Comic books are one of the few family traditions that I have. It doesn't sound nerdy or absurd to me, that's just me and my upbringing. Even though I grew up with polar opposite-divorced parents, a love for comic book characters and the works that inspired them were instilled in me by Dad and never discouraged by Mom. So whenever I hear of a new comic property making it's way on screen, I naturally become pretty critical without hesitation.
Is the origin right? Does the material of the suit match the shading technique employed by the various comic artists? Is Deadpool an insanity-riddled wise cracking ass hole? (Ryan Reynolds nailed that one) Does Batman uphold the belief that every single life is worth something?(No Batfleck, shooting a man with an M-60 does not uphold that belief and I am not talking about that dream scene.) I am undoubtedly that comic book know-it-all ass hat who craves the validation of knowing more than the guy next to me in the theater. It's lead me to dislike shows or movies I'd otherwise enjoy, although neither Batman v. Superman or Suicide Squad qualify in that regard. Those aren’t just bad comic book adaptations, but awful movies through and through.
I've never agreed with Captain Piccard so much
Which is why when FX announced an adaptation of Legion I was intrigued and excited. I've read a total of seven X-Men comics in my life, and of those seven, Legion aka David Haller was nowhere to be found. This was a character I could dive into fresh just like everyone else. All I knew was he could absorb personalities somewhat like Rogue, he was Charles Xavier’s bastard son, and he had something to do with the Age of Apocalypse. I then heard Noah Hawley, who adapted Fargo (one of my all time favorite movies) into an incredible, Emmy-winning TV show, was the showrunner responsible for writing the script. I was sold.
I could never have seen or read another thing about the show prior to it’s premiere and I still would’ve been totally stoked to the max about it. As I found out more around it’s premise I reached near Star Wars levels of excitement. Actually, this is the most excited I have ever been about a story that wasn’t in a galaxy far, far away, simply because of how interesting the plot was:
A schizophrenic man who spends six years in a mental hospital only to be told that he's not crazy, but that the split personalities and manic depression are manifestations of a dormant mutant power that has been with him since birth. When the show aired, I was hooked from the pilot, anxiously awaiting Wednesday at 10 p.m. to roll around so I could dive back into this troubled mind. In what felt like the shortest eight weeks ever, the first season was over.
The credits rolled on the season finale 7 minutes from the time I started writing this
And- I can definitively say that Legion is by far and away the most important and relevant superhero to be portrayed on screen since the advent of superhero film-making... At least for me.
Holy Shit, I Get It
Everyone talks about being represented in media, and for whatever sociological reason, the superhero genre is especially scrutinized. Being a middle class-white kid from Southern California, you'd think I'd never had a problem being represented. I could dress up as Captain America, Deadpool, Cyclops, Wolverine, Batman, Aquaman, or Han Solo and (apart from the complete lack of muscle) be able to pull it off without a hitch. So of course I'm represented. But I wasn't, although no one may have been able to guess that.
Okay, maybe I absolutely pulled off Spider-Man back in the day
Since I was 16 I've been off. Not obviously different or unique, but off. I have trouble keeping a positive outlook for more than a few hours, I tend to find the darkness in everyone and everything before looking for the light, I am ultra critical of myself and all I touch, I listen to angry, emotional music, and I have a tendency to both speak and write in run-on sentences. But most of all, I don’t believe a damn thing that goes through my head. I can never tell when my thoughts are genuine or if they’re manifestations of something dark inside of me that I can’t uproot. It’s a plague that rots my mind and freezes every thought process I have. So when I read these comics or watched the films, I knew that these characters were not somebody I could ever be. I am a broken mental wreck. I can’t solve an intricate riddle rooted in the Egyptian myth of Ooroboros like Batman. It took me two weeks to decide whether or not to leave a job I was miserable at for a fresh start in a more like-minded setting all because I doubted every single logical process my mind took me through. Sure I looked like these superheroes, but I could never see myself anywhere close to what they are the way other viewers see themselves in these characters. That is, until Legion.
A Super (Crazy) Hero
While I’ve never spent time in a mental hospital nor been prescribed pill after pill after pill (well, I mean I was on Welbutrin for six months), I finally felt a raw connection to a character on screen, one I immediately identified with. Like me, David Haller, doesn’t trust anything and constantly questions everything he does. He spars with the same questions I ask myself every day:
Am I a bad person or am I suffering from some unknown, sinister thing?
Do I actually have an illness or am I just crying for attention?
Why won’t it all just go away?
What is so damn wrong with me that I can’t just be normal?
Everybody shut up, be quiet! I can’t handle this, I am losing myself, just leave me alone, I don’t need this! AGH MAKE IT STOP!!!
