TV series don’t come much more mind-bending than Legion, and the X-Men spin-off is not going to take things any easier on us in its final season. Noah Hawley and the stars take us inside the dojo…
“You don’t wanna know everything,” deadpans Noah Hawley. “What I like about Legion is that I could tell you everything that happened on the show and you still wouldn’t know what happened on the show, so it’s helpful that way.”
The man has a point. Anyone who’s taken the plunge into the world of the Fargo creator’s X-Men spin-off show Legion knows that knowing exactly what’s going on isn’t really part of the deal. It’s fantastically stylish, it’s consistently daring and it has a tendency to wander off on a weird tangent or a bad trip as opposed to following the train tracks of a simple narrative. And with a lead character like David Haller (Dan Stevens), a mutant with almost unlimited power and serious mental health issues who was also carrying an ancient mutant called the Shadow King as a parasite for years…well, things are going to get a bit slippery.
Yes indeed, Legion was always going to be a bit too much of an ask for some viewers, but as Stevens says with a smile, “Sure, and they can watch other stuff.”
“I think Noah always wanted to create something that was playful with the medium of television and have this show be an experience delivery device,” he continues. “And the people who do enjoy this show really enjoy the trip, the experience, the colours they’re getting, the visuals they’re getting from no other television show out there and that’s a delight to be a part of.”
However, even the show’s faithful audience was divided by the final act of Legion’s second season, as David’s hunt for Amal Farouk (Navid Negahban) took him into darker and darker places before he finally committed an act so heinous that could not be mistaken for anything other than villainy. Things got extremely bad, a line was crossed, Syd (Rachel Keller) was horribly betrayed and it became apparent that the Shadow King might not have been the one they needed to be worried about.
“You spend a season and a half of being told one thing, ‘this is clearly the bad guy and poor David,’ and then things take a bit of a turn and David does bad things,” Stevens explains. “There’s no question about it, he does really, really bad things and a lot of this season is coming to terms with that, wondering if he can fix any of that, is that kind of thing fixable, big questions that a lot of people are asking themselves at the moment so it’s resonated quite a lot, I think.”
Chief among those bad things, and one of the most divisive elements of the last season, was the fact that in the season finale, David brain-washed and raped Syd, the love of his life. When Syd confronts him with this fact, David seems incapable of comprehending even the idea that he could have done something so terrible and decides to run from it rather than take responsibility. It was an extremely contentious storytelling decision and Keller tells us that they have not taken it lightly going ahead on Syd’s journey in Season 3. “Noah and I did talk about honouring that event at the end of last season and we can’t really ignore or deny these brave stories coming out from assault survivors and how can we honour that in this wacky world as humanly as possible.”
“It’s hard to describe abuse or being a victim of assault as being one thing,” she continues. “It’s a layered experience because this might have been someone that you know and someone that you love and I found especially right now in our climate we had a responsibility to tell her story in a real way, which is to say she’s angry and she’s confused and feels betrayed and yet there’s a deep love and she’s very grateful to this person for loving her. Maybe she never felt like she could be. So, I don’t know that there’s a quick and easy answer to that but it was certainly something that I was and still am considering.”
When Season 3 begins, the hunt for David is still very much underway and Syd is leading the way. “It’s a year later and she has been taken advantage of by this person that she loves, and she also feels like it’s still her mission to find him and destroy him because the world will end if she does not, so we see her on that journey.
“Syd is with Farouk more this year, with D3 and playing more the decision maker in terms of how they’re going to go about it, she doesn’t quite know how to and missteps in the ways she goes about it,” she continues. “So in that I think you see her on a hero’s journey because that’s what happens when they are seeking some kind of peaceful resolution. So yeah, I think she is taking more on. Out of necessity, not because she wants to but because she knows she can.”
With Syd emerging as Legion’s hero and David rising as a villain, potentially becoming the “world breaker” title character of the show, the stage is set for an epic conclusion as Legion enters its final season. While there were those who were quick to point to the series’ low viewing figures as the reason behind its termination, Stevens tells us that Hawley has had his end-point in mind for some time. “He originally conceived it as a three season arc and that’s how he pitched it to me originally, and it was a very beautiful story then and I think it’s a very beautiful story now,” he remembers. “While Season 2 might have looked like we were tying ourselves in knots, actually what you’ll hopefully get from season is that it was a very pretty bow. Noah is bringing the story in to land in Season 3, it’s quite magical.”
Part of that bow will be making us question everything that we’ve seen before. You’re never exactly on firm footing with Legion, in large part because we see so much of the show through the eyes of one of the least reliable narrators on television: David Haller. He certainly believes that he’s a hero and a good person, but what we saw towards the end of Season 2 stands in contradiction to that.
“What I’m trying to explore in this last year is also exploring the audience’s experience of the show,” Hawley explains. “It’s to have created a show where you are rooting for David’s character and we raised the question ‘Is he mentally ill or does he have these abilities and then we say well he has these abilities?’, and then in Season 2 we suggest well he may also be mentally ill, and then at the end of that season you think well maybe he’s not even the hero of this story. So, Season 3 is about exploring those ideas which is, what is Tony Stark if not a complete narcissist?”
