Legion’s first episode introduced a couple of characters X-Men fans know and appreciate, but despite the apparent connection between the comic books and FX’s new series, the pilot didn’t feel like a traditional X-Men property.
In many ways the show succeeded because of that distancing. Legion doesn’t feel like a superhero show in the same way Daredevil or Jessica Jones on Netflix do. It’s certainly not like any of the CW’s lineup of superhero series, including Arrow or The Flash. It doesn’t come close to Agents of SHIELD on ABC or Gotham on Fox. Showrunner Noah Hawley used the characters and the alienation they feel to delve into themes of mental illness and, essentially, made you forget you were watching a superhero show at all.
The second episode doesn’t detour too much from that concept, but it definitely feels more genre-heavy than the pilot. Main character David Haller basically attends a school for gifted people where he’s taught about his powers. He meets a group of individuals like him that he can share some of his experiences with. He develops an almost immediate bond with the teaching staff at the school, and perhaps most importantly, learns what hope can feel like.
All of these are important themes in traditional X-Men stories. From origin tales, where students first meet Professor Charles Xavier, through movies like X-Men: First Class, which focuses on the building of a team through a school-like setting, the second episode of Legion feels like an extension of Marvel and Fox’s universe.
To Hawley’s credit, even when the more traditional X-Men elements are thrown into the mix, Legion never loses its sense of self. It’s still very much a show about Haller trying to figure out how to navigate a perceived illness and the way he’s treated by those who encounter him. The slight shift, however, adds something that the series was missing: an explanation.
Legion doesn’t need to rely on its X-Men connection to tell a story, but it makes a lot more sense if people know about it. Using the home he’s brought to by his girlfriend, Syd Barrett, as a way to introduce the concept of mutant abilities adds the final detail the pilot was missing.
One of the best moments from the second episode focuses on Haller’s training. He’s introduced to a couple of teachers — including Melanie Bird, who will teach him how to control his powers and focus on individual voices — who guide Haller through his past and present. They explore his relationship with his family growing up, the anxiety he experienced after being locked up in an institution and, most notably, his telepathy.
While the latter may seem like the most significant, it’s the time spent exploring his past that’s easily the most important. In order for a show like Legion, which focuses heavily on Haller and his relationships, to succeed, we have to empathize with the character. It’s through Haller’s exploration of his past and memories he’d rather soon forget that we get a real sense of who he is.
It’s nearly impossible not to root for Haller, and that becomes far more apparent in this episode. Like any of the young, lost X-Men who find their way to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Haller is a character who has a lot to prove. He’s a fighter, and you can see that through moments when he’s trying to learn to control his telepathy. Hawley has taken the best parts of an X-Men movie and managed to integrate them into Legion without ever pandering completely to fans.
The second episode of Legion proves that Hawley knows what he wants to do with the show, and he’s not going to leave X-Men fans in the cold while doing it. This still isn’t a traditional superhero series, but the X-Men have never been traditional superheroes. There’s an authenticity to the way Hawley handles the mutant arc he’s trying to fit in while examining issues prevalent in the mental health community, and it’s something that most X-Men fans will appreciate.
Legion airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX.