Dreams come true in this episode of Legion, but not all of them turn out the way the dreamer hopes, as is so often true of dreams. My dream of SpyCatSyd came true, and was as perfect as I’d hoped. Ptonomy and Melanie were also quite happy in their garden and game dream mazes. The group dream of finding the Mi-Go monk also came true, and was a disaster. Lenny’s wish to be set free is as far from coming true as ever. The Carries appear to be in some kind of limbo. This is very much an example of “Be careful what you wish for…”
Chapter 11 starts with the parable of the week. Jon Hamm describes the “nocebo effect“, which is the opposite of the placebo effect. Instead of a fake treatment working as if it’s real in a good way, as with the placebo effect, in the nocebo effect the patient is given an inert substance, told it will make something undesirable happen, and it does.* We see an elderly man given sugar water by a nurse who tells him it will make him vomit. He projectile vomits. “Your mind had the power to create its own physical reality.”
This parable makes me want to projectile vomit. Be forewarned, I’m only writing about the rest of the parable under protest.
“Some believe they’re a response to stress. Psychologists call it a conversion disorder, in that the body converts a mental stress to a set of physical symptoms, in this case, a tick, or spasm. And, like any disorder, it can be contagious. This kind of collective behavior is not limited to human beings. What we know is that in certain communities, under specific circumstances, an involuntary physical symptom developed by one person, can become viral, and spread, from person to person to person, until the entire community is infected. And so my question to you is, if the idea of illness can become illness, what else about our reality is a disorder?”
Well, Mr Hamm and Mr Hawley, I’ll tell you. The inherent racism and misogyny embedded in almost every aspect of that little segment would be a good place to start. You might want to check your white male privilege at the door. It’s no accident that the “mass hysteria” examples almost exclusively featured girls and people of color.
Men are diagnosed with “conversion disorders,” formerly known as hysteria, at only a fraction of the rate that women are. All women, but women of color, in particular, won’t be taken seriously at the doctor’s office, and will be told they’re just overreacting to stress, if their symptoms don’t suggest an obvious diagnosis.
Virtually every woman I know, of every age, has had this lovely little slap in the face from a reality created by the male-doctor-as-god-oriented medical industrial complex. “It’s just stress, dear.” After insisting on more tests and schlepping to multiple doctors, most get vindication and the actual diagnosis.
So I don’t want to see anything about your stupid, overdiagnosed conversion disorders used as examples for anything. The group of cheerleaders are probably all having the same symptom because they’re all doing the same stretch during warm ups and the coach isn’t listening to them when they complain that she’s having them do it wrong, not because they’re hysterical idiots who can’t handle their emotions as well as boys.
They’ll develop more and similar “hysterical” symptoms as their pain worsens and no one listens to them, because there’s nothing to show up on an X-ray until the issue leads to injuries. But they’ll probably all have different injuries, acquired during practice or competition, since they’ll change the way they move slightly, to compensate for their supposedly fake pain, throwing themselves and each other slightly out of peak efficiency. So then they’ll be blamed for being clumsy players, and finally have a real diagnosis.
Of course our reality is a disordered disaster, and of course we created it that way. Who else made our messed up cultures and societies the way they are?
Okay, back to regular summarizing.
Part Contagion Five
Farouk fights his psychic battle with David’s father while his body sits at a table in front of a meal, with a beautiful woman on either side. The battle is shown in the lenses of his sunglasses, using the chalk animation from season 1. When Farouk loses, he falls face first into his food.
Farouk’s body is sealed into an egg-shaped casket and driven to the monastery of the Mi-Go monks, who drop it down into a deep dungeon under their floor, then replace the floor over it. Tibetan throat singing plays over the proceedings.
The monks return to their quiet daily routines, but soon Farouk’s body is pounding on the egg casket to get out. Meanwhile, Ptonomy’s egg cracks, and a delusion chick crawls into his ear while he sleeps. When he awakens, he’s out of sorts, running through Division 3 in his pajamas, and seeming paranoid.
