Legion is a refreshing new show, in part because it does not worry about tying itself into the greater cinematic universe set up by previous X-Men movies.
If you’re still wondering if Legion is worth your time, I don’t have an answer for you. I watched the series premiere and wrote about my thoughts, but couldn’t come to any one conclusion. This show is meant to mess with your mind, but only time will tell if it’s truly worth the watch.
For better or for worse, however, I’m in it until the end (of season 1, at least). I like the idea that this show is complicated, that we have to be patient to get the answers we’re looking for. It looks like a lot of effort went into creating this series, and the least I can do is stick it out for a while.
When the show was first announced, everyone was excited to have the X-Men hit the small screen. Better yet, Marvel and Fox would be working together on Legion to make it something truly unique. Considering nearly everything Marvel touches turns to gold, this was a best case scenario for the show. Add to that Fargo creator Noah Hawley’s obvious vision, and this show might just end up being the best thing on television.
Marvel is the king of of shared universes. It started with Phase One, where the studio individually introduced us to a handful of their superheroes and then brought them together in an epic collaborative film with The Avengers. Since then, they’ve gone on to present us with even more characters, do several more Avengers films, and even incorporate both network television shows and Netflix original series into the MCU.
The X-Men franchise is a little bit trickier of a beast. We got X-Men and X2, which both have their strengths and weaknesses, and then we got the train wreck that was X-Men: The Last Stand. Fox cleverly retconned the final movie by rebooting the franchise, using the premise of a prequel starring Charles and Erik to remake the series and give us a reason to care again.
And you know what? It worked. First Class stole hearts, and although the two followups Days of Future Past and Apocalypse didn’t hit the mark quite as well as the first film in this era, the trilogy was enough to launch a series of other movies and television shows.
One of those television shows is, of course, Legion. The difference with Legion, however, is that it does not worry about tying into the wider X-Men universe. When I spoke to set designer Michael Wylie, I asked what sort of Easter eggs we should be on the lookout for.
“ZERO. There aren’t any,” he told me. “I wanted to tie a bunch of things into the background of this show. I designed the first season of Agent Carter, so I was very familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So when I wanted to put Roxxon logos on delivery vehicles or Stark Industries logos on things, there was a resounding NO. It is a standalone show which primarily exists in its own Cinematic Universe. Sorry.”
Wylie may be apologizing for the lack of Easter eggs, but I’m not disappointed. Don’t get me wrong — my favorite thing about the MCU is how fantastic they are about tying everything together. Even little, unimportant references get me excited whenever I catch them. No one else can do it as well as Marvel, and I’m always on board with them continuing to interconnect all of their stories.
But there’s something incredibly refreshing about viewing Legion as a standalone story. The X-Men universe is so well-known; we’ve been experiencing these movies for nearly 20 years now. The characters are familiar, even if we keep learning more about them each time we see them on screen.
But Legion is different in a variety of ways. It does not rely on what came before it as a launching pad into the unknown. It is very much its own entity, and it’s much stronger for it. The X-Men movies are not totally grounded in reality: our heroes dress up in leather-clad outfits and show off their powers in a way that makes them familiar. It normalizes them.
Nothing is normal about Legion. It’s so strongly grounded in reality that the supernatural elements feel foreign. This is, obviously, completely intentional, as our main character David isn’t aware that he’s not as insane as he thinks he is. The voices in his head and the things he sees are a result of his mutant abilities.
Giving Legion a fresh slate off of which to work allows it to break free from the chains of the X-Men universe. Although it is connected, it is unlikely we’ll ever see or even hear about the likes of Wolverine or Jean or Storm. The biggest connection will probably be made when (or if!) it is revealed who David’s father is. But even then, it’s unlikely to become the focus of the show.
Because Legion is such a complicated and mind-bending series, it relies on being unpredictable, and the only way it can be unpredictable is if it’s free to move around without being chained down by previous X-Men installments. Here’s to hoping Legion is everything we’re hoping for in an X-Men television series (and maybe even more).