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Legion's Noah Hawley explains the 'rabbit hole' of the open-ended series finale
Legion, the Marvel Comics-based series following the titular mutant on a journey to understand himself and come to terms with his nature, ended its run Monday night after three mind-bending, reality-altering seasons on FX. Now, creator Noah Hawley is explaining why he chose to make his final solution to the story so ambiguous, and why he left a "rabbit hole" open for fans to explore.
** Spoiler warning: This story reveals key plot points for the series finale of Legion.**
The final season of Legion saw David (Dan Stevens) attempting to undo his own past, including his various misdeeds along the way, by traveling back in time with the help of a mutant called Switch (Lauren Tsai) and preventing himself from ever being possessed by the Shadow King Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban), a powerful and morally ambiguous mutant who latched onto David's consciousness when he was just a baby. To pull all of that off, David also sought to make contact with the past version of his own father, Charles Xavier (Harry Lloyd), whose battle with Farouk on the astral plane was what sent the Shadow King running for David's body and mind in the first place.
By the time the series finale, "Chapter 27," rolled around, the stage was set for an epic battle in which David, Farouk, and Xavier would finally all have it out, battling across time and history with David's fate and, by extension, the fate of the world hanging in the balance. In the end, though, that battle didn't happen, and Legion remained as unpredictable as ever. Instead of allowing David to do battle with and ultimately kill Farouk, Xavier opted to talk to the Shadow King, to convince him that if they fought and he then fled into David, chaos would ensue. The present-day version of Farouk was ultimately able to convince his younger self, at Xavier's urging, that possessing and tormenting David wasn't worth it, and in that way Xavier, not David, managed to finally change history. David was never possessed by the Shadow King, and present-day David and his sometimes-girlfriend-sometimes-enemy Syd (Rachel Keller) vanished from existence as the events that led them to that point were erased.
In that sense, everything in Legion that led up to David's journey into the past to meet his father has now been wiped from history, and yet it did happen because if it hadn't, the past never would have been changed. David and Syd aren't dead, they're just living alternate timelines in which they will perhaps never meet one another now that David has essentially gained a chance to live his entire life from infancy onward all over again. In that sense, Hawley believes David's parents — including his mother, Gabrielle (Stephanie Corneliussen), whom David reconnected with in the finale with the help of Pink Floyd's "Mother" — will hold the key to things turning out differently this time, particularly now that Xavier is aware that his son needs a father in his life more directly.
"We live in a world where this nature-versus-nurture question is yet to be resolved. And it's probably both. But my sense of the timeline is that Xavier and Gabrielle are going to remember what happened, and so they'll be able to raise David quite deliberately knowing the path that he ended up on, and wanting to avoid that for him," Hawley told The Hollywood Reporter. "And that may involve for his mother getting some help for herself in order to be a better role model for him, et cetera. So the great thing about it ending on that kind of loop is that [idea of] 'press the button and watch again, maybe something different will happen.'"
The creation of an alternate timeline in which David gets a second chance with no memory of the suffering he went through during his first try growing up also presents a number of fascinating implications for the world of Legion, which is a world in which all manner of mutants roamed by the time we reached the present day. What does Hawley's creation of a new past and therefore a new future mean for the other characters, including Cary and Kerry Loudermilk and even Syd? Well, fans can do their own extrapolating.
"There's definitely a rabbit hole you can go down, looking at the timeline and what year this was and how old people were," Hawley said. "If Oliver was in the astral plane for 21 years, and David is 32 years old? One could go down that road. I'm not going down that road. [Laughs.] I think a lot changes, and then there are things that probably wouldn't change at all, because people are who they are."
In the end, Legion remained true to its vision as a comic book show that always tried to take the road less traveled when it came to superhero stories. It never denied itself the opportunity to play with the toys of the genre, but it also never allowed itself to be boxed in by convention, and that remained true in the decision to end the show with a talk rather than a fight. For Hawley, the ending was about doing something less predictable, yes, but it was also about his vision of what real change in the world looks like.
"Well, here's the thing about war, which is what the end of this story was set up to be, the kind of epic final battle that we see in all of these stories: defeat is never change," he told THR. "Only change is change, right? So I suppose there's a scenario in which David and Charles were to defeat Farouk, and change the past. But that Farouk, if he survived, we know that he would just be waiting to get his revenge. And the reality is that the only way to change the future is to change people's minds and their hearts. And that's what was more interesting dramatically, and, for some reason, rarer with that diplomacy ultimately is the only way to solve the problem."