Syd’s life is kind of messed up, isn’t it? Well, let’s find out just how messed up in Chapter 12.
The episode begins with the snowstorm that is Syd’s mind as she gathers heat from a fire. All of a sudden, it grows dark and she crawls outside towards a bright light.
We then flash back to Syd’s birth and are taken through the various phases of her youth as she grows. Even as a child, she wears gloves to protect her hands. One day, while she and her mother, played by Lily Rabe, are at an art gallery, Syd spots a couple kissing. It’s rude to stare.
Back at home, she eyes herself in the mirror and soon kisses her reflection. It doesn’t hurt to practice, I guess.
Later, Mom is reading to a crowd at home, but Syd isn’t present. No, she’s stuck in the room with the coats. She tries on various jackets and admires herself in the mirror. She soon spills out into the living room during the gathering, but runs off in horror when someone accidentally comes into contact with her. Oh, and David’s watching her, even though she can’t see it.
As Syd continues to develop, she enters a punk phase and walks onto the set of Vinyl, I mean into a dance club. Without her gloves or a care in the world, Syd dances the night away as she bumps with everyone near her. Her powers do manifest, yes, but she keeps on dancing.
But then, following this, she’s asleep and strapped to a bed with her mother at her side.
Then Syd is back at the gallery and observing the kissing couple. Soon enough, when she’s an adult, she’s joined by a security guard, David, who mentions that the museum is her core desire. Syd doesn’t seem to recognize him, but he still takes a seat next to her and says that he isn’t a fan of the painting since the person is trapped in all the negative space with no way to communicate or connect. Syd finds it honest.
Syd asks what David meant when he said core desire, and it’s what she wants most in the world. She can be a part of the world, even though she can’t interact with it. Syd figures David has no idea what he’s talking about. Ghosts don’t like living in a haunted house, after all.
Back to the igloo as cavewoman Syd continues to get heat from her little fire. Again, she’s drawn to the light from outside.
This time, we see David observing Syd’s birth. He tells Syd’s mother not to touch her daughter since she doesn’t like to be touched. He then overhears Syd being teased by some schoolgirls, who make fun of Syd for keeping to herself. And it goes: ‘Poor lost elf. Keeps to herself. Lives with her mom ’cause her dad’s in hell.’
Children can be so cruel.
We revisit Syd’s teenage years as she admires her mother working across the living room. As was the case before, Syd continues to develop, but now we see it from David’s perspective. In this instance, we see Syd being approached by a guy who wants to kiss her, but naturally, she refuses. After giving him the cold shoulder, she soon ends up kissing him.
With Syd now in the boy’s body, she uses this opportunity to attack some nearby girls in a fit of cathartic rage. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the same three girls from before, just older. Anyway, when Syd reverts back to her body, she blames the attack on the boy. Naturally, he’s hauled off.
Back at the art gallery, David introduces himself to Syd again at the art gallery and tells her that she’s in the maze. With Ptonomy and Melanie, he had to figure out what they wanted and he could save them. With Syd, it’s the closeness of the couple. She comes back every week to find what they have. But Syd tells David that he’s wrong and to try again.
Syd would be a terrible game show host.
So again, Syd is in the igloo. But when she approaches the light, we’re with David in the igloo and there is no fire. We revisit Syd’s life again as Syd, still marking her arms, drags a pair of scissors across her thigh. Each time David thinks that he has the answer, he’s wrong.
He soon chases away the girls teasing Syd and pretends to be a teacher at the school but then young Syd herself tells David that he’s cheating. He can’t just ask her. The point is for him to figure it out on his own.
Back in Division Three, Kerry finally regains control of herself and ends up pulling Cary out of her. As Clark walks by, he tells them that everyone has awaken and the monk was found dead on the pavement outside. So it’s possible that he caused the plague.
Clark has no word on David or Syd, so Cary and Kerry head to the roof themselves and find the two still standing motionless.
Their bodies are brought down to the lab, though Melanie can’t understand why the two haven’t awoken yet. However, according to Cary, they are awake, based on their brain waves, which are not the same pattern as those infected with the plague.
David finds himself back in the museum and tells Syd that he finally figured out why she’s doing this: it’s not a maze. This is just Syd. She thinks that if she shows him who he is, that he won’t love her anymore. It’s a test. But David reminds her that he was a drug addict and lunatic. The world is an ugly place for and to people like them. There is nothing Syd can show David that will scare him away. So David now wants to go home.
Good thing, because David is absolutely…wrong! Time to try again.
He again revisits Syd’s upbringing, promising to never give up. Later, when punk Syd announces that she’s going out for the night, her mom, too busy entertaining her boyfriend, pays no attention…until Syd tries a spot of wine.
Wait a second, I remember this…
When Syd returns home, her mother is passed out and the boyfriend is in the shower. She approaches her mother and touches her skin. With Syd now in Mom’s body, she enters the shower and touches the boyfriend. Things get hot and heavy between the two.
In the living room, the record player comes to a halt as Mom suddenly awakens in her own boy. She heads to the bathroom just as she finds her daughter in the shower with her boyfriend. Traumatic, to be sure.
In the igloo, David tells Syd that he gets it now. It’s not about being alone or in love- it’s about the things that Syd has survived. The world breaks everyone and some are strong at the broken places. It’s not the story of a girl who couldn’t be hugged by her mother, it’s about the damage and how it makes people strong, not weak. She cut herself with a dull blade because it felt the worst.
David knows that pain. When he met Syd, it was like true, fairy tale love. But this is no fairy tale to Syd, who asks if David even knows what love is. She calls it a hot bath. What happens to things when you leave them in a bath for too long? They get soft and fall apart.
