Though Professor Charles Xavier is a gifted telepath and an excellent educator, he’s also a rather terrible father and all-around menace to teenaged mutants. That last bit never factored too much into Fox’s live-action X-Men franchise, but it’s something that FX’s Legion is very carefully trying to remind us.
Patrick Stewart as X2’s Charles Xavier and Dan Stevens Legion’s David Haller. Image: 20th Century Fox/FX
For all of his noble ideology about building a world where humans and mutants could co-exist in peace, it’s difficult to argue against the idea that Charles Xavier was dangerously irresponsible in conscripting children into his crusade for mutant kind.
From the moment the original X-Men set foot in Xavier’s mansion and put on those blue and yellow costumes, they were put on a collision course of pain, misery and death that most of them would likely have otherwise avoided. There were the suicide missions to living islands, the battles with mutant terrorists, and the never-ending skirmishes with aliens from far-off galaxies that the X-Men could scarcely have imagined.
Most of Xavier’s pupils made the decision to stick by his side in some capacity well into their adulthood. So it’s important to bear in mind that a number of them all but grew up in his mansion and came to see him as something of an influential father figure.
Rather than just making a point of teaching the members of his chosen family how to master their abilities so they could integrate back into everyday life, Xavier indoctrinated them – multiple groups of young people with their entire lives ahead of them – to his cause, leading to many of their deaths.
While it wouldn’t exactly be fair to say that Xavier put the X-Men’s lives in danger always knowing what kind of evils they would face, on more than one occasion, he withheld information from them about his past decisions that would ultimately have major consequences for them. Take the Shadow King, for example.
Charles Xavier and Amal Farouk beginning their first battle on the Astral Plane. Illustration: John Byrne, Terry Austin, Glynis Wein (Marvel)
Uncanny X-Men #117 tells the story of how a much younger Xavier first crossed paths with Amal Farouk, a powerful telepath who’d installed himself as the iron-fisted leader of Cairo’s Thieves Quarter. Sensing the presence of another substantial psychic, Farouk attempts to kill Xavier with a psionic shock and, when the attack fails to eliminate him, the two engage in a fierce battle of the minds while sitting near one another at a local bar.
Xavier recognises how dangerous and tenacious a mind Farouk has and is barely able to best him in the end, but what’s more alarming about their encounter is that Xavier doesn’t actually make sure he’s won when their fight is over. You could blame it on Xavier’s exhaustion or the cockiness of his youth, but the fact of the matter is he doesn’t bother to make sure he’s dealt with Farouk once and for all and, in time, everyone pays for that mistake.
Given how formidable a talent Farouk was before Xavier banished him to the Astral Plane, it barely makes sense that the future professor wouldn’t have been preparing for the villain’s eventual return or, at the very least, told someone about what he’d done. Instead, Xavier keeps that information to himself as long as he possibly can, obfuscating the truth that he hadn’t bothered to clean up a mess of his own making.
That is, until Farouk shows up again and begins the decades-long cycle of repeatedly facing off against the X-Men who can only ever seem to keep him at bay for so long before he resurfaces with a new scheme to take over the world.
FX’s Legion bears little resemblance to its titular character’s adventures in Marvel’s comics, but what it lacks in concrete, shared narrative DNA with the source material, it makes up for in the way that it pinpoints the very complicated relationship between Xavier, his son David Haller and the Shadow King.
Even after an entire season of Legion, we still don’t know all that much about that world’s mutant population – how large it is and what sorts of mutants are considered to be exceptionally powerful there. What we do know is that at one point in time, Xavier and Farouk met, psychically fought, and went their separate ways, giving Farouk the opportunity to plot his revenge by attaching himself to David when he was just a young child.
Though Legion isn’t really a show about the X-Men, it’s telling the most classic X-Men story of all time, about a team of plucky mutants trying to finish the war Xavier started.
To put it quite simply, if Xavier had just followed Farouk to the Astral Plane and hit him with a psionic double tap to make sure he was properly dead-dead, a big chunk of Legion‘s problems could have been entirely avoided. If Xavier had killed Farouk, he wouldn’t have needed to attempt hiding David from the Shadow King’s influence and, perhaps, the fight for mutant rights would have made significantly more progress.
Instead, though, Xavier falls back into his habit of (trying to) keep secrets from everyone, and what’s worse is that his plan to protect David turns out to have been almost entirely ineffective. Not only does Xavier’s plan to hide David fail, it actually puts him in an even more precarious position because the nature of David’s powers makes his isolation that much more traumatic.
Without anyone around (such as a father, or teacher) to guide him, explain his powers, or to detect the psychic parasite buried within his psyche, David’s a sitting duck and the perfect host for the Shadow King to use to plot out his return to the physical plane.
FX has been cagey about just how closely Legion ties into Fox’s live-action X-Men cinematic universe, but it’s clear that the shared franchise’s take on Xavier is a somewhat similar one.
In the same way that Xavier’s negligence handling the Shadow King is what led to his rise in power, the same is true of the Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, where it’s explained that the Phoenix is result of Jean’s mind fracturing, something he knew about years before the Dark Phoenix’s emergence.
Had Xavier told someone and consulted his fellow mutant researchers, there’s a chance that Jean might have been helped and the entire ordeal avoided, but again, Charles Xavier isn’t the biggest fan of doing the responsible thing.
It’s unlikely that Legion would ever go so far as to straight-up mention Xavier by name or hint at him much beyond what we’ve already seen of him on the show, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t already a very big part of the story they’re telling. We may not see Xavier himself on Legion from week to week, but his influence can be seen and felt in every single episode of the show.
In every psychic battle that David finds himself locked in and every unsuspecting victim Farouk murders, Charles Xavier is there. It might not be the legacy he ever intended for himself, but it’s the one he has and, if we’re being honest, it’s the one he deserves.