Reminder: A loss of meaning is not normal. Reminder: A loss of meaning is not normal.
Fukuyama watches everything. I thought it was telepathy, but someone elsewhere suggested he’s using security cameras, and the switch between locations here does look sort of like switching cameras, so now I’m just confused.
New symptom alert: Irritability
Kerry practices with a punching bag, while Cary does science stuff. Then he makes her go to lunch with him. He’s making her learn how to eat and practice other daily living skills so that she could survive without him if she had to. Today’s lesson is eating traditional Chinese dumplings called shaomai. They’re fishy and Kerry doesn’t like them, but she likes cream soda. Good call.
Reminder: Avoid lines with double meaning. Reminder: Avoid lines with double meaning.
Butt stuff and other bodily functions still gross Kerry out, despite the cream soda.
It’s time for The Adventures of Spy!Cat!Syd! This week she’s having a telepathic conversation with David as she stealthily checks out the halls of Division 3. She has certain cat impulses when she’s in the cat body. She’s looking for the monk who’s hiding in Division 3. She asks David which one’s prettier, CurrentSyd or FutureSyd. David says that feels like a trick question, so his instincts are still good.
There’s a commotion at the entrance to the teeth chatterer’s room. The monk has left a bloody hand print on the glass door. Clark barrels through the child soldiers to examine it.
Melanie and Clark put on hazmat suits and enter the teeth chatters’ room. The monk mainlined a nutritional IV, then escaped through an air vent. Fukuyama and the Vermillions ominously seal the building so that the monk can’t get out.
David and Syd watch from outside the room. He begins to receive a message from FutureSyd. He gets a flash of her writing the letter H in white and of her in danger, but that’s it. He doesn’t tell Syd what he saw.
The halls of Divison 3, which have been green with yellow arrows up until now, with Fukuyama and the Vermillions clearly in charge of the place, are now dark with flashing orange emergency lighting. Syd and David walk and talk as they make their way to Cary’s lab and the tank. Syd wants David to find the monk before he does anything else. David can’t find the monk with his mind because the monk is able to shield his thoughts. So David, figuring he’s useless in the search for the monk, plans to go talk to Farouk. He says Farouk owes him some answers. But David’s talks that take place outside of normal Space/Time seem to be becoming an escape mechanism for avoiding the tough parts of real life, too. I guess they’re his conversion disorder. He does at least tell Syd about the H from FutureSyd before he goes into the tank and leaves her alone again to face the dragon.
He meets Farouk at the poolside estate. Lenny is drawing a No Exit arrow on the pool apron. She’s a little desperate to escape, like a caged animal destroying itself out of boredom and madness. She begs David to get her out, somehow. He listens, but offers no help or sympathy. As he talks with Farouk, she makes multiple suicide attempts, but none of them stick.
Farouk already knows that they’ve found the monk. He says the Mi-Go monks have impenetrable minds, unless you know the secret. He doesn’t say what the secret is, or what kind of secret it might be. The secret to slipping past their mental defenses? The secret to blackmailing them into cooperation? The secret to driving them mad and stripping their minds of any defenses?
David asks what Farouk will do with his body when he gets it back. Farouk says he’ll simply live the good life in the south of France, a life full of wine, women, song, and let’s not forget, power. David asks about Farouk’s ambitions toward world destruction and general evil-doing. Farouk gives David an etymology lesson on the word villain, and says he’s only a villain because David’s father cast him that way. Farouk was happily reigning over his own country, with its own unique and functional culture, when David’s father rolled in with his Western Imperialist notions and ruined everything. Who was David’s father, a white man who didn’t know their customs or speak their language, to decide what Farouk’s people needed?
Whatever else Farouk may be, he’s brilliant at debate.
