Legion Season 2 spoilers ahead!
Legion Season 3 has now premiered on FX. The cerebral X-Men show's final season promises to draw the story of mutants David Haller and Sydney Barrett, and everyone else at Division 3 and beyond, to a close. Read on for our first feature from a visit to the show's set in Los Angeles, and check out our Legion Season 3 premiere review as well.
"We always knew that Legion is technically a villain character," Aubrey Plaza said. She was speaking to journalists on a phone call just ahead of Legion's Season 3 premiere. We had visited the FX show's set at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, we'd seen several of the third season's episodes, and one question hung over it all: Can David Haller be redeemed after what he did in Season 2?
"Up until now, we've sympathized with his character, and we've understood why he does the things that he does," Plaza continued. "I think that this season is a little bit more about kind of showing the David Haller in the comic books--the character that we've been waiting for, in a way."
A show's protagonist turning into its villain is nothing new in a post-Breaking Bad world. But David's turn in Legion Season 2 had the uniquely tragic air of a self-fulfilling prophecy; there are dozens of points throughout Legion's first two seasons where, had things gone differently, David may have never reached this point. Yet here's where we are at the start of Season 3: David is alienated from his friends, having sexually assaulted the woman he loves, and, we're led to believe, is going to destroy the world. Is it possible to come back from what he did and avoid that terrible fate?
"That's a good question," Dan Stevens, who plays David Haller, told journalists during the visit to Paramount Studios. "I mean, again, the nature of Legion, the character, is that he is both the hero [and the] anti-hero figure. And there's a sort of diabolical sense of mischief through the comic book storylines that you find with him. And that's what makes him such a treat to play, is that dichotomy. Whether I think he can be redeemed--or should be--is not really for me to say. I think he wants to--he wants to see if he can sort of unpick this unholy mess that he's created."
That's where Season 3's main new character, Switch (Lauren Tsai), comes in. She's a time traveling mutant who David recruits in the Season 3 premiere to help him undo the bad things he's done. "Which is one way of attacking the problem," Stevens said.
But given what show we're talking about, it won't be nearly that easy.
"Syd confronts him with this very sophisticated element, I think, of like, 'Yeah, you can go back and you can change all these things, but does that really change who you are as a person?'" Stevens continued.
In Season 2, David essentially slipped Syd (Rachel Keller) a psychic roofie, erasing her bad memories of him, and then had sex with her. She technically consented to the sex, but only because David had erased part of her mind--without his interference, she would never have consented. Therefore, she wasn't really capable of giving informed consent at all. David clearly didn't look at it that way--he still doesn't view himself as the villain--but to Syd, and to anyone looking at it objectively, what David did to her was rape.
"We're dealing with the truth of people, and what they're capable of doing," Rachel Keller told GameSpot during a one-on-one interview on the show's set. "What I've really enjoyed this year is that kind of self-reflection, and the full range of experience that someone goes through after something violating like that. There's anger and doubt and shame and regret," Keller said.
"If there's a love story in there for her, it's her own forgiveness, and taking the responsibility for where she's at," she continued. "That's the love story for her. I don't know what you're supposed to do with sick egotistical men. I'm not sure. It's a big question. I feel like we're asking it. Do they deserve to heal and forgive themselves? Maybe. I hope so. Yeah, we'll see. I don't know."
Noah Hawley, Legion's creator, doesn't think David's actions can be so easily distilled.
"He has these abilities, but because he's at 20-odd years hearing voices and seeing things that he didn't know if they were real or not, he built a personality disorder around those abilities in a way that really hindered his ability to function," Hawley told journalists during the set visit. "He filters the world through his own sense of injustice, and he really felt like, as he said, 'I'm a good person. I deserve love.'"
Amahl Farouk, aka The Shadow King, emerging as the show's villain during Season 2 gave David a focal point for his growing hero complex, fueling his belief that he was the victim of the story and that he could do no wrong--even as Farouk influenced the rest of Division 3 against David.
"[He] bought himself time," Hawley explained. "He feels like deep down, she really loves him, she's just confused. So he uses his powers to make her forget, and then because he just feels like he loves her so much, he goes to her in the night and has sex with her, and just tries to feel that feeling that he's so desperate to feel. Of course, when she realizes what's happened, it's a huge betrayal, because he took away her consent."
Season 3 won't shy away from the consequences of that act, but it also won't paint these characters--people who we've grown to empathize with and understand--as caricatures of heroes and villains.
"It's not an accident that we told a sexual assault storyline in the show," Hawley said. "Telling the adult version of a comic book show involves dealing with complicated issues, and what I was interested in looking at is not 'Good vs. Evil' in capital letters, it's the things that we do to each other--the way that people are together--and that it turns out you can extrapolate out the larger evils of the world. That idea, that David would do something to Syd where he literally removed her consent and then had sex with her--in his mind, it was a romantic act. And obviously, an objective and rational person wouldn't see it that way, but part of it was to show the audience how ungrounded David was in reality--that he could still perceive that as a romantic act--as a clear sign of his mental illness."
