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Legion Season 3 reveals David's toxic new superpower: gaslighting people

By Matthew Jackson
Legion Season 3 Episode 1

In one of the earliest scenes of Legion's third and final season, David Haller (Dan Stevens) greets a potential new follower and offers her tea as they talk about what he's after. In the time since Season 2, you see, David has become an enigmatic and wildly compelling cult leader, plying his followers with drugs and offering his services as a "Magic Man" in exchange for a seemingly benign remittance of "love," to which he is absolutely addicted. Then, he reads his new guest's mind and explains that "No Secrets" is one of the key rules of his fog-fueled commune.

"What about trust?" the new guest, a time-traveling mutant named Switch (Lauren Tsai), asks.

David pauses only for a moment before responding: "I tried that, and it's better to read people's minds."

Season 3 of Legion will be its last, and it's clear from the very beginning that creator Noah Hawley and company are holding nothing back. Every visual metaphor will be mined for maximum cleverness. Every performance will be pushed to its limits. Every last chance to explore the realm of comic book superpowers through this show's very particular sense of retro-futuristic, expressionist visual design (wait'll you see Division III's new headquarters) will be exploited.

The season's opening sequence, in which Switch listens to a tape of "Rules for Time Travel" as she begins the process of finding David, is its own dreamy, lavish short film. It also sets the table for a go-for-broke sunset for a show that has always prided itself on a certain degree of impenetrability.

One thing is clear about Season 3 of Legion from virtually the beginning: The show is continuing to explore, with breathtaking ambition, the fallout and psychological consequences of one of the greatest slow-burn villain turns in TV history.

Every season of Legion is a challenging journey that rewards rewatching and constant re-evaluation of what we think we're seeing, but you can also break the show down to its simplest overarching narratives. Season 1 was all about David fighting for autonomy in a world in which he'd long been either a puppet or a zombie. Season 2 was about David, having gained that autonomy through the expulsion of the parasitic consciousness of Amahl Farouk (Navid Negahban) from his mind, fighting for love in a world that still distrusted him. Season 3 is, at least in the beginning, about David letting go of the idea of fighting, and instead giving himself over to ruling.

In this case, ruling means enforcing his own narrative on everyone around him, whether they like it or not.

At the end of Season 2, Legion showed us a version of David who'd gone so far down the path of darkness that his friends in Division III staged a militant intervention. The love of his life, Syd (Rachel Keller), tried to explain to him that he wasn't just an all-powerful mutant, nor was he just a mentally ill man who couldn't come to terms with reality. He was, in fact, both, and those factors had merged with decades of trauma to create a toxic personality who did things like wipe Syd's memories and then coerce her into sex when she sensed something was wrong and he didn't want to admit to it.

So in a sense, David Haller's mutant superpower has become gaslighting, and he's very good at it. He's so good at it, in fact, that Season 3's first major plot point (it's in the trailers, so it's not a spoiler) involves David's desire to use Switch to go back in time and alter the past to prove that he was never a villain at all, that everyone was wrong about him.

The other thing that set David off on his path to rebellious cult leader was the news that he will be responsible for ending the world somewhere down the line, and he couldn't let people believe that about him.

In the hands of another show, David's journey from well-meaning but sick man to supervillain who's convinced he's the hero of everyone's story if they'd only listen to him might end up a clumsy, even preachy attempt at capitalizing on the #Metoo era for a few quick headlines. That's not what Hawley and his Legion team are building here. With David's turn at the end of last season, they allowed themselves the chance to play in the psychological space of the supervillain while they also haven't bought themselves plenty of empathy after chronicling all of David's traumas.

Now, in Season 3, David is not just a supervillain with the potential for global destruction, but a supervillain with the clear potential for redemption, with Dan Stevens walking that line brilliantly in a series-anchoring performance.

David, after all, has a point somewhere beneath all of the drugs and the lies and the mind-reading and the "Magic Man" facade. He was a victim of trauma with a monster living in his head for decades. He was lied to and toyed with and puppetered. He was robbed of certain experiences that he can never get back. It's just that now he's using that as an excuse to hurt others while claiming that he can just go back and fix it, erasing all harm while also erasing any trace of guilt he might have left.

Legion, for all its weirdness, is a fundamentally human journey about a flawed man who can tip the scales at any moment, and what he chooses to do with that power. The show's care, emotional density, and attention to detail have meant that we can see almost every possible emotional angle of David Haller, whether Season 3 will end with him ending the world or riding off into the sunset as a reformed hero. However this journey concludes, this primal fever dream of a show has prepared us for this moment, and we can't wait to finish this long, strange trip.

Legion returns tonight at 10PM EST on FX.

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