'Legion' creator Noah Hawley on adding a surprise extra episode to season 2, and the status of his Doctor Doom movie

FXDan Stevens as David Haller in ‘Legion.’
  • “Legion” creator Noah Hawley talked to Business Insider about season two’s finale, which aired Tuesday.
  • It was the 11th episode of a season that was originally planned to be 10 episodes. Hawley said that there was initially “a critical piece of story that was missing.”
  • Hawley discussed the mental illness metaphors in the show, his reaction to getting renewed for a third season, how “Legion” is similar to “Fargo,” and why he chose The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” to open the season finale.
  • He also talked about whether his Doctor Doom movie and “Fargo” season four are still in the works.

Noah Hawley, the creator of acclaimed shows “Legion” and “Fargo” on FX, never slows down.

“Legion,” based on Marvel “X-Men” comics about a powerful telekinetic mutant, just concluded its second season on Tuesday, and FX has already renewed the series for a third season. On top of that, Hawley hopes to write another season of “Fargo” and develop a Doctor Doom movie based on the Marvel Comics Fantastic Four villain. He’s also directing the sci-fi drama film “Pale Blue Dot.”

It’s a wonder he finds time for it all, but we’re happy he does.

Hawley spoke to Business Insider about season two of “Legion,” the show’s mental health metaphors, why he added on an extra episode, and his hopes for his other projects.

(This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Travis Clark: Were you expecting a season three renewal? What was your reaction to the news?

Noah Hawley: You never take these things for granted. The network is invested creatively in this series, so I had a sense it was coming. Especially with my schedule I have to lock things in if we’re doing them so I’m allergic to uncertainty at this moment. You can’t always make the world act according to your wishes, but the timing all worked out. It’s thrilling to be able to continue this story. Clearly there’s a real journey that we’re going on with these characters that has now taken a turn and is heading into the third act.

Clark: When you were writing season two, did you write it expecting to continue the story or writing it just to write the best story you can?

Hawley: I think I’ve known the shape of the story since the beginning. As much as it may seem like it’s an experiment in storytelling, that doesn’t mean that the story isn’t clear to me. And so the steps that we’ve taken with David [Dan Stevens], and meeting him in the hospital and running away with Syd [Rachel Keller], and going on this journey, is very much for me a metaphor of mental illness on some level … He was on his meds and everything was working perfectly and then he stopped taking his meds and everything starts to spiral. There’s a metaphor if you think of Syd as the meds, and the moment he starts keeping secrets from her, that’s him going off his meds. We all know how that ends up.

What I like about how the second season unfolded is that it’s not that the stakes weren’t high in the first season, but there’s a whimsy to that first season and parts of the second season. But now by the end, we’ve realised this is adult storytelling that we’re doing and there are some very twisted moral choices that are made and signalled early on in that fourth episode, where we see Syd’s childhood and life, and David is trying to figure out what to learn from it. He arrives at the Disney version which is, “You’re worried that if I see what you really are, I won’t love you.” And she’s like, “That’s wrong.”

And then we end up at this weirder, darker version where she says, “The bad things that we do, that’s our armour.” That establishes this “ends justify the means” idea that he then takes to heart. In the end, he throws it back at her and says, “I’m just doing what you said,” and she says, “That’s not what I meant at all.” So there’s this sort of twisted morality that you don’t normally find in this genre. That whole idea of “good and bad” is much more complicated.

LegionFXDavid (Dan Stevens) and Syd (Rachel Keller) in ‘Legion.’

Clark: Season two leaves David in a really bad place and some viewers might look at him as the “bad” guy. How do you look at “good and evil” in terms of this show?

Hawley: It has an echo of “Fargo” for me. In “Fargo,” there’s always a moment where the person who’s doing the worst things says, “I’m the victim here.” I feel like we have with David this idea at the end that he’s a good person and deserves love. There’s a certain victimization that’s in his DNA; this idea that he never had a chance because this demon came into him when he was a child and his life was basically ruined before it began. He’s a human being and deserves love just like anyone else, and it’s that vulnerability that pushes him to make choices that are not moral on some level because ultimately he is putting himself before [Syd] and before everyone else.

The question becomes, to what degree can we empathise with him because of his backstory, and at what point do we lose him? That moment when Syd says “you drugged me and had sex with me” – where’s the audience at that point? Because it’s true. He wiped her memories so he could keep a relationship with her but then, of course, her consent to anything that happened went out the window entirely. From his point of view, [he loves her and needs her]. It becomes very twisted and you certainly don’t see that normally in these sorts of stories.

Clark: How did you come to realise “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who was a good fit for the opening scene in the season two finale?

Hawley: As a duet, it’s a really interesting idea. The song is about someone that everyone’s against going “no one knows what it’s like,” but [both David and Farouk] are singing it. Farouk [Navid Negahban] obviously has his own story of being kicked out of his body and his country and being a refugee and an Arab man in a story where he’s the only Arab man. From his point of view, he’s the one who’s “behind the eyes” and David’s saying “you don’t know what it’s like to beme” and they’re on a collision course. So if you’re going to have a musical – not saying you should [laughs] – but if you’re going to have one, there should be a story.

Clark: How did the last-minute extra episode come to be?

Hawley: I had found over the course of the season that this show doesn’t want to be long. With “Fargo,” we were long sometimes because there’s a lot of story to get across. With “Legion,” because of how much we’re asking of the audience in terms of the fantastical nature of it and the non-linear storytelling and the surreal elements, it felt to me the more concise these episodes were the better. So, there were some elements that ended up on the cutting-room floor over the course of the season. A lot of them surrounded [actors] Jean Smart and Jemaine Clement [who play Melanie Bird and Oliver Bird] and that relationship and how he came in and got into her head to seduce her. She has this big turn where she goes over to the dark side, and when we had cut all that stuff out and I watched that big turn, it just didn’t mean enough. We hadn’t earned it yet.

Clark: So the 11th episode came along late and wasn’t always part of the plan, right?Hawley: We had written a whole series and were filming the “finale,” and I just felt, looking at it, that there was a critical piece of story that was missing, and nowhere to fit it in … My hope with this show is that it’s about the journey and not the destination, and if you’re a fan of this show and like the way we tell stories, then if you can have another hour of it with strong material in it, then it’s certainly justified. The last two episodes as a result have a kick to them. Finally, after this season of detours and meditation, you get the action. You get the fight sequence and the final confrontations. You get all those things and the last two episodes are action-packed in a way the season hadn’t been.

Fantastic fourMarvel ComicsDoctor Doom

Clark: I really wanted to ask you about some of your other projects. Are you able to give an update on your Doctor Doom movie and whether that’s still in development?

Hawley: Doctor Doom is still moving along. I’m about to direct this film “Pale Blue Dot” and we have another season of “Legion” to do. I think the question now revolves around the merger of Fox and Disney and whether that happens, and what would happen to all those Marvel projects once it does. There is some uncertainty there. I think the film studio [Fox] would like to move quickly and make the movie, that’s my hope. Now we’re just talking about how and when we are going to do that.

Clark: What about “Fargo” season four?

Hawley: My hope is to have a writers’ room in the beginning of next year and to be filming next fall.

Clark: So are you hoping for a 2020 release if it gets greenlit?

Hawley: Yeah, sort of spring of 2020, but it’s up to the network. A lot can happen between now and then obviously, but I’m very excited to return to that world of storytelling. But yeah, busy busy.

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