David confesses that he was confused why Syd was reading Rick Moody’s The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, but then he read a particular line: “Junkies and masochists and hookers, and those who have squandered everything are the ring of brightest angels around heaven.”
Syd tells David that this is a war- the things they endure. She asks who survives this future apocalypse that David saw: the lovers or fighters? People are sold a lie that love will save them, but it makes them weak. Love isn’t going to save them- it’s what they have to save. Pain makes them strong enough to do it and serves as their armor. God loves the sinners best because their light burns bright. She asks David to burn with her.
Finally, Syd is ready. David takes her hand and the two awaken in Division Three. The two lock eyes and Syd cracks a smile as soldiers start streaming into the facility. The two leave the lab to see what the commotion is all about until they realize what it is.
A handcuffed Lenny has been brought into Division Three. She’s back, baby.
Before getting in-depth with this episode, I find it necessary to draw attention ahead of time to this episode’s director: Ellen Kuras. She was the cinematographer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and that’s very important, considering how much this episode is about memory. By repeating certain shots and shooting them in certain ways, they leave a long-lasting impression on the viewer.
Whether it’s the shots of Syd’s mother cradling her or the blurred faces as Syd danced to her heart’s content on the dance floor, it was a well-directed episode and Kuras definitely has an eye for the visual. For a show like Legion, that’s important, and Kuras is someone I would have no problem with stepping back into the director’s chair for another episode.
But Legion is as much about the audio as it is the visual when it comes to enhancing the viewer experience. As was the case last season, there’s a lot of inspired musical choices here. Consider the lyrics to Talking Head’s Burning Down the House, which was apparently covered by Noah Hawley and Jefferson Russo here: “My house! Is out of the ordinary. That’s right! Don’t wanna hurt nobody.”
Whether it’s an igloo or just her own skin, Syd’s house truly is out of the ordinary. With the inability to touch someone else, she lives on her own island, separated from the rest of reality. While she’s talked of her youth before, Legion further informs her character by showing her upbringing and how much she longed for something as simple as a touch from another person.
Mutants often go through many lengths to hide their powers, but the difference with Syd is that, essentially, her ability is right out in the open. It’s only dragged out when she touches someone. So she isolates herself, but that doesn’t mean she’s just a hermit. Whether watching the kissing couple or trying on various coats, it’s clear that Syd would like to touch someone, but can’t.
This builds on, how back in the pilot, she became so agitated by David merely bumping into her. And that wasn’t even skin-on-skin contact. The episode also informs us of the horror she’s endured, from tormentors that close in on her like vultures, to when she swapped spots with her mother and ended up having sex with the boyfriend.
It’s something Syd mentioned to David last season and from the moment we met the boyfriend, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that we would finally see that moment. And we did. It’s as traumatic for the viewers as it was for all parties involved in said scene. As Syd grows, she becomes more familiar with her mutant abilities and uses them for self-satisfaction.
A bit of a selfish motivation, but I can relate to it. I don’t have mutant powers- that I know of- but there’s part of me that would probably consider using them for personal gain or my own purposes. Syd does this at the expense of those around her. And the pain she’s suffered and endured as a result has molded her into the strong-willed mutant that she is today.
There are deep layers to Syd’s character and both Rachel Keller and the actresses who play younger versions of Syd are excellent at showcasing the pain Syd has endured, but also the desire to share the intimacy that she can never have. But despite all she’s missing out on, she walks on each day because she’s a survivor.
As Syd’s mother reads early on in the episode, psychiatry would have us believe that survival is a curse. So on top of already having to survive just as a mutant, there’s the added curse of just surviving. You wake up each day only to survive. You win some fights and lose some, but you ultimately live to fight another day.
While some would find it annoying both that we keep revisiting Syd’s life and that she keeps David guessing, it’s good writing on Noah Hawley’s part and from Syd’s perspective that this isn’t spelled out for David and the audience. Like David, we’re the outsider in this circumstance and there’s no reward if Syd just tells David what he needs to learn on his own.
And at the very least, David isn’t just sitting around and waiting for an answer to fall out of the sky. He keeps on guessing and while it’s cute that he at one point thinks this is about Syd fearing that he won’t love her, David has to take a step back and understand that this isn’t all about him. How’s that for a run-on sentence? It’s not about him relating his pain to hers.
Syd’s been in David’s head and knows how he operates. This isn’t about love or a romance of the mind, but suffering. Syd coming out and saying this at the end is a bit on the nose, but important to show how, in her mind, it’s pain, not love, that makes us strong. The world breaks us down, but we’re built back up and become stronger people in the process.
There’s a war going on, both in the present and future. And no amount of time in the white space void will prepare them for that. Instead, people are made stronger by the pain of loss and suffering. Syd could have buried herself into a hole after all the traumatic things she’s experienced, but rather than let these incidents make her second-guess herself, she’s grown for the best.
And I don’t have enough praise to leap onto Dan Stevens and Rachel Keller here. Their chemistry is as electric as it always has been and, for my money, the final conversation in the igloo is one of the series’ most emotional moments.
With the monk dead and the plague now over, all signs point to now continuing the race to find the Shadow King’s body. But Lenny being back will no doubt throw a wrench into those plans. Is this her real body or Farouk playing games again? Either way, Lenny is back and I can’t wait to see what she’s up to next.
Legion slowed things down a bit to give us an up close and personal look at the very messy life of Syd Barrett. With great direction and stylistic choices, coupled with fantastic scenes between Rachel Keller and Dan Stevens, this was an excellent episode.