SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details about tonight’s Season 1 finale of Legion.
With a nod to Marvel’s big-screen tendency to feature a pivotal post-credits scene, tonight’s Season 1 finale of Legion found the powerful mutant portrayed by Dan Stevens captured and trapped perhaps even more than he was at the beginning of Noah Hawley-created FX series — and he was in a mental hospital and under government surveillance back then.
“Going forward I think that the audience now knows the show and they understand our style, our original language,” said Hawley, the Fargo EP who also penned tonight’s extended “Chapter 8” episode. “It’s obviously a large ensemble and so we can expand our story in Season 2,” he added of the show based on the often unstable telepathic character from The X-Men comics. Stevens, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin, Jeremie Harris and Aubrey Plaza star in the series that was just recently renewed.
Deep at work on the third installment of Fargo, set to premiere April 19, Hawley talked to me about tonight’s season finale, what it could mean for Season 2 and how he felt he had to “teach” Legion‘s audience how to watch the mind-bending show from FX Productions and Marvel TV. He also discussed moving to L.A. for Season 2, solidifying the connection to the larger Marvel Universe in the show, and how a certain knight of the realm or other some wheelchair-bound face from the bi- screen X-Men franchise and other Marvel characters could appear — really.
DEADLINE: Let’s start at the end and that orb that captured David. Where is that taking him and us going into Season 2?
HAWLEY: Well, it means that Season 2 is beginning. It means that we’ve completed this story and we’re starting a new one. You know, my goal is always that the first season would be about fighting the enemy within and, you know, learning about this entity that was inside of David and about getting it out of David, and Season 2 will be about then the enemy without and this entity now we know is a person.
But for us it’s never a simple straight line between point A and point B, so you know I wanted to complicate it some by having David disappear just at the moment where he’s about to go off in pursuit of the Shadow King. As for who’s behind the orb and who sent it, I think that’s one of the mysteries we want to explore in Season 2.
DEADLINE: Very deliberately vague of you on a show that specializes in anxiety and the surreal…
HAWLEY: I try to let the show speak for itself. It’s about everyone’s individual experience of it, and you know, so I don’t want to say too much.
DEADLINE: One thing you have spoken of, so to speak, in the last few episodes is the parentage of David Haller, and reaffirming the series’ connection to the Marvel Universe and the comic legacy with the divulging of that wheelchair from The X-Men: Apocalypse movie that Charles Xavier is Haller’s father. You started out so far from the canon of the comics, why did you come in so close to it near the end of this season?
HAWLEY: I certainly played very loosely with a lot of the canon as it relates to this character of David Haller, but one of the things I always felt was off-limits was his origin story. I didn’t really feel like there was any way that I could change who his father was, I mean that seemed like a sacrilegious thing to do.
So, it was always my intention to acknowledge who his father was. The question was when we would do it and how, obviously, we would do it. So you know I think in this case we’ve nodded to it and obviously as to any child who was adopted, he’s going to want to figure out who his father and mother were and there will be that journey.
DEADLINE: Does that mean we are going to see Professor X showing up in Season 2?
HAWLEY: I don’t know about Season 2 but I know that there’s that story will need to be addressed at some point in the future. It’s not something that I want to shy away from, but I also want to make sure that when it’s time to tell that story, we can really tell it and not dance around it.
DEADLINE: So, would you bring in a Patrick Stewart or a James McAvoy?
HAWLEY: Well, some of that is a little more logistically complicated just in terms of would we try to use either Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy. Would they be interested in doing the show? Would 20th Century Fox?
I have to consult with them about the X-Men characters and which characters they want to protect for the future franchise and which ones are available to me. So, there’s a lot of conversations I haven’t had yet but we’re willing to be had. I’m not stressed out about it. I think we all get along quite well and it’s just going to be a question of how and when.
DEADLINE: With the Shadow King, who is also from the comics, having inhabited Oliver at the end of this season, it looks like Jermaine Clement will be playing an even greater role in Season 2. Will he become a regular on Legion?
HAWLEY: I’ve spoken to him and he’s excited to come back and certainly that’s what we’re working on doing. So yeah, he will come back and will definitely play a big part in Season 2.
DEADLINE: Jumping back to canon of The X-Men and Legion comics for a sec, are we ever going to see Dan adopt that very distinctive hair of David Haller’s from the comics?
HAWLEY: I think we’ll work our way in that direction. I doubt that he will have that hair hours and hours at a time, but we may find a way to homage to it at some point. I think it would be criminal not to give the fans what they want at some point.
