'Legion' spins a kaleidoscope of Marvel madness

Review: Based on a Marvel comic, this stylish and startling head trip conjures a superhero show like you've never seen.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read

"I have to know. Is this real?"

"Legion" begins with a baby named David Haller. A boy's life unfolds, taking David from childhood through screaming, riotous teenage years, to a cop car, a psychiatrist's couch, a noose. He could be the most powerful mutant in the world. He could be crazy.

We don't know what's going on, and neither does David.

"Legion" is the story of David's life. Based on a Marvel comic character, "Legion" feels like the panels of a comic unmoored from its own pages, and then folded, torn and pasted back together in a new order. Adapted by Noah Hawley, who previously created the off-kilter TV version of "Fargo", it's a TV show unlike any other.

David, played by Dan Stevens of "Downton Abbey" fame, is lost in a sci-fi psychiatric ward with his friend Lenny, played by Aubrey Plaza. A girl with heavy eyeliner named Syd Barrett, played by Rachel Keller, appears in a Wes Anderson-like montage. She's come to take him away from all this, whatever this is, so he can come to terms with his own mind.

Whispering voices scream for attention in David's head. Or is it the real world? Time slows and stretches like a warped record, a music box winding down. The insensate sensibilities of a music video. The logic of a dream.

What if your problems aren't in your head? What if they're not even problems?

Syd brings David to people with surreal superpowers, uncanny like the X-Men. Psychiatrist Miss Bird steps behind the seen, behind David's fractured facade, literally entering his memories to mine his mind for a marginal mystery tour. Is it like "Inception", or did I just dream that?

Enlarge Image

Rachel Keller in "Legion".


"Legion" exists in a retro-futuristic world. Yesterday's clothes appear alongside tomorrow's machines, like a 1970s sci-fi movie. There are lots of unnearthly earth tones -- yellows, browns and nightmare red.

David's memory loops and repeats, repeats and loops, loops and replays. A kiss turns the world upside down. A kitchen explodes. An interrogation room springs from the paranoid imagination of Terry Gilliam, and memories swirl with the sun-dappled cinematography of Terrence Malick.

The girl. The incident. The power. Red Hook. Division One. Are you still a danger to yourself? To others?

Memory entwines with hallucination, questioning what is real and what is imaginary. Layers of memory splice together in flash forward and flashback. We'll be seeing this again. We'll have to if we want to understand any of it.

"Legion" is a dazzling, dizzying puzzle, a mystery to be solved. And how does that make you feel?

Don't forget to fill your prescription: "Legion" begins on FX from 8 February in the US, and on Fox from 9 February in the UK.

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