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FX’s X-Men series Legion will examine mutants and mental illness

FX just gave fans their first extended look at its upcoming X-Men series Legion on Sunday at New York Comic Con, and it already promises to be one of the more fascinating shows due to come out in 2017. After con-goers watched the first half hour of the pilot, the show’s cast and crew came onstage to answer questions about what’s to come. What we got was a glimpse at how ambitious this series will be, why it’s being made now, and even a little bit about where it exists in Marvel canon.

Legion is incredibly ambitious

Showrunner Noah Hawley, best known for creating the acclaimed series Fargo, is bringing a ton of creative energy to this project, and it shows almost immediately. In the pilot’s first half hour, the show goes from resembling a Wes Anderson-esque comedy to a Kubrick-esque sci-fi thriller to a quirky romantic comedy a la Garden State, with, according to Hawley, “1964 Terence Stamp” thrown in for good measure.

That the story coheres at all is thanks, in large part, to a grounding and utterly transfixing performance by series star Dan Stevens. Fans may know that David goes by Legion, one of the most powerful mutants ever created in X-Men history. Here, David is in a psychiatric institution and believes he’s mentally ill, but it’s suggested early on that his powers allow him to move objects with his mind and even alter reality. And thanks to an incident we haven’t yet seen, his powers have attracted government attention. But instead of learning how powerful he is, we spend most of our time developing a connection to Haller and his plight. However, if he can alter reality, it’s entirely possible to read the wild stylistic shifts in the episode as just different way he sees his experiences, forcing us to wonder if he’s a reliable narrator.

That we get all this in just the first 30 minutes means that the season will probably go to even wilder places as things progress.

Mental illness is a big part of the show

During today’s panel, Hawley suggested that the line between sanity and insanity is very thin, and that the show will continue to explore mental illness going forward. David may or may not be insane, but the people in his life suffer from issues of their own. There’s Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) who’s a good friend of David’s in the mental hospital, *who* is battling addiction. And then there’s Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller), who David quickly falls for, despite her fear of being touched. According to Hawley, “This show should sound like Dark Side of the Moon,” saying that the album is a soundscape for mental illness. With that in mind, it’s certainly no mistake that Syd is named after the former Pink Floyd frontman who was briefly institutionalized.

Oh, and Aubrey Plaza is amazing. She’s clearly having the time of her life.

It’s not clear yet where the story takes place in canon

The crew behind the film are very cagey about how this series relates to the X-Men film universe. Executive Producer Lauren Shuler Donner said that the show “is very far from the X-Men movies,” but exists in that universe. What that means isn’t clear yet. Hawley suggested that, thanks to the long history of alternate timelines in the X-Men comics, it’s possible that the show takes place in a parallel universe. It’s also possible that, thanks to David’s subjective reality, what we see is unrelated to what’s really happening. We do know that X-films director Bryan Singer has plans to link the show to the movies, but how is an open question.

Of course, the bigger question is how the series could connect to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb was onstage to say that the studio entered talks for the series enthusiastically, and the show represents a chance to build bridges between Fox and Marvel’s efforts. At an earlier panel for Agents of SHIELD, Loeb said “Stay tuned” regarding to prospect of future crossovers, but only meant that conversations need to be had. And we still don’t know for sure if those conversations are happening right now.

The X-Men are as important as ever

Jeph Loeb told the audience that, considering the currently social and political climate, “the X-Men have never been more relevant than they are right now.” That certainly rings true; since the series and its offshoots have always about people being different, celebrating difference — whether it’s about race, sex, class, or mental state — is important. If anything, this is a good time to see a well-crafted X-Men series on TV.

Legion will debut on FX in early 2017.


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