David, however, gets to the heart of what matters to him- Farouk may have started out as a victim, but he spent decades victimizing David, when David was an innocent infant, child and young adult. He ruined David’s life, until Melanie and Summerland helped David understand himself. It’s difficult for David to trust Farouk when he has such visceral knowledge of Farouk’s selfishness.
Farouk argues that his choice was between death and life. He’s a refugee. If the choice is between using someone else’s body as a temporary home, and dying, he’ll choose life.
David doesn’t have an answer for that, so he begins to make his exit, saying he’ll let Farouk know when they’ve captured the monk.
Farouk has to get in a couple of mind-bending parting shots. He points out that David is doing this for FutureSyd, who he loves, but who will disappear when the timeline changes. In a way, Farouk continues, David is helping the woman he loves commit suicide.
Not really, of course- David’s creating a better life for her, or a different timeline, whichever way you want to view time. There will still be a FutureSyd. But Farouk’s messed with David enough to make him think twice, now.
Then Farouk drops the real bomb- The monk is the one spreading the teeth chattering disease. Farouk has been following the monk, so Division 3 thinks it’s Farouk spreading the Catalyst. But the monk is the Typhoid Mary in this situation and Farouk just happens to be nearby.
David realizes that he left Division 3 at a really, really bad time, and makes a quick exit. When he comes out of the tank, the orange emergency lights are flashing in the lab, but it’s dark and quiet everywhere else. Cary is gone.
David gets more of the lights back on and finds a vanishing cow. Everyone he sees has the Catalyst now. He discovers Cary sensibly hiding in the restaurant behind the lazy river food delivery counter. Cary sprays David with his improvised weapon of lemony household cleaner.
David can’t raise anyone else telepathically, not even Clark. Cary says that he saw the monk leading the child soldiers out like the Pied Piper, but using throat singing as his hypnotic song.
They find Ptonomy on the floor, having succumbed to the Catalyst. He did manage to get dressed before passing out. Cary says that Catalyst sufferers maintain normal brain waves. Their minds are active, he just doesn’t know what they are doing. David says they’re in the maze, and takes Cary in with him.
Ptonomy’s maze is a peaceful English garden, where he’s tending to the roses. He has on a snazzy floral suit, and has amnesia. Plus he can’t remember anything from one moment to the next. Cary hypothesizes that his core desire to live without the burden of memories has been fulfilled. Ptonomy is normally a memory machine. He remembers every moment of everyday. They debate whether to pull him out of his perfect fantasy, but realize that it’s not good for him in the long run.
David makes his finger glow and touches Ptonomy’s forehead. The garden explodes and they all wake up in their usual reality. They see the cow again when they go back out into the hall. David gets another message from FutureSyd: U.
If they wanted me to avoid thinking about double meanings, they really should have found another way for David to get Ptonomy out of the maze. Seriously? Kneeling? Glowing fingers? Explosions?
They find Melanie in the hall and carry her to Cary’s lab to treat her. Melanie’s maze starts in complete darkness. A keyboard appears. David hits a key, and an instruction pops up in front of them in giant letters. They’re in an old-fashioned role-playing game. They play for a few minutes, and realize she’s omnipotent, controlling the uncontrollable world. She’s having fun controlling them, that’s for sure.
David continues to try to reason with Melanie. The maze’s minotaur appears, using a doggie wheelchair. It’s the same minotaur that we’ve seen at least once before, when Melanie was stoned. Does the minotaur represent Melanie’s repressed, lost power?
David turns and walks away from the minotaur. He’s done messing around and grows a ball of power between his hands. The light goes dark, and Melanie flashes “Dead End” at the boys. David gets even more serious. He types:
Once upon a time
there was a girl
with no dreams
she lived in
the right now
then she met a boy
and his dream
except what he
didn’t realize was
she already had a dream
and that dream
Melanie appears in front of them and tells David to get them out of the maze. The cow is there when they return to the lab. David receives another letter, R. He insists they split up now, since he implanted something in Melanie and Ptonomy’s brains so that they’re immune to the Catalyst. David and Cary will look for Syd, while Melanie and Ptonomy look for Fukuyama. Cary is concerned about leaving the cow alone in the lab, and instructs it to leave his stuff alone.
