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Charles Xavier's Backstory Is Legion's Biggest Tribute to the X-Men

Charles Xavier in Legion Chapter 22

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week's episode of Legion, "Chapter 22," which aired Monday on FX.

For most of Legion’s first season, it looked as if the FX drama's connection to its comic book source material would be minimal: the title, some X-shapes sprinkled around the sets, and the basic theme of a ragtag group of mutants threatened by humanity’s fear of their power. Then, in the season’s penultimate episode, David Haller (Dan Stevens) gets to work piecing together clues about his heritage, and deduces that his father was a powerful telepath. Slyly confirmed with an unmistakable animated portrait of the comics' Professor X, the revelation made an old X-Men arc into an astonishing plot twist. It was barely mentioned in Season 2, but fans of the comics knew we’d be seeing more of the absentee telepath, and of the mother of his child.

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Now, Season 3 has delivered, with a full episode centered on David’s parents and his infancy. This time, there’s no beating around the bush: Charles Xavier is named, and placed right into a flashback story from Uncanny X-Men #161. In the comics, Xavier was asked to help heal a catatonic Holocaust survivor using his psychic powers. He not only succeeded but fell in love with the young woman, although their romantic relationship ended amicably long before the main timeline of the series. When she seeks him out years later as the mutant expert who can advise about her troubled teenage son, he has no idea that the boy, David, is his.

FX's take on Legion makes a few reasonable changes to this outline. It will come as a surprise to some fans that when he first meets Gabrielle Haller, it’s as a fellow patient at the mental institution. His time in the service is true to the comics, though, and it’s no stretch to see how his telepathy would have increased his trauma and left him apathetic and unresponsive.

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Gabrielle’s background is left nearly unedited, even though the use of World War II diverges from the show’s usual avoidance of fixed dates; unless there’s a whole new variety of phantasmagoria yet to come, we can now pinpoint Legion’s “present” as late 1970s. That's likely not intended to be analyzed too deeply, and it’s probably a wise move, as the war couldn’t be changed to any other without fundamentally, and disrespectfully, altering Gabrielle’s character.

The other thing to notice about the way that Xavier was introduced is how self-contained it is. There’s no longer any chance for Legion to merge into the continuity of any other X-Men shows or movies, but the universe established is left wide open for more to be added to it. Xavier is shown using an early version of his invention Cerebro, but the only other mutant he finds with it, as far as we know, is the Shadow King. What happens to him and Gabrielle after they give up their son is, at this point, unknown.

Has Xavier gone on to found the X-Men? Will David meet him face to face before the series ends? If so, will he be bald and in a wheelchair? This is a much different Professor X than any adaptation has given us before, and there’s no way to know what to expect. Somehow, it’s still one of the truest and most faithful versions of him ever made.

Airing Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX, Legion stars Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Bill Irwin, Amber Midthunder, Jeremie Harris, Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement, Hamish Linklater, Navid Negahban, and Lauren Tsai.

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