“So many of these characters are completely narcissistic and luckily that works out for the world, right?” he continues. “But in this case, David has this real blind spot because he thinks he’s a good person who deserves love and that because he’s driven by what he sees as good intentions he sort of can’t do anything wrong, and he has this inability to see himself the way that other people see him, so a lot of the season is about that level of denial and confronting him with the sense of himself that other people have and his potentially facing that truth about himself, and what will he learn and what will come to him for that.”
“And then of course for Syd as well who is just by definition of her abilities and her character, this sort of overly empathetic character who tends to put other people first, how does she learn to protect herself. If the first year was the honeymoon of new love and the second year was ‘Wait, who are you? I think we moved very fast and I don’t really know who you are,’ the third season is really coming to terms with the other person and yourself in the relationship.”
While details are being kept under lock and key for the most part, what we do know is that David has ensconced himself in a kind of cult of sorts. Rather than addressing the extreme negativity of his own actions, he’s appointed himself leader of a group of people who see him as a benevolent figure, feeding off their positivity towards him while funnelling those feelings back into them, creating a feedback loop of self-love. And, while he and Syd have violently separated, Lenny Busker is right back at his side.
“They’ve gone off together and started this… family, a brotherhood, a commune, some would call it a cult, and Lenny’s kind of enjoying life in her status as David’s right hand within this,” Stevens teases. “But David never quite sees it as a permanent thing and I think Lenny would like it to be and so yeah…they were always sort of ill-fated but she’s still fond of him and he her.”
Into this group wanders one of the season’s principal new characters, a time-travelling young mutant named Switch played by newcomer Lauren Tsai. “Switch is someone who feels very disconnected from the world around her, whether it’s just walking on the street or in class at school or at home,” Tsai explains. “And I think she’s someone who only really feels at home inside of her head sometimes. And Switch through this journey of trying to discover her place in the world, she falls down into this rabbit hole into a place that is not even of this world.”
“Her character is someone who doesn’t get a lot of love or attention at home and has this ability and doesn’t know anybody else like her and is searching for people like her and finds her way to David and feels like she can be useful and helpful to him,” adds Hawley. And make no mistake, David feels exactly the same way. What better way for a narcissist to address their own mistakes than cheating and wiping them out of existence? Meanwhile, Switch will present a unique problem for Division 3 because, as Farouk points out in the trailer, how do you kill someone who can turn back time?
You’d have thought the actors would be privy to every little thing but Stevens explains that there’s always something being held back. “It’s interesting what information is given to certain departments. I know the prop team is sometimes told can we get some more animals. ‘Any animals?’ ‘Maybe a platypus?’ ‘Sure.’ And they go off and find you a platypus, and they’re not quite sure why but somebody else knows why. A lot of animals in this season…” However Hawley and his team bring the mind-bending this year, it will almost certainly be the last time we’ll see these characters engaging in such wonderful weirdness and we’re pretty confident that it will be a good long before we see the likes of Legion again. The writer is already hard at work on several other projects, but it’s clear that he’s immensely proud to have brought this show in for a final run and to give it a proper ending.
“On some level endings are always the best part because that’s where the full meaning of the story comes into view and Legion was the first time I ever made a second season of anything, let alone a third season,” he tells us. “So that idea of wait, it’s the same characters but just new stories? Was very odd to me, which may be why the show is sort of reinvented every year. But yeah, I think for me Legion is about the collision between childhood and adulthood, it’s sort of a grown up show for children and a children’s show for grown—ups I think. And as teenagers and kids we want these genre stories, these comic book stories, we like heroes and villains, we like simple morality, but adulthood is more complicated and the morality is more complicated and so I think what the show does for younger audiences is it doesn’t talk to them, it doesn’t oversimplify, it says sometimes people are mentally ill and the nature of evil that we’re dealing with is not this destroy the world, it’s the human things that we do to each other that are hurtful and what we learn from that. So I think that’s what’s exciting to me, is we’re still telling a fantastical story but the collision and the morality is human scale.”
“All great stories have meaning because of their ending, so I kind of jumped onto that and thought great, we’re ending it,” adds Keller. “I also love the three act structure, the act one, the act two, the act three, I love that. So it felt like a natural place to end it, it wasn’t a crazy surprise.”
“I remember Noah saying at the beginning of this why would we make another television show, there’s so many out there. I think the only reason to make another TV show is if it’s going to look different and feel different and have a very unique singular storytelling assembly and it’s not really, I don’t think it’s really a television show. It’s sort of an art think piece about power, love, action and adventure. It’s just a singular unique thing. It’s not for everybody but it’s for someone and I think it’s for us, really. We kinda love it!”
This feature first appeared in SciFiNow issue 160.
Legion Season 3 is currently airing on Thursdays at 9pm on FOX UK. Get all the latest sci-fi news with every issue of SciFiNow.