After three mind-bending and time-traveling seasons, Legion came to an end tonight by going full circle, including on the soundtrack with The Who’s “Happy Jack.”
A baby, a showdown with the parasitic Farouk (Navid Negahban), a new beginning and future X-Men boss Charles Xavier (Harry Lloyd) empathically telling his powerful telepathic son David Heller/Legion (Dan Stevens) that he was “trapped in a war you didn’t start.” Did Daddy make it all better in the end of the series finale co-directed and co-penned by Hawley? Could anyone make it all better for the perpetual battle zone that was David’s psyche?
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Well, Legion being Legion, yes and no, as the self-described “twisted rainbow” and exquisitely crafted series co-starring Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Aubrey Plaza Jermaine Clement, Stephanie Corneliussen and Lauren Tsai made clear tonight in the 27th and final episode. Which, ending where it all started, makes one wonder if there is more to come or another place for the mutant character played by the Downton Abbey alum in the greater Marvel Universe now that FX is owned by Disney?
With his feature directorial debut Lucy in the Sky starring Stevens and Natalie Portman set for release this fall and the Chris Rock-led fourth season of Fargo about to head into high gear, Hawley chatted with me recently about the satisfaction of Legion’s end and whether there would be more. The Before the Fall author also delved into the FX series based on the Coen brothers’ 1996 movie, whether his Doctor Doom flick is a go and the status of the Kurt Vonnegut adaption Cat’s Cradle as a limited series for the John Landgraf-run cabler.
DEADLINE: You once said that “endings give stories meaning,” so does this series finale have the meaning you sought?
HAWLEY: I mean I just sort of followed the story where it went is the laziest answer but also, on some level, the truest answer.
I allowed the genre to inspire me with this understanding that once we brought time into the story — which we really did last year — with the sort of future storyline it introduced past, present, and future in a way that became a bit more malleable. Then we introduced the Switch character in Season 3 and this desire to go back for David, which was very primal for him. He always had this feeling that his life had been ruined when he was a baby and that if he’s ever going to have another chance he has to solve that original problem. All that just put us in a position where what would happen if he did that and how would he do that and can he do that and not be a villain? Can he redeem himself while doing that?
So, I think I always knew what the three acts of the story were, but the literal idea that the series is a loop came in the writing sort of the last act of this season.
DEADLINE: A last act literally that ends where it all began with The Who’s “Happy Jack,” a true loop and a second chance, or is that open-ended?
HAWLEY: It’s complete in that it’s all starting all over again, so who knows what will happen the second time around. Maybe if you watch it a second time, something completely different will happen. I mean I feel complete with it. I think that I was able to, in an elegant way, tell a very expansive and kind of experimental story that still managed to resolve itself in a human and dramatic way.
DEADLINE: How so?
HAWLEY: So that the ride that you went on isn’t the roller coaster where it’s just, “I can’t believe the characters did that,” it’s also, “I can’t believe the show just did that.” In the end, it still resolved the way a good drama should resolve, which is in a satisfying, inspiring, cathartic manner.
DEADLINE: Time travel and the resolution, as well as the destruction that it can bring, is nothing new to the Marvel universe, but were you concerned that it slipped too close to the tropes of Avengers: Endgame?
HAWLEY: To be honest, I didn’t see Endgame until after I finished Legion. Then I was like, “Oh, time travel. There you go.”
I will say, by the time I finished watching that movie, I thought they did something different than we did. I think that it’s hard on some level to just swing a stick and not hit a show or a movie of the genre that hasn’t played with time on some level.
What was most satisfying to me was to do things in our fourth hour this season which Daniel Kwan directed where we introduced the Time Eaters and you’re watching the show and suddenly The Shield’s Vic Mackey walks in the room. Good cop and bad cop are gone for the day. Your brain breaks a little and asks, “What is happening right now?”
The show was 15 years ago and what’s happened is that I wanted you the audience to experience time travel — it’s not just the characters within the show. Those kinds of ideas are what really kind of got me out of bed in the morning — to say, “How do we make the audience have a subjective experience that the characters are having?”
DEADLINE: You constantly played with perspective and expectations with the twisted rainbow, but one thing, among many, that struck me in the finale was when Harry Lloyd’s Charles Xavier says, “No more travel, no more bloodshed. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.” It feels like you guys were reaching right out to the Marvel universe and then just putting your hand on it, like a palm on a cheek. There has been so much speculation through the three seasons of Legion about how that would work. How did that work for you as a creator?
