Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English & Rhetoric

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061



Legion: The Traumatic Encounter between Fantasy and Reality in Noah Hawley's Superhero Drama


Noah Hawley's 2017 X-Men superhero television series Legion not only explores the nature of identity and mental illness but also serves as a critical commentary on the fantasies afforded by the superhero genre while paradoxically indulging in the very desires it challenges. The show raises the philosophical question of the mind/body problem with its characters' abilities, both desired (transporting people into memories, splitting into two separate people) and feared (uncontrolled body swapping, being trapped in the astral plane for decades). The institutionalized protagonist, David Haller, has been told for years that he is schizophrenic; his delusions of telekinetic and telepathic powers overwhelm him. He finds out that, actually, his mind has been invaded by a parasitic mutant who causes his delusions and often takes control of his body, locks his mind away, and subsequently erases his memory of the imprisonment. As a superhero show, Legion indulges in superpowers and superbattles, especially when David learns to control his own powers and evict the parasite. However, in foregrounding the horrors of bodily control and anxieties of psychological cohesion, the series offers an alternative, if not challenge, to superhero films and television shows that gratify audience fantasies of identification characterized by the desire for mental mastery and physical power (the screen theory branch of psychoanalytic film studies); Legion forces an encounter with the traumatic Real of subjectivity that radically questions the nature of self and reality (the Lacanian theory branch). David's journey is an existential identity quest from a state of powerlessness to a determination of who he is and his relationship with the real world. The show invites its audience to not only fantasize about wrestling with demons but interrogate their minds, bodies, and realities.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "Legion: The Traumatic Encounter between Fantasy and Reality in Noah Hawley's
Superhero Drama." Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association. Sonesta Philadelphia Downtown, Philadelphia, PA. 9-11 Nov. 2017.