Out in the hall, David hears a high-pitched whine and receives another letter “R” from Syd, who seems to be getting swallowed up by something. Then he’s thrown up against the wall and abducted by child soldiers in hazmat suits who are still marching to the beat of the Mi-Go monk.
Cary was a distance away from David, and couldn’t tell what happened in the dark. He wanders on, looking for David.
The monk has David brought to the Catalyst room, where the teeth chattering sound is deafening. David is in a trance, but isn’t chattering his teeth. The monk shows David a vision. In the vision, David becomes the monk.
Farouk’s body pounded on his container rhythmically, day and night, nonstop. The monks couldn’t sleep, study or meditate. They began to show symptoms of madness, then they became severely depressed, then some became suicidal. Some developed the teeth chattering associated with the Catalyst. The Division 3 monk is shown with a limp arm, as if it doesn’t belong to his body any more, like Albert A’s leg in episode 1. The fertile land that surrounded the monastery has become a desert. The monastery has fallen, with all of the monks succumbing to one form of madness or another, except this one monk, who finally leaves by himself.
Cary finds Kerry, frozen with the Catalyst. It’s too much for him. He tries to go back inside her, but can’t. He says I’m sorry, leans his forehead against hers, and slowly fades into invisibility.
What just happened? Was that a power David shared with him as part of making him immune to the Catalyst? Is it something they could always do but we’ve never been shown? He touched the cow, who also fades in and out of visibility. Is this a different form of contagion? Was he hiding from the child soldiers, who run by a moment later?
Melanie and Ptonomy find Fukuyama in his usual lair, surrounded by fallen Vermillions (Vermillii?). He’s attached to the monk by cables, stretching from Fukuyama’s head up to the monk’s head. The monk is crouched up in a corner of the ceiling behind Fukuyama, as if he’s a spider. They are exchanging information, and the Vermillions speak for both of them, making everything very confusing.
Vermillion 1 (the monk): We want the weapon.
Ptonomy: What weapon?
V1 (the monk): To kill the monster. They did not tell us he was a monster, and we took him in. To Division 3, they told us. If there is a problem, go there. They will have the weapon.
Vermillion 2 (Fukuyama groans first): Will have, do not have. A weapon was planned, but never built. The body was buried. Then a new crisis, and another. Over time, we forgot.
V1 (the monk): Do not believe. Where is the weapon?
Ptonomy: Where is the body?
V1 (the monk): No. We do not share. He’s out there as well, looking for it, the Shadow King. He must not find it. The end of everything.
Melanie: David. He’s the weapon.
V1 (the monk): The king is too powerful. His body will not drown. Does not burn.
Melanie: David can do it.
David: Do what?
Melanie: Destroy the Shadow King.
V1 (the monk): No. We do not want his help. He cannot be trusted. He works…
Davids teleports himself and the monk to the roof. He tells the monk to stop making people sick. The monk says that people don’t matter, only the body matters. He’s seen into David’s mind. He knows David is helping Farouk.
David has the vision of the last letter from FutureSyd, Y, then she drops away. The whole word flashes, HURRY.
David tries to convince the monk to tell him where the body is.
David: I’m having a really hard time finding the landmarks here. Minds separated from bodies, and minotaurs in mazes. You got a girlfriend? Yeah, I got one. Well, I got two actually. Just one, but in two time periods, which raises the question, is it just one, huh? People change, right? We change. So maybe she’s different now. In the future. The point is, I love her. Them. And more importantly, I trust her. And she told me things happen in the future. Bad things. So I have to, I have to help. It’s complicated. Look, just tell me where it is. The monastery- it was a valley, now it’s a desert. That much I know.