HAWLEY: In thinking about bringing Charles into it and how to use him, obviously there was a lot of conversation about, “Which version is it?” Is it the sort of younger James McAvoy version, or is it the older Patrick Stewart version? It didn’t seem consistent with any timeline to have the older version. So, then the question became, “Well, all right, so if he’s a young man, then how young is he? And where is he in the large story?” I just thought that the most sort of emotional version was the young father who made mistakes because he didn’t know. Then he meets adult David and he goes, “You’re a baby,” I thought I would have time to figure all this stuff out. That idea that he had come from the war and that he’d met his wife in a mental institution the same way that his son had met his.
Those echoes were really interesting to me — and the fact that you’re dealing with a David and a Charles who are basically the same age and one of them has to become a father in a way that he didn’t expect. But the reality is the moment you have that baby, you have to become that father.
— Legion (@LegionFX) August 13, 2019
DEADLINE: As a parent to this show, do you think there could be more Legion? I remember in February that Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb referred to this iteration as kind of a graphic novel, and now this graphic novel is over, but there could be another graphic novel — do you have more Legion to tell?
HAWLEY: I think I did the sort of difficult egg carry to get the story and these characters through all the challenges that they had. And left them all in a sort of resolved and safe place in a way that feels satisfying to me.
I don’t, at this moment, have as much thought in my head about returning to Legion or rebooting it or any of those things. You know, obviously the Marvel universe is huge and expansive, and this character is out there now. You could do a lot worse than to incorporate Dan Stevens into the X-Men, in my opinion. But it’s not a conversation I’ve had. My head is on now in the film and in Fargo.
DEADLINE: That’s some headspace I want to get into. But before that, how was that twisting journey that you and Dan took together to you in hindsight now that Legion is over?
HAWLEY: The thing with Dan is he’s just such a grounded actor and performer. He’s so nuanced that I didn’t go out of my way to challenge him with the whimsical nature of the storytelling. He certainly learned to play the banjo and sing “Rainbow Connection,” while also signaling that something terrible is happening. Those kinds of challenges I don’t think you would have gotten from any other story.
You know, I think what was very satisfying for him was that even though the show was very playful, his journey was never a joke. He was always in a position where his dramatic motivations were grounded and real and so you could ask him to use his powers, but it was always grounded in a real emotional motivation.
DEADLINE: Now, in other motivation, where are things at with Fargo 4?
HAWLEY: We’re in the writing phase, we’ve basically completed the casting phase, and we’ll start shooting in October to premiere in the spring.
DEADLINE: Tight, coming off Legion and with Lucy in the Sky coming out in October…
HAWLEY: (laughs) We’re filming in Chicago and next week I think the production offices open in Chicago, and I decided to go ahead and release a movie right when I’m prepping to direct the first hour of Fargo. So I suppose one could say I like multi-tasking, although I would argue with you.
DEADLINE: I would use the term “daunting” …
HAWLEY: Yes, but I mean Fargo is such an extraordinary state of mind to tell a story in. That kind of combination of tragedy and comedy makes it really thrilling to go back into that mindset.
DEADLINE: And after Fargo, is Cat’s Cradle still next on the dance card?
HAWLEY: It is, yeah. It’s sort of on the docket behind Fargo, and I’ve written the first hour and have a sort of overview sense of the way that it will lay out. It’s not at the front of my head right now, but I remain really excited about it and committed to the Vonnegut adventure that I’m going to go on.
DEADLINE: Is this still something you’re looking at filming next year, or has that been pushed back?
HAWLEY: Yeah. I think so. I think next year is still the plan.
DEADLINE: Being that we are in front of a Marvel backdrop with Legion, where is the Doctor Doom movie at? You’ve spoken before about having a script ready but that ownership changes have put maybe a little pin in it for a while. Where does it stand in your perspective now with Disney taking control of the Fox assets formally this past spring?
HAWLEY: I mean, where it stands is now that the movie is done and Legion is done and I’ve taken a little time off because someone told me there was this word “vacation,” which means you don’t work, which sounded really interesting to me. But you know, I need to circle back to them and announce that I would love to make it and figure out if that’s something that is possible. Whether or not they already have a plan in place for what to do with those characters or whether they’re open to my kind of vision for what to do with those characters. But it’s sort of on me right now to go push them, which I will do as soon as I come up for air.
DEADLINE: That’s a very unique, to put it politely, notion of a vacation …
HAWLEY: I have no shortage of challenges, obviously. You know, the Fargo story feels very important to me right now. There’s another book that I’m working on that I’m excited about, and I’m trying to figure out what the next film will be. I’m a lucky guy to have that much opportunity presented to me.