DEADLINE: On that giving people what they want, earlier this month, Legion was awarded more than $11 million in California tax incentives to relocate to the L.A. area for Season 2 from Vancouver. How do you anticipate the move affecting the show on and off screen, and what was the back-up plan if you hadn’t gotten the tax credits?
HAWLEY: I don’t know what the backup plan was. There’s two reasons to move it — one is creative and the other is personal. I’m a very busy guy and yet I try to make these shows by hand and to be as involved in every step of the process as I can be. With our shooting Legion in Vancouver, it was just really hard for me to go write the show, edit the show and be on location for the show.
Moving it to Los Angeles allows me to centralize everything in one place for all this work I’m doing for FX, so there’s that helpful. As for that last part, I don’t know that there was a backup plan necessarily. The backup plan I suppose was to pay more or to try to find another place to shoot. I mean we could shoot it in Austin, I suppose, which is where I spend a lot of my time.
Creatively I think part of the fun of the show as is made obvious at the end of the first season is that they’re going on the road. So, the location is changing and I think that is another way that we helped the show not settle into a sort of familiar routine of standing sets and that sort of overly familiar sense of it’s the same thing, week in and week out.
DEADLINE: You’re not really a week-in and week-out kind of guy, as both Legion and Fargo make very clear. But I wondered how your two FX shows differ for you, with one being an anthology and Legion being, in one sense, a more traditional format season to season?
HAWLEY: That’s hard for me to say. You know, this is my fourth show, but I’ve never had Season 2 of anything before, you know. Obviously, I’m on my third year of Fargo, but it’s not a continuing story, so it might as well be a new show every time. So, Legion is really a first time that I’ve ever had to think, “OK, so that’s not the end of this story, we can keep going and how do we do that?”
How do we do it in a way that doesn’t settle into a kind of routine that doesn’t pull some of the teeth out of the show? How many years can we do that before the show begins to become a little formulaic and predictable?
That’s one of the things I was always amazed about with Breaking Bad is how that show never settled into a formula — you never felt like it was just a TV show. The Wire was the same way. They were constantly keeping you on the edge of your seat and telling innovative stories that played with structure. That’s my goal. It made the story continue and it shouldn’t feel like TV as we know it.
DEADLINE: You break a lot of those formats in the way you handle time in your shows, Fargo moving around year to year and the connection to the Coen brothers’ film as source material, and Legion, which really only took up six weeks in its own timeline from the events of Episode 1 to the finale, but moved around a lot in time and space. Why do you like that approach?
HAWLEY: As a storyteller you have the story that you tell and you have the way you can tell it, and both are equally important. I’m a big believer that the structure of stories should reflect the content of the story. Certainly, when the story about David Haller who can’t tell what’s real and what’s not real, the show is made to create that subjective experience. So we do play with time. I also felt certainly in episodes 2, 3 and 4, that I had to teach the audience how to watch the show. I also have to contend with the fact that it’s on at the end of their very long day and maybe they’ve just watched a movie or maybe they’ve just watched a reality show or something else, and so the first five minutes of these episodes you have to put the audience into a state of mind. They have to put them in the state of mind to watch Legion.
So, there is a sort of hypnotic quality of episodes 2, 3 and 4 just opening with the sense of where the time movement was. There’s often a little ethereal voice-over, to give the sense that we are not rooted in a physical time and place. There’s this cinematic auditory experience we’re having which insisted on having it and then we’ll settle in and tell the story.
DEADLINE: In real time, Season 1 was eight episodes on FX, and Season 2 looks to be 10 episodes. So will that change your storytelling approach?
HAWLEY: I was the one who asked for eight in the first year and I did it because I wanted to tell a single story. I wanted to tell a story of David Haller who was institutionalized and then was rescued and is told that his powers are powers and not a mental illness. Then we discover that what’s going in his mind is much more complicated, and then we rediscover what is inside his mind. Then we get it out and that’s the first season and that works the eight hours.
But I wanted to do that because I felt like the show’s very complicated and it’s very different. But I wanted the audience to feel like they got it through the coherent story.
Going forward I think that the audience now knows the show and they understand our style, our original language. It’s obviously a large ensemble and so we can expand our story in Season 2. In order to understand David, we can understand Syd more or the other characters. We can expand that universe so that we’re still telling a single story, but we’re taking our time a little bit more and with a little less singular-minded focus.
DEADLINE: Noah, it sounds like you are thinking far beyond a Season 2 like a Season 4 or 5. Is that how long you’ve planned out Legion going on?
HAWLEY: Certainly I have a sort of beginning, middle and end to this David Haller story in mind. What I don’t know is how many hours of television that is, whether it’s 20 hours or 30 or 40, so that’s part of the exploration of it over time — one that I’m very excited to keep going on.