'Legion': A Super Primer for FX's 'X-Men' Drama

The drama, from 'Fargo' creator Noah Hawley, is designed for people who have never read an 'X-Men' comic in their life.
Chris Lang/FX

Everyone knows Wolverine, but how many people are familiar enough with the greater X-Men catalog that they could pick David Haller out in a lineup?

The answer to that question may change based on the response from viewers to Legion, the new FX drama from Fargo maestro Noah Hawley. With his second franchise for the network, Hawley mines the depths of the Marvel Comics canon, returning with an incredibly obscure character in tow: a mentally ill and tremendously gifted mutant known as David Haller, aka Legion, created by comic book legends Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in the 1980s. Even though David is the son of legendary X-Men founder Charles Xavier, he's not exactly a household name, and certainly not the first character who comes to mind when providing the bedrock for an ambitious new television series.

But Hawley doesn't exactly do "expected," as anyone who watched Fargo can attest. In speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Hawley said he was drawn to Legion both because it presented a unique opportunity to explore mental illness in a meaningful way, and also because of the character's relative obscurity.

"I approached it more the way I approach Fargo, which is to say, with incredible respect for the underlying material but wanting to tell the story that I want to tell, and to the degree that that intersects in some ways with the stories that the readers know already," he said. "That can be satisfying, but I also feel like it can be a trap, to be telling them stories they love that inevitably are going to change in the telling and therefore create a disconnect between the stories they love and the story they're watching. My feeling was, let me take a character who seems familiar and let's tell a new story, which will create something unpredictable, because you don't know what happened in the comics, and also to potentially allow you to see this character in a new way."

As far as Hawley's vision goes, Legion takes place across multiple moments in time, even multiple planes of existence, as it explores the inner workings of David Haller's mind. The result is an experience unlike any other superhero show, according to comments made by Marvel TV's Jeph Loeb in January.

"Legion redefines the genre in a new way," he said. "We get asked a lot: 'Are there too many superhero shows? Have we reached the saturation point?' We have two responses to that: 'Do we ask those about cop, medical and legal shows? No.' Secondly, the other idea is Marvel doesn't start out from a place [where] a person is defined by their powers. This is about what's happening to David in that world."

Filling out the vast world of Legion is an equally vast array of actors, including Downton Abbey and The Guest veteran Dan Stevens as David, Parks and Recreation star Aubry Plaza, and even two of Noah Hawley's reliable colleagues from Fargo season two: Jean Smart and Rachel Keller.

"A friend told me that Noah was making a new show, and I was jealous there were going to be other actors working with him," Keller told THR, adding that Hawley later invited her to audition for the role of Syd Barrett, David's love interest and fellow mutant. The character isn't based on anyone from the comics, instead taking her name from the Pink Floyd singer of the same name.

In fact, Syd stands as a great example of how Legion leans more on original characters and ideas than it does on specific adaptations of the source material. With that said, the series still gets a thumbs up from one of the most prolific X-Men content creators ever: Bryan Singer.

“It's an onion,” he said about his views on Legion at the show's red-carpet premiere in January. “That's the best way to describe it — it's a visual feast, it's beautifully written, but it's an onion — constantly being unpeeled with every scene and with every episode. It's constantly evolving. Just when you think it's going in one direction, it takes you in a completely different one.”

Adds Loeb: "Isn't it about time we did an X-Men television show, and isn't it about time we did it well? And that's what Legion is."

Legion premieres Feb. 8 on FX. Check back with THR throughout the season for more on the new X-Men series.