FX goes surreal, subjective with Marvel's 'Legion'

Bill Keveney
Rachel Keller, left, and Dan Stevens star in FX's 'Legion.'

PASADENA, Calif. — Viewers will form an especially intimate relationship with Legion lead character David (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens), seeing the world through his often confused, perhaps troubled eyes.

Noah Hawley, the mastermind behind FX's Fargo, enters Marvel's X-Men world with the new series (Feb. 8, 10 ET/PT), which raises the question of whether the institutionalized David has mental illness, superpowers or both. Expect flashing lights, disembodied voices and flashbacks while visiting David's mind.

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In some ways, Legion’s subjective viewpoint, in which the viewer sees the world from David’s perspective, is the opposite of Fargo’s objective take.

“Every moment you’re experiencing is what he’s experiencing,” Hawley told TV critics Thursday. “His perception of reality sometimes feels retro and sometimes feels futuristic.”

Hawley says questions raised in early episodes will be answered by the end of the season.

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Stevens is a comic-book fan, but he didn't know that much about Legion before taking the role.

But "I have a friend from college who is a Legion nut. He had a conniption" when he heard Stevens got the role, the actor says.

Both Hawley and Jeph Loeb, who heads Marvel's television programming, are looking first at the character story, rather than the superpower element.

"Marvel doesn't ever start from the place of, 'This person is defined by powers.' It's a story of what's happening to David in that world," Loeb says. "And in the X-Men franchise, you can really bend the rules."

Hawley is approaching Legion, which also stars Aubrey Plaza, Jean Smart and Bill Irwin, by respecting the source material, as he did the Coen Brothers' Fargo, but creating a new story.

"I wanted to use his subjective reality to create something more of a fable or a parable on some level," he said.