Monk: Destroy it.
David: I will.
Monk: No, you won’t.
David: I promise. Just tell me where it is. I won’t let anything bad happen.
Monk: It already has.
He backs up and throws himself off the roof.
David sees Syd off to the side on the roof, in her own maze, teeth chattering. He rushes over and follows her into her maze. There’s a terrible blizzard in Syd’s mind.
The giant fingers were pointing at David again for part of the time that he was talking to the monk. When he went over to Syd, the two hands in the frame pointed away from both David and Syd. ⇐👫⇒ I don’t know what it means, but I doubt it’s good, combined with the blizzard and FutureSyd’s message. NowSyd is in a bad place. Now David’s there, too.
In addition to trust and the nature of reality, omnipotence/control is a big theme this season. All of the telepaths are working with the idea of omnipotence, plus Melanie. Fukuyama was omnipotent in Division 3 last episode, and shared that knowledge with the monk this week, making the monk omnipotent, too. Melanie made herself omnipotent in her psychic space, and didn’t want to give it up. Since there was almost no green left in Division 3, and everything was orange instead, I think she’s now in charge of day to day, administrative operations, and has her relative omnipotence back.
Why didn’t the monks leave the monastery if the sound was driving them mad? Or soundproof the floor? That pounding was the same sound that we heard in the background the first time we saw FutureSyd. How is Farouk’s body able to operate without him in it? Is he controlling it from a distance, or is there a residual consciousness?
Let’s note that David and Oliver are both still alive. Farouk hasn’t killed his hosts, although it’s worrying that we haven’t seen Oliver in two episodes. But Fukuyama, leader of the supposed good guys, doesn’t care about preserving Farouk’s hosts. He wants to kill Farouk by any means necessary.
The monk and David saw inside each other’s minds. The monk was also hooked up to Fukuyama’s mind directly. Did they have a full information exchange? Does Fukuyama know where Farouk’s body is, and have some idea of how it could be destroyed? The monk killed himself, but maybe it was okay for him to succumb to his madness and die because he’d passed on his knowledge to Fukuyama and the Vermillions, who have machine brains and theoretically can’t be influenced or driven mad by Farouk or his body, or the Mi-Go monks’ contagious madness.
David also made Melanie and Ptonomy immune to the madness, and will probably make the rest of the Summerland crew immune. We’re possibly back to Summerland vs Division 3 again. Melanie will side with David because Fukuyama wants to kill Oliver. The Carries have never liked or trusted Fukuyama. Ptonomy and Clark are the wild cards. Ptonomy is very drawn to the order and soothing nature of the machine state, despite his loyalty to Summerland. Clark seems to be an unwilling pawn for Fukuyama and hate Summerland, or at least David, for his disfigurement. We only saw Clark for a few moments in this episode, and don’t know if he caught the Catalyst.
What was with the cow? There have been a lot of animals these last three episodes: the cow, the pig, the tick, the jellyfish in the future, the squid or octopus on the most wanted list, the butterfly in the parable, the bejeweled elephant, the cat, the dead bird. I think they might be there to remind us that we are animals too and can’t actually separate our bodies and minds, or go live completely in our minds. Every parable has had something to do with bad things happening when the body and mind stop making sense together. Reality is based on the mind accurately perceiving the world, whether it’s the chemical/metaphysical world of our bodies or the physical world of Space/Time. Or it could mean something completely different. 🤷🏻♀️
Ptonomy’s garden greenery may have served the same function- to remind him to stay grounded in reality, with or without memories. Or it may mean he’s still controlled by Fukuyama.
Farouk and Lenny live in their own realm, Farouk’s latest kingdom, with its mixed blessings. I think Farouk has been lonely for many years, while he was exiled in the mind of a child and then a mad man, and is very much enjoying having grown up, sane David as a near equal to spar with. He said that David would lose FutureSyd if he changes the future. Farouk will also lose David when his body is found or when David kills him. Extending the race to find his body and the enjoyment of toying with David, so that he can see David’s reactions, is in Farouk’s best interests for the moment. This way, he learns more about David, has a chance to win David over, and amuses himself all at once.
