When news first broke that Legion’s third season would be its last, it caught fans of the off-beat X-Men–inspired series created by Noah Hawley (Fargo) off guard. But it was pitched to star Dan Stevens as a three-season story.
“Noah’s intention was always to bring it in to land with three. And so, I always knew where the story was headed, I just didn’t know how,” Stevens told Rotten Tomatoes.
He also felt “no amount of time that you could do full justice to something like Legion.” And soon when the final season of the FX series debuts on Monday, fans will see for themselves if the series does indeed land with a modicum of justice.
Set roughly a year after the events of the second season finale, Legion picks up with a new character, played by Lauren Tsai, diving headfirst into Legion-style madness. As is mutant tradition, she adopts the name Switch and quickly becomes key to David Haller’s (Stevens) plans as she can travel in time — an ability realized in the trippiest, coolest way possible. When we met with Tsai, Stevens, and other members of the cast on the set of the series in April, the actor described Switch as someone “searching for her place in the world” and “still trying to figure out her abilities.” But the place she finds David inhabiting will leave viewers wondering about his own state of mind thanks to the dozens of seemingly drugged-out young people in his thrall.
Stevens, who described David as a “love junky,” said the apparent cult sates him with a manic devotion, while he offers them something unavailable in the rest of the world. He even added Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) is “quite happy with this setup,” serving as a Ma Anand Sheela–type character to his Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (fans of Wild Wild Country will get the comparison immediately).
Plaza added during a recent phone call: “It’s the closest we get to Lenny’s ideal, aspirational self. When the season starts, she’s kind of right where she wants to be. She’s not being tortured by the Shadow King. She has power and control and a clear idea of what she wants, finally. It was very satisfying.”
The situation in David’s commune might seem beneficial to all involved, but Stevens admitted David is not entirely happy with the way things worked out for him. “He wants to see if he can sort of unpick this unholy mess that he’s created,” the actor explained. It leads – in the most Legion way possible – to David’s fascination with Switch and her abilities. As Stevens put it, “Can he change some of these awful things that he’s done?”
One of the terrible things he did in the second season was change Syd’s (Rachel Keller) memories of events so they could be lovers again. She eventually discovered the violation, and, as Keller told us, it led to the character “kind of crawling back into herself.” But the year between seasons also saw Syd recommitting to her mission; even if it seems like an obsession to some of the other characters.
Then again, her dedication may eventually derail David’s time travel plans. Going back to Stevens’ question about changing the past, he added Syd’s viewpoint: “Yeah you can go back and you can change all these things, but does that really change who you are as a person?” It is the sort of philosophical debate which makes Legion a true X-Men work even as its arresting visuals and unusual pace set it apart.
Another thing setting it apart is the way it re-invents itself each season. The first season saw David trying to figure out if he was ill or if there really was a devil in his mind. In the second season, he sought revenge on that demon — a mutant telepath named Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban) — and destroyed his friendships in the process. The third sees David as the antagonist even as he attempts the heroic thing … or, at least, something he considers heroic.
“[David] feels like his life was ruined in that moment when Farouk came into his head when he was a baby,” Hawley explained. “And what he wants to do is to go back to that moment and protect himself as a baby and keep that from happening.”
The plan might seem heroic to David, but to Syd, Farouk and the others at Division 3, it may finally be the way his prophesied part in the end of the world finally comes to pass. The story idea is a key element of David’s comic book history – his attempts to travel back in time to kill Magento led to Professor X’s death and the Age of Apocalypse storyline – but it also gave Hawley a way to pivot David toward the role of villain. Not that anything on Legion is that simple or binary.
“What’s interesting is to challenge the audience to say ‘Well are you with him now? Are you with him still?’ And if you’re not with him, we have to make sure that you’re with the other characters. That you want Syd to win,” Hawley said.
Subjective reality is still a key element of the series, and while audiences may still end up sympathetic to David’s pain, Hawley hoped viewers “realize over the course of the season how this need for love — that he feels is solely about him — begins to distance us from David a bit [and think,] ‘Oh, he’s a very ill man.’”
But even in that, his illness does not necessary equal villainy in the Golden Age comic book sense. David’s selfishness may, however, lead some to see him that way. “We expect our characters to learn and to be redeemed, but there are some people who aren’t really capable of that,” Hawley said.
Meanwhile, Amahl Farouk is, in fact, trying to redeem himself. Though, as Negahban put it, “it’s more about saving the world and also saving David. He really cares about David.” Despite being the unambiguous evil orbiting David’s life in the first season, Farouk is a changed person when we meet him at the beginning of Season 3. “He’s trying to be a good boy,” the actor said. “There has been a struggle for him to kind of determine whether [that is] right or wrong for him. And he’s trying to discover that through his journey.”
In some ways, the journey, as Negahban relayed it, parallels David’s major internal conflict. “He came from nothing. He became somebody, he had the power. He got lost in his power; he didn’t know what to do with it. And his rage and anger took over,” he explained. “It goes full circle and it gets to the point that he realizes that that rage and anger is what is destroying him. So if he can get rid of that, he can redeem himself. He can redo everything.”
To some extent, Hawley said the conflicts mirror the tension between childhood and adulthood, adding that at least some of David’s issues go back to the moment his birth parents gave him up for adoption. And David’s attempt to stop Farouk in the past means he may run into his father, X-Men founder Charles Xavier (Harry Lloyd).
Lloyd told us not to expect the “straight-laced Charles we know” from the X-Men films or animated television series.
“It’s trippy stuff,” said Stevens, adding there is “a lot of confusion and hurt, obviously” in regards to David’s feelings on Xavier.
“It is nice to finally to have this string that ties our crazy balloon to the main raft of the X-Men stories,” he continued. “And I think that will be satisfying to people who know and love X-Men and Legion.”
He also suspected Legion viewers not well-versed in X-Men lore will become curious about the Professor and his Merry Mutants: “[It] might cause them to go and watch some other X-Men-y type things.”
Of course, it remains to be seen if David will follow in his comic book counterpart’s footsteps and end the world as viewers have known it. That story was ultimately resolved when somewhat familiar mutants from the new timeline learned about David’s actions and prevented Xavier’s death. It is a pretty out-there idea and, yet, fits pretty well into the framework of Legion. No one on set was willing to divulge if the ending resembles David’s most infamous comic book turn, but Stevens said the end gives the whole story “a meaning” not readily apparent before.
“It’s really delicately done, I think. And very beautiful,” he said.
Legion season 3 premieres Monday, June 24 at 10 p.m. on FX