FX’s Legion Is Yet Another Perfectly Dark Mutant Story

By J.J. Ulm

Logan isn’t the only X-Men story coming to screens this winter ­­­­­— not even the only one starting with an L. Over on Fox’s FX network (and on Hulu for you cord-cutters), a less famous mutant called Legion has his own series. Has Fox finally gotten its X-groove back? Or is it just the Generation X miniseries all over again?

Okay, I just wanted an excuse to remind people that was a thing.

(It had Matt Frewer in it.)

The titular Legion is a young mental patient named David Haller, who is either a paranoid schizophrenic, the world’s most powerful mutant, or a little of both. As far as the medical community is concerned, he’s the former, and it’s while locked away in Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital that he meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and more on that in a moment) with powers of her own and realizes the voices in his head might not all be in his head.

David Haller is a name that comes with a whole lot of baggage, so X-Men and continuity nerds probably have questions. However, only three episodes in, I’m not sure I have answers, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to seek out spoilers to get them. (Okay, I did manage to get spoiled on them while looking up details of the show for this review, but I’ll be polite and not pass that on to you.)

Though there’s one you only have to see promotional photos to answer: No, sadly he does not have that magnificent Bill Sienkiewicz hair.

But it says a lot that more than a few details of David’s life are left as mysteries, even ones that you might assume if you know his comic book backstory. David is very much an unreliable narrator, and that bleeds into everything about the show, from its very, very non-chronological narrative to the hints of the 1960s that pop up seemingly at random among the otherwise modern technology and fashion. While most of the voices in his head are just other people’s thoughts he’s picking up through uncontrolled telepathy, he’s still not entirely sane. It gives the show a distinct look, both in design and direction, and actor Dan Stevens gives David a manic energy that suits it.

As an adaptation, it’s worth noting that Legion was originally based on the now-outdated Hollywood idea of Multiple Personality Disorder, now classified as Dissociative Identity Disorder. Each one of his multiple personalities manifested its own mutant power. It’s an interesting idea as superpowers go, but not up to current understanding of mental illness. The show reins this in quite a bit and keeps his powers more in line with schizophrenia.

The biggest weakness thus far is that aforementioned Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a to-the-letter conventionally attractive young woman named Syd whose powers are based on touch. A Roguelike, if you will. Rachel Keller does a commendable job in the role, but she’s so perfect I started watching whether the other characters were reacting to her to make sure she wasn’t another figment of David’s imagination. If they wanted to give David a love interest, they’d have done better with someone less vanilla.

Still, it’s a fascinating show that, like Logan, is well to the darker side of the superhero genre. Fortunately X-Men is a series that’s a little more suited to that than most, and it looks like, with Marvel giving them the green light to go in that direction, Fox is doing some great things with it.