Keeping Lenny nearby both distracts David and draws him in. It forces David to make choices about Farouk that he doesn’t want to make right now. Does he try to save Lenny, and possibly anger Farouk, which might jeopardize the future? Or does he continue to ignore his old friend Lenny, who is trapped and miserable, just like David was, forcing David to push his humanity down in order to put the bigger picture first? That’s the type of response that makes sense at the time, but can eventually turn a character into a cold-hearted villain, who’s lost access to their compassion and humanity.
Is it Fukuyama or Fukyama? The closed captions and Wiki say Fukyama, but everyone else says Fukuyama. Fukuyama is a Japanese name I’ve seen before, whereas I’ve never seen Fukyama. Which is the correct reality??!!
*Fun Fact: Nocebo is Latin and means “I shall harm,” while placebo means “I shall please.” Danger, Will Robinson. Don’t eat or drink anything anyone gives you. Beware of ideas that are not your own and outdated medical information.
**ETA: I didn’t have time to write more about the racism and misogyny involved in these diagnoses of mass hysteria before I published this recap, but I want to add a little (or a lot) now.
The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic took place in 1962, in a Christian girls school, in a small town in Tanzania, Africa. The epidemic lasted somewhere between 6 and 18 months, started in the school, and spread to the community and then to other schools and communities in the region.
Almost no records were kept of the incident at the time, so it’s grown to become a legend, with only a few facts that can be verified for sure. No one studied the epidemic as it happened, and only one article was published describing the phenomenon as it was happening. All studies are based on later reports.
It is physiologically impossible to laugh for more than a period of seconds at a time. The victims weren’t laughing continuously. In addition to laughter, other symptoms were reported equally as often among the victims, but have seldom been mentioned since, and when they are, they’re dismissed as stress related symptoms as well. Symptoms such as: “pain, fainting, flatulence, respiratory problems, rashes, attacks of crying, and random screaming.”
How do you prove your illness is real to someone who insists that you’re faking? That every symptom, even when it has obvious physical manifestations, is being created by your supposedly weak mind, instead of an illness that you need medical treatment for? There is no way to win this game. Literally every sign of illness can be described away as being caused by the mind overcoming the body when the diagnostician is biased and has already made up their mind about the patient and the illness.
Buried deep in the literature about this event are a few scientists who believe the girls’ symptoms were real:
American neurologists Hanna Damasio and Antonio Damasio suggest that abnormal laughter occurs when structures in the basal part of the brain are damaged. Based on this model, they suggest that a viral infection, probably some kind of encephalitis in the basal part of the brain, provoked the 1962 epidemic.
Silvia Cardoso is a behavioral biologist at State University of Campinas in Brazil…Unlike most of her colleagues, who favor the sociogenic illness theory, Cardoso believes Endwara Yokusheka can be traced back to viral infection…“I find it improbable that a purely psychological mass reaction would last so long and be so widespread,” she said.
Hindu Milk Miracle:
The statues of Ganesh absorbed the milk. That wasn’t an illusion. It was deeply meaningful to Hindus. Where is the hysteria?
If we’re going to start calling people’s religious experiences mass hysteria, few individuals or cultures can afford to throw stones. Perhaps something legitimately silly like a grilled cheese sandwich with the face of Jesus who fixes high school football games would have been a better example.
I really wanted to address the fact that the women and the black man from the main cast succumbed to the Catalyst this week, while the white men became the saviors who spent the episode rescuing them, but I thought I’d already ranted enough for one recap that hardly anyone reads. The Catalyst began with what appear to be Asian monks, spread through the women and people of color, and spared the white men, just like a good mass hysteria should.
Images courtesy of FX.