While Beauty and the Beast is currently dominating the box office, Dan Stevens, who plays the titular beast, is quietly dominating the small screen as #Legion in the FX show of the same name. Created by Noah Hawley — the mind behind Fargo on FX — and Marvel Television — which brought us critically acclaimed shows such as Daredevil — Legion was released to rave reviews and a second season renewal.
Stevens stars as David Haller/Legion, a mutant based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. In the comics, Legion is an omega-level (read: powerful) mutant who possesses a multitude of powers such as telepathy, telekinesis and pyrokinesis; however, he also suffers from dissociative personality disorder. As a result, each one of his separate personalities controls a different one of his powers.
The comics version of Legion is also the son of Professor X, which has been alluded to in the series. Don’t expect to see a cameo from Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy anytime soon, though, because Legion is entirely separate from the continuity of the X-Men films. If Legion were burdened by the X-Men film continuity, the show would suffer as a result. The X-Men films have received their share of criticism and praise over the past 17 years, but Legion is the breath of fresh air that the X-Men need.
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The mutants on Legion are a far-cry from their brethren in the X-Men films. In the films, we have mutants who can control the weather (Storm), ice (Iceman), and metal (Magneto); mutants with healing factors (Wolverine; Deadpool), and mutants who can read minds (Professor X), but, with the exception of mutants such as Rogue, there are virtually no drawbacks to their powers. In Legion, however, the mutants’ powers are more often hindrances, which leads to better character development than in the films. In her review of Legion, Emily Zemler explains,
At its core, 'Legion' is about not feeling at home in your own brain, an idea that translates itself beyond David’s character. The show asks the viewer to consider the importance of embracing who you are inherently and moving forward with those particular strengths and weaknesses."
In Legion, David is infected with a parasite, the Demon with the Yellow Eyes, and cannot fully control his powers, of which he has many. As a result, David is dangerous, but he can’t do anything about it; he feels like a foreigner in his own body. David isn’t the only mutant on Legion, however, and thus not the only character with internal struggle. His girlfriend, Syd Barrett, switches bodies with others upon skin contact, which means that she has to avoid physical contact with others, similar to Rogue, making her seem antisocial.
While David doesn’t have control of his own mind, Syd doesn’t have control of her own body. Similarly, neither does Kerry, a young woman who shares a body with Cary, an older man. Kerry and Cary can’t stray too far from one another, and if one of them gets hurt, so does the other (kind of like a voodoo doll).
Ptonomy Wallace, another mutant, has an eidetic memory and can physically enter others’ memories, as he does with David. Unfortunately, Ptonomy is forced to relive traumatic memories, such as the death of his mother.
The mutants on Legion don’t have control over their own bodies and minds, and they must learn to embrace the duality of their strengths and weaknesses in order to survive. This struggle is aptly portrayed in Legion, and it adds personal stakes to the characters; unlike the characters in the #XMen films, whose only weaknesses are stronger opponents. In an article for Vox, Todd VanDerWerff explains,
“Almost every superhero film since the genre began its rise to invincibility over the past 15 years has featured a plot that would destroy a city, or a nation, or, increasingly often, the whole world. And these sorts of stakes can grow wearying after a while, especially when they're not particularly connected to the heroes' personal struggles.”
Legion is as much a character study as it is a superhero show. By highlighting how their powers are both strengths and weaknesses, Legion establishes pathos for all of its main characters. In fact, the X-Men films have been faulted for their lack of character development. In his original review for X-Men, Peter Travers wrote,
“What sucks? Since it's Wolverine's movie, any X-Men or women who don't hinge directly on his story get short shrift.”
Moreover, Travers also criticized the film's "thin excuse for a plot," which boils down to a villain wanting to hurt innocent people. The same criticism has been thrown at last year's X-Men: Apocalypse. Thematically, the X-Men films have failed because they rely solely on plot development, rather than character development. The X-Men films have suffered from poor plot development, as Travers and Ebert explain, which means that themes of control and oppression are less powerful than they should be.
Legion, however, tackles these themes with maturity and gravitas. Through character development, we understand the struggles that David and the other mutants face because we are shown how they lack control of themselves due to their powers. Therefore, we are emotionally attached not only to David, but also to Syd, Ptonomy, Cary and Kerry. In the films, however, we only care for Wolverine because he's the only character with any development.
Legion also deals with themes of mental illness, and how it can affect someone, positively and negatively. In an interview with IGN, the producer of Legion and the X-Men films, Lauren Shuler Donner, said,
“What we always want to say is, ‘It's OK to be yourself, and actually it's a gift to be yourself. Whatever it is that you have, that may be your gift.’”
Some fans took to Twitter to laud Legion for its realistic portrayal of mental illness.
Legion can be more successful as an X-Men property than the films because TV lends itself to character-driven storytelling. Being a large group of superheroes, the X-Men need more than a few hours to be truly fleshed out, and TV is the perfect way to do just that. Moreover, Legion is released similarly to the way comic books are released. As Todd VanDerWerff writes,
“TV is far closer to comic books than film is, thanks to its serialization. Even with the rise of giant mega-franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, TV better replicates the experience of checking in with your favorite characters on a regular basis.”
The X-Men films are released sporadically, sometimes over three years apart, whereas Legion is released every week. David, Syd, and the other characters on Legion are more fully-developed than they would be on film, simply because there's more time to do so. Plot and themes can be more fully-developed, as well, because of that exact same reason. As long as Legion avoids the pacing issues of Marvel's Netflix shows — which it most likely will because it only has 8-episode seasons instead of 13-episode seasons — it will succeed as the quintessential X-Men property.
Who's your favorite 'Legion' character?
(Poll Image Credit: FX)
What do you guys think? Is Legion the answer to all of X-Men's problems? Let us know in the comments below!