Legion might be the Fargo of superhero TV — and it’s not just because the creator of the upcoming FX show, Noah Hawley, also spearheaded the network’s Fargo television adaptation.
Hawley joined his cast members and producers Jeph Loeb and Lauren Shuler Donner for a panel at New York Comic Con, where they screened the first 30 minutes of the pilot episode. “It wanted to feel like a 1964 Terrence Stamp movie,” the showrunner said, though he later compared Legion to his earlier work.
“What I enjoyed with Fargo is the idea that it seemed for the first three hours [of the show] completely unconnected to the movie because it completely had to stand on its own two feet,” he said, “and I feel that way about this show, as well, which is that you gotta earn the right to be part of that universe, and my hope is to create something that is so strong that the people at the movie studios call up and say, ‘We’d be foolish not to connect these two things.'”
The footage itself was just as chaotic as the mind of David Haller. On Legion, Dan Stevens (the Beast in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast) portrays the character as a man whom doctors misdiagnose with paranoid schizophrenia when really he’s perhaps one of the most powerful telepathic and telekinetic mutants in the world. The story is told from his point of view, so because “he doesn’t know what’s real and you’re in his head, you’re in his world, so you don’t know what’s real either,” Hawley said.
The episode begins with flashes from David’s past, from his infancy through his troubled teen years and up to his suicide attempt as an adult. Now, he’s sitting in an asylum of sorts, staring across the table as his sister, Amy Haller (Katie Aselton), holds out a sparkling cupcake and sings “Happy Birthday.” “Here’s someone who defined herself as normal against her brother,” Hawley said. “She finds herself being looked at as if she might be crazy, as well.” Perhaps she, too, is a mutant, as the showrunner wouldn’t rule out that possibility.
Soon, more flashes of scenes — almost Kubrickian in nature — lead us inside the asylum, where we meet Aubrey Plaza’s music-obsessed Lenny Bucker and Rachel Keller’s mysterious Syd Barrett. Syd quickly grabs David’s eye, but she has her own issues: She can’t let anyone physically touch her. She’s perhaps the most mysterious of them all, because while the majority of the footage previewed their kindling relationship, we cut to the present. There, David is sitting in a holding room being interviewed by an interrogator (Hamish Linklater), where he claims Syd might not have been real after all.
When the footage ends, we learn there’s far more to this story. David’s interrogation room is located in an emptied pool inside a gymnasium of sorts that’s now completely infested with armed soldiers dressed in black. Linklater’s character walks through this mysterious location to meet a man, who concludes David knows he has immense power but doesn’t know how to control it. Additionally, he may not be entirely convinced of his own sanity, while words like the “incident” in “Red Hook,” the death of a girl, and something called “Division 1” are referenced.
Other actors who appeared at the Con who did appear in the footage include Bill Irwin as a “geeky scientist” named Cary Loudermilk, and Amber Midthunder and Jeremie Harris as other “people with abilities” Kerry Loudermilk and Ptonomy Wallace. “We saw David being interviewed in a room by some authority figure, and let’s just say that that’s one group and there’s another group,” Hawley teased.
Based on what was screened, Legion already seems to have an erratic, hallucinatory tone and style that we’ve never seen before from a superhero TV series — though the producers confirmed there is a connection to the X-Men movies at large.
“There’s a certain degree to which that’s to be determined,” Loeb, who’s also the head of Marvel TV, said. “As I explained, we’re in this objective reality of David, so it’s hard for us to tell. One of the things that is attractive about the X-Men universe is there is all these alternate timelines and these alternate universes, and so it does have this vaguer quality. We also begin to realize we’re seeing this world from multiple layers of the confusion and mixed signals that Dan’s character is getting. So, I mean, I think it’d be a spoiler to in a true sense to kind of say — I really like the idea of trying to make things that are unexpected and feel inevitable. I’ll say that we are true to the origins of this character.”
That also applies to David’s comic book origins as the son of Professor Xavier. Echoing previous statements he made, Hawley confirmed, “I don’t think you can really tell this story without that element to it.” James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart portray Charles in the X-Men movies, and when asked by a fan if we’d see the Professor in Legion, Hawley responded, “I’d say you probably will.”
Earlier in the panel, Loeb said the core of any X-Men story, Legion or otherwise, is the differences among people. “We live in a world right know where diversity and uniqueness and the fact that we fit in or we don’t fit is something that’s on our minds 24 hours a day,” he said. “It’s a part of social media, it’s all of those things. And the X-Men have never been more relevant than they are right now.”
Legion will premiere on FX in 2017.