"It's not an accident that we told a sexual assault storyline in the show."
"What's driving David is not mustache-twirling, supervillain, destroy the world things--he's being driven by this very human desire to feel loved," Legion's creator continued. "In order to achieve that feeling, he's doing some things that are hard to root for, but I think what's interesting is to kind of challenge the audience to say, well, are you with him still?...I think the fact that this show is built around a love story, that there is this very human desire for love stories to work out, and I think that's part of what drives the story here, is to figure out: Is there any way for these two people, if not to be in a relationship together, than at least to get to the other side of what David has done to her?"
The Full Spectrum
Time travel may allow David to change the events of the past, but it won't let him change who he is on the inside. The character's extreme narcissism will be front and center this season; as Stevens put it, "Could David go back and prevent the holocaust? Sure, but he doesn't--you know, because he thinks he's got more important things to do."
"A lot of what Rachel and I talked about was that idea that if we were going to tell the sexual assault story, we were going to tell it," Hawley explained. "We were going to deal with it, we weren't just going to gloss it over. And because we have this time traveler, David births this idea: Maybe he just goes back and makes that not happen. He can go back in time and then not do that to her, and what she says is, 'Yeah, but then what would happen is you would still be the person who was capable of doing that. I just wouldn't know.'"
"Could David go back and prevent the holocaust? Sure, but he doesn't."
That's hard for David to understand, but not for Legion's other characters. Navid Negahban, who plays Amahl Farouk, told journalists that the former Shadow King actually cares deeply for David--in his own way. David carried Farouk around as a passenger in his head for most of his life, and Farouk identifies with David more than the other characters do. In Season 3, Farouk genuinely tries to save the world, but he also believes he can save David--whether or not David is capable of being saved.
"That's one of those questions that makes you think about what's good, what's bad, who's the villain, who's the hero?" Negahban said. "The Shadow King, even if you go back and look at his journey, in his mind, he has always been a hero."
Bill Irwin, who plays the male half of the being that comprises both Cary and Kerry Loudermilk, told GameSpot he believes that every actor has to "think of one's own character as good." Amber Midthunder, who plays Cary's female counterpart Kerry, said that's one of the central questions everyone in the show will ask themselves in Season 3. "Everybody has a different scale of what is right and wrong, and what crosses the line and what's forgivable," she said. "I think the thing about this year is that we're we're watching each character wade through [those questions]. I think as an audience, you're going to be wading through a sea of questions."
At the center of David's quest to redeem himself--or at least to undo some of the bad things he's done--is Switch, the time-traveling new character played by Lauren Tsai. "I think that's going to be a very fun thing for the viewers to experience, is this uncertainty of what is good and what is bad, and just how complex we all are," Tsai told GameSpot during a one-on-one interview on set. "You can understand. You can feel the human, the imperfection that lives within all of us, and the regret, and what comes of all of that."
Stevens said one of the big questions Season 3 will ask is one of the big questions of existence: nature vs. nurture. In other words, "how much you can attribute unspeakable acts to a disturbed childhood and how much is your own volition." Among many other things, Season 3 will introduce David's parents, Charles Xavier (Harry Lloyd) and Gabrielle Haller (Stephanie Corneliussen).
"That's a massive part of David's struggle, and by keeping it selfish and keeping it to that thing, we get to really examine somebody who's struggling with that question," Stevens described. "How much was it Farouk sitting at the helm of this thing wreaking havoc, and how much of it was inherited from his parents?"
Hawley said David's complex characterization is one of the things that drew him to Legion in the first place.
"It just seemed like a fascinating character to me to explore at the center of a show--someone who clearly has legitimate complaints," Hawley explained. "He does and did have a profound psychiatric issue. He was in a psychiatric hospital. He did try to kill himself. He did have addiction problems. He's not, at heart, it seems, a bad person--he's not malevolent toward others. He's just kind of a raw nerve, and we meet that guy in the first hour, and he falls in love, and we want that for him.
"We want there to be something positive for him, and he goes on this journey with [Syd] of self discovery, and part of that self discovery, for us, is to realize he's actually much more damaged than we thought he was. There's part of it for me that's about--it's always about empathy, it's always about challenging the audience on some level to care about people who aren't like them, and also maybe over the course of the story to realize that there are some people who can be saved, and there's some people who can't be saved--and to try to learn to tell the difference."
Which type of person David Haller is, we'll have to watch to find out.
Legion Season 3 premieres Monday, June 24 on FX.