What happens when you mix Marvel superheroes, FX's deep, resonant miniseries format, and Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens (not to mention Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza)? You get Legion, the X-Men Universe-set TV show from Fargo creator Noah Hawley, and definitely one of the most intriguing TV projects to come down the pike in a long, long time.
Starring Stevens as David Haller, a superpowered mutant whose multiple personalities each has a different power, the show is set in the same universe as the X-Men movies — but don't expect Jennifer Lawrence (or even James Marsden) to show up for a guest turn. This is very much its own show, despite the Marvel relationship, and that was ably shown off at the show's New York Comic Con panel Sunday, which also debuted the first extended look at the premiere.
First off, though, let's get a couple of things clear: the X-Men movies are entirely unconnected from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means no Avengers, no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and no Marvel/Netflix heroes. The show is produced by Marvel TV, along with X-Men stalwarts Bryan Singer and Lauren Shuler Donner, but the producers have been very careful to emphasize the connection — and lack of — to the movies. Legion has been called an "X-Universe" show, a parallel universe show — but come on, there's gonna some connection, right?
Well, you wouldn't know it from the first footage, which showed the first half of the pilot. It feels surreal, visually inventive, and totally unlike any X-Men movie, as we explore David Haller's madness and learn that he may not be mad after all.
Bringing the cast and crew on stage, Hawley talked about loving the X-Men growing up, but wanting to move away from the movies. Citing that the last few were period pieces, he used that as a springboard to allow Legion to have no particularly time period. "It became a parable, or fable almost," Hawley said, on mixing future and past with present for the look of the pilot.
Shuler Donner added that this is something she's always wanted to do with the franchise, while Marvel TV's Jeph Loeb said that "the X-Men have never been more relevant than they are right now," to a shout of "Mutant and proud!" from a fan.
Stevens, showing off his nerd knowledge, joked, "I was holding out for something Omega level," which is basically the most powerful level of mutant (think Jean Grey in the movies), though he had been talking to the producers for a while about joining the franchise. For Plaza, she was her regular dry self, but did discuss having fun joining an X-Men show. Her character is probably one of David's multiple personalities, but like most of these sorts of things the producers wouldn't discuss anything.
The rest of the cast was relatively mum on what they could say about their characters, but Hawley was able to say about the rest of the season: "If you lived your whole life defined as one thing and learned you were something else, you'd have to go back and rewrite those memories to mean something else. There's a lot of tolerance, and lot of that starts inside us. This is not so much racing towards a battle with an enemy, than with the enemy within."
That said, just throwing it out there based on a split-second flash in the pilot: It's mildly possible we may get to see classic X-Men villain Mojo. The alien dictator rules over a planet where people are obsessed with television, so to have a villain holding up ideas of identity, and how TV changes ones identity, and creating images that aren't real — that would make a lot of sense for David Haller's adversary, right? Maybe.
That said, Hawley relatively held back when asked directly about how the show connects to the overall universe. "Were in the subjective reality of David, so it's hard to tell," Hawley said, noting that the X-Men comics often travel to alternate universes. "It would be a spoiler in a true sense to say. ... I try to make things that are unexpected, but in the end feel inevitable. I will say we are true to the origins of this character, and leave it at that."
For those not totally knowledgeable about the comics, in the books Legion is the son of Professor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the movies, depending on who you ask). Though that hasn't explicitly been set up in the movies, it'll be interesting to see how that pans out/connects as the series goes forwards.
But how does it connect to the Marvel Universe itself? As mentioned earlier, Fox owns the X-Men characters, while Disney/Marvel own the Avengers characters. So what's revolutionary about this is more that Fox and Marvel are sitting at the same table.
"Obviously the fact that I'm sitting here is an indication that bridges are being made," Loeb said, but ultimately the Marvel connection is more about how the show feels. "We want something that has truth to it. If it feels like Marvel, then it is all connected, and that's what matters."
Asked explicitly about guest stars, Stevens joked, "You saw a wheelchair in the pilot," while Shuler Donner said, "Probably not. But wouldn't that be nice?" While Loeb was even more positive: "Wouldn't that be great?"
So, in essence, will we see something by season's end that ties back to the movies? Hawley noted that on Fargo, he waited a few episodes to truly tie back to the movies. "We had to earn that," he said. And it sounds like it'll be the same thing here.
Legion will premiere on FX in early 2017.