread here as well, and at the end of the first episode we see David, Syd, and a mysterious yet familiar group of mutants and maybe non-mutants running away from David’s captors. Additionally, all we get are small glimpses of David’s power- while incredible, he does not know how to control it and is very destructive when he does, which sets up the event that leads to his capture by those mysterious government people. We have seen similar instances of this before and it is one of the reasons why the X-Men series is so different from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having a mutation casts people away from society and is what leads David to be institutionalized, with similar instances of stigma around mutations being popular in previous X-Men adaptations. Whether or not we will see Professor X in the series is still to be determined, and even though I personally will not be holding my breath, I think that the show will still be X-men-y enough and different enough to be successful as both a comic book adaptation and as stand-alone (for now) TV.
I believe Noah Hawley struck gold again here. The first two seasons of Fargo are criminally underrated and this series, with broader appeal to an established comic book community will turn people on to the great work he is doing with FX. Hawley created and wrote the series and directed the pilot, a visually stunning and intriguing set-up to what should be a thrilling ride and hopefully the basis for more of the X-Men universe on TV. That being said, I hope Fox starts exploring characters and stories that Bryan Singer, er, I mean, they have previously not been bold enough to explore. Marvel Studios repeatedly shows what lesser known characters and stories are capable of, and with Legion, Fox should taste similar success and diversify what we see out of future X-Men adaptations.
Building off that, this is a step forward for superheroes on TV. The market for comic book based entertainment is probably nearly saturated, with Marvel and DC dominating box offices even with sub-standard films and superheroes taking up increasing prime time slots. However, before this, cable had not seen any superhero TV like this. Marvel and Netflix developed some dark stuff with their Defenders lineup including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, but being on Netflix affords those shows with more opportunity to push boundaries in terms of content and story lines. Plus, those shows have the added benefit of fitting into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, conveniently using the events of the Avengers as plot points when it suits them. Legion does not have those opportunities, having to insert itself nebulously into the X-Men universe, and we really don’t know where in the timeline this should fit, for a few reasons. Does anyone really know where the X-Men universe is after 2016’s Apocalypse? Probably not. As Deadpool said, “McAvoy or Stewart? These timelines are so confusing.” Same, Mr. Pool. The darkness of the story and catalyst to its events plus the commentary on mental illness are not always easy to watch or process, but Hawley and his team, throughout one episode anyway, demonstrate the ability to balance them out with some humor and don’t overdo any one element, keeping the plot moving and the story focused on superheroes, which is, after all, why we’re here. That aside, I don’t think it should matter too much for Legion, which has already established solid footing between including familiar X-Men themes and setting a tone that resembles the X-Men films but is unique on its own. We will definitely learn more in the coming weeks, but with that will come more questions, and hopefully more X-Men in the future.