It's always simply too much
These are themes and questions interwoven throughout David’s adventures on the show that I experience on a daily basis. The constant cutaways to himself lost inside his own mind perfectly illustrate what it’s like; the confusion, self-doubt, questioning everything, the feeling that everyone is demanding something of you while you’re not sure how to even listen, being trapped in your own darkness, digging through your memories to make sure you remember things how they actually happened or if something somewhere inside was altering my perception of the past. While it is eventually revealed that David does have a literal parasite in his brain that is actually poisoning him, the underlying message, almost like a nod from Hawley himself saying “You’re okay, I understand,” resonated with me unlike anything I had experienced before from a show or movie. There is nothing inherently wrong with David. He’s not a bad person, he isn’t crying for attention about problems that aren’t real, and he’s certainly not the pile of shit he sees himself as. He’s a victim of a disgusting parasite embedded in his brain that altered the very fabric of his existence.
Once the parasite is detected, it's hard not to analyze the living shit out of it
So why is this important?
Great, I resonate with the nut job star of a show on the bucktoothed cousin of HBO. Who cares? And it’s just a TV show, nerd. How does it impact you so much? Legion (and by association Hawley and the rest of the crew) not only reminded me that these issues are more prevalent and need to be talked about more but it laid a sturdy foundation or plan- in which I could tackle my own issues.
I have not been perfect (or even responsible) in regard to my mental health care. For years I constantly beat the absolute living shit out of myself time and time again. I stigmatize my own thoughts and told myself that depression wasn’t real (despite a family history) and that I was just holding a reservation at the Pity Party for 1.
Christiansen, party for 1
I self-medicated as much as humanly possible, pushed back the dark with booze on the weekends and a Willie Nelson level of weed use during the week. I did that from the time I was 18 until I was well into my 20's. During that almost six-year span, I did seek out help. I saw a therapist, was prescribed anti-depressants, opened up to friends and family as much as I could, even went on a few short-lived sobriety stints.
Nothing stuck. I’d always revert back to my self-destructive tendencies, not feeling strong enough to face anything, taking the easy way out and running away, bottle and bong in hand. Just as David would rather pass out from inhalants than face his therapist, I’d have rather lock myself in my room with an eighth of weed watching the same sitcom for the 200th time or pound a bottle of whisky with my friends until I couldn’t even think than ever attempt to solve the serpentine riddle in my head. The combination of both substances were taking it’s toll. I felt like I was losing control of myself and completely worthless, despite decent grades, a knack for landing jobs and snagging promotions, and a pretty large social circle. That’s where the utter importance of Legion cut into me like a trio of adamantium claws. Not only is there a character who I legitimately saw myself in, but Legion shows how someone who ultimately has no trust or confidence in anything about himself can not only succeed, but reach extraordinary heights. Be a fucking super hero.
Alright so I am kind of rad, what's next?
College is a tough time for everyone, especially when you move 800 miles away from everyone you love and ignore the parasites setting up shop in your brain. College is supposed to be the best four years of your life (an absurd saying by the way-- EVERY year should be the best year of your life), but I’d be lying if I told you I looked back with fondness on my school days. Was it all bad? Of course not. I made amazing friends, gained incredible career mentors, and found roommates that have become family to me after six years of living together. Nonetheless, college was bumpy for me. The looming mountain of debt always intimidated me, I didn’t date at all, I missed home, I struggled to find a career I wanted, I lost both my grandfathers in less than a year, a close friend passed away suddenly just before I graduated, and I lost a lot of great relationships because I pushed away people extremely important to me. I left school in a darker place than I’d ever been in before, thinking I had nothing going for me- and I never would. I was was a sad kid from San Diego who couldn’t get it right. Things were getting increasingly dark and I was starting to question why I was here anymore. I felt that way until Legion.
Legion showed me what it’s going to take for me to get back to my normal self. An incredible support group of like-minded people who share an unwavering belief in you. In David’s case a rag-tag band of cast-out mutants who constantly remind him of his potential- in my case I have my perfectly-weird roommates, best friends out of town who refuse to let the distance change anything (Brown Bear and Princess), and my always hilarious family who pick me up on my bad days and remind me that I am more than what plagues me. A coping method outside of dubious substances for the bad days. For David that means traveling through his bank of memories with Ptomony Wallace, while for me that means diving head first into the things I love (comics, Star Wars, hockey), exercising more (#beachseason) and opening up to the people I had shutout. But most importantly confidence, even if it isn’t confidence in yourself, but confidence in the belief others have in you. For David, that means realizing he isn’t crazy, that Melanie and her group of not-actual-X-Men-but-still-an-assembled-team-of-mutants-with-a-secret-haven-for-other-mutants are accurate in their belief that he is the most powerful mutant the world has or will ever see. For me, that’s realizing I am more than a sad kid from San Diego, and finally listening to what I’ve been hearing and denying from others for years: I am a damn fine writer and when I am on top of my game I can make an entire room erupt in laughter without trying.
So what now? I fight, and I fucking fight like hell. Because like David, if I can get this parasite out of my system, there’s not a damn thing anyone can do to stop me.