Why We’ll Miss Noah Hawley’s Vital, Controversial Legion

Why We’ll Miss Noah Hawley’s Vital, Controversial Legion

When Noah Hawley leapt into the world of prestige TV by reimagining the Coen brothers’ classic Fargo as an endlessly creative anthology series for FX—then owned by Fox—he had the same experience many white-hot, successful young men in Hollywood have recently had: Marvel came calling. But this wasn’t Kevin Feige’s MCU. Hawley, one of the glossiest ponies in the Fox stable, was approached by Marvel TV, and asked to come up with an angle on the X-Men universe that might make for a good show.

The property Hawley picked—the life and times of the mentally unstable mutant David Haller—was so wildly off the map that most X-Men fans wouldn’t know where to find him. But after three seasons of rocky, superpowered antics, Legion and the rise and fall of David Haller came to an explosive and definitive conclusion this week. It’s not the last we’ll see of Hawley, though. He’s got a buzzy new Natalie Portman film, Lucy in the Sky, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival next month; a fourth, Chris Rock–fronted season of Fargo is on its way as well. But the world of comic book storytelling will sorely miss Hawley’s unique vision, which often interrogated both the monolith of superhero entertainment and its most ardent fans.

Legion came about during a brief golden era of rapid and creative X-Men expansion. Even as the main franchise began to sputter with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix, the emotionally grounded Logan was a critical darling. The foulmouthed Deadpool was a commercial smash hit. And both Hawley’s show and the more straightforward Gifted on Fox represented bold forays into the TV world.

But that was before the Fox/Disney merger brought the X-Men under the umbrella of the larger Marvel domain, which had already expanded to put most of Marvel television under Feige’s umbrella. Netflix’s Marvel shows, like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, have been canceled, and X-Men TV development is on hold while Feige carefully maps out his next move. Elsewhere, other superhero stories are flourishing: Watchmen is arriving in October on HBO, with a promise of complex revisionist history, and Amazon’s darkly comedic The Boys is a surprise hit of the summer. Meanwhile, shows like Pennyworth, the CW power pack, and some Marvel teen efforts are largely playing it by the book. But right now, Hawley’s challenging voice is what we’ll miss most of all.

Legion wasn’t perfect. There was a moment in its second season where the clarity of Hawley’s narrative was almost devoured by the whimsy of his surreal approach to storytelling—and speaking with Vanity Fair over the phone last week, it seems like Hawley himself may have realized that. “Season two, we did a lot of experimenting with the form and the structure,” he said. “That’s great for the middle. But as you get closer to the end, the audience is less interested in your cleverness and more interested in their emotional investment in the characters.”

Amid all that complex storytelling unhooked from time and space, season two also revealed Hawley’s big plan for his main character, David Haller. The highly superpowered mutant, played by Dan Stevens, has multiple personality disorder in the comic as well as the show. That allowed Stevens to use every tool in his acting arsenal, vacillating between Downton Abbey darling and The Guest menace with a blink of his baby blues. Is David Haller a hero or a villain? Why not both?

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