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Legion’s Shadow King got his shape thanks to reality TV and Sigmund Freud

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As all good villains do

David Haller
Michelle Fay/FX

If the grotesqueness of Legion’s Shadow King disturbs you for reasons you don’t quite understand, showrunner Noah Hawley has accomplished his goal.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the show’s season finale, Hawley said the inspiration for the villain’s appearance came from a mixture of a reality TV show and a Sigmund Freud poem on the fear associated with anything uncanny. Hawley was having a conversation with a crew member who had become obsessed with TLC’s My 600-lb Life and liked the idea of the Shadow King becoming larger the longer he remained in main character David Haller’s body.

Unlike most villains, the Shadow King is a part of David’s biological being and Hawley said he needed to find a way to make that scary to both viewers and the character himself.

“I did respond to the idea that whatever was inside David had been feeding on him all this time and, as a result, there was something engorged and he was reaching this outrageous state,” Hawley said.

Once Hawley got the base idea for the Shadow King, he started researching fear. Hawley wanted to incorporate the idea of facing fears that come from the most natural places and, in doing so, stumbled upon an essay by Sigmund Freud called Das Unheimliche. The essay explored the idea of the uncanny — something that was familiar, but strange enough to cause people to be disturbed. Between “uncanny” perfectly defining the sensation Hawley wanted to give audiences when they saw the Shadow King and the connection to the X-Men (The Uncanny X-Men), Hawley was sold.

“I wanted to explore why are people afraid of the things they're afraid of,” Hawley said. “It comes down to familiar things operating in unfamiliar ways. A house should not be a haunted house, for example. We have this visceral human reaction when we see human beings of that size because that's not how humans have been designed to be. There's something uncanny about it and there's something interesting about our reaction.”

When it comes to the Shadow King itself, Hawley is happy with the villain they’ve come up with and how the audience has reacted to it. They didn’t want to go in and create monster of the week, like other shows can often do, but instead wanted to design a character people actually connected to. Although the Shadow King’s future is up in the air, with more answers expected to come to light after the finale, Hawley has become attached to the figure.

“We've created a villain for David that's worth building a backstory around,” Hawley said. “It makes for a potential showdown that you're really invested in as an audience instead of the villain of a year approach. I don't know how long that story will stay, but I do think it's a really fascinating.”

Legion’s first season finale will air Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET on FX.