Well it sounds like the X-Men timeline is about to get even more complicated. Last year, the exciting news broke that Fargo creator Noah Hawley was developing an X-Men TV series with Simon Kinberg, Bryan Singer, and Lauren Schuler Donner called Legion. Comics fans knew full well what that title meant: that we’d be dealing with David Haller, the son of Professor Charles Xavier who deals with issues of mental illness as he starts to display his powers. However, Hawley’s plans for Legion—which just got picked up to series by FX with Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens in the lead role—may offer quite the departure for folks looking for a straight comics adaptation. Moreover, Legion may be a genuine one-off, with little or no connection to the X-Men movie universe.
During an interview with HitFix, Hawley was asked if the show takes place in continuity with the X-Men movies and if this is a world where mutants are public with powers:
“No, it’s not. It’s a little more of a fable in my mind. If you were to say, ‘Where is it, and when is it?,’ it’s not exactly clear, I think. And a lot of it is because he’s not exactly clear. It’s the world as perceived subjectively on some level. The recent X-Men movies, starting with First Class, are rooted in a time period and a world and playing with history in interesting ways. This isn’t doing that.”
That’s certainly a fascinating direction, and one that’s quite different from how Marvel Television approaches its shows’ relationship to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it’s possible that Kinberg and Co. are simply learning from Marvel’s mistakes. Recently, fans of the Marvel TV series have become dismayed at the lack of connection between the shows and the movies, and the MCU’s unwillingness to incorporate characters and plotlines from the shows. This is mainly a consequence of timing—it’s nearly impossible to lineup a plot on a TV series with when a film is released, given that said film takes two years to complete. So with Legion, it sounds like they just won’t have to worry much about trying to address the extremely muddled X-Men movie timeline and can simply focus on making a great series.
And indeed, Hawley’s approach to mutants and Haller’s powers are definitely different:
“The diagnosis that he has when we meet him is schizophrenic. he hears voices, and he sees things that are maybe real or aren’t real, and he’s not sure. I want to explore, on some level, the reality of what it’s like to have those abilities in a more existential way. So it’s not, ‘You have these powers; now run!’ More in the idea that you go through your life with this identity as a crazy person, and then someone comes along and says, ‘No, actually, you’re perfectly sane, and have the abilities you have,’ which sounds like what a crazy person’s thoughts would be. I love the idea that even when you’re in it on the journey, there is this Alice in Wonderland quality to it, of a story within a story.”
But is Stevens’ Haller related to Charles Xavier in the show?
“He could be. It’s a different story, but I’m not ruling that out.”
This all sounds like a fascinating take on the superhero genre, much in the same way Marvel’s excellent Jessica Jones was framed as a sexual assault survivor story. I think that’s the key to these superhero series. With television, you’re never going to match the scale and budget of the feature film counterparts, so leaning into the more character-centric aspect in a unique way can result is some really exciting storytelling.
Legion also stars Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Aubrey Plaza, Jeremie Harris, Amber Midthunder, Katie Aselton, and Bill Irwin. The series is expected to debut in early 2017.