Legion Season 2 Episode 4: Chapter 12 Recap

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In Chapter 12, David watches the story of Syd’s life, over and over, trying to discern the message she wants him to get from her past. It takes him a long time to see anything but the woman he loves, and her story’s similarities to his own. The story has layers within layers, and moments of shame, just like David’s. Syd ultimately brings it around to a larger meaning and purpose for them both, but by the end, we still haven’t gotten her entire story, and the characters haven’t necessarily figured out all of its implications for the present and future.

The episode begins with Syd riding out her blizzard in an igloo, warming her hands in front of a cold paper fire and wearing lacy black lingerie. It’s probably the most skin we’ve ever seen her show, outside of sex. She hears something, and crawls down the long, tunnel-like entrance to the igloo, which turns out to be the birth canal. She’s being born. The scene shifts to the delivery room, with Baby Syd placed on her mother’s chest.

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Little Syd grows up with a single mother, who realizes when Syd is a baby in her crib that Syd doesn’t like to be touched. She makes accomodations for Syd, like cuddling with a pillow between them, and getting Syd a goldfish- a non-touching pet. Syd is a content little girl.

As a teenager, Syd reads on the couch while her mother corrects papers nearby. The book she’s reading is The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven by Rick Moody. Syd is wearing her black gloves, but she and her mother look at each other and smile.

Syd and Joan go to a museum exhibit of paintings by Egon Schiele. Syd is distracted by the couple making out on a bench in the middle of the room. Syd practices kissing herself in a mirror afterward.

Joan has a gathering where she reads an essay aloud. While Joan is reading, Syd tries on the guest’s outerwear that’s been tossed on her bed. She playacts being each person. It’s a way to try being them without having to switch bodies.

Syd is wearing a lightweight, short-sleeved dress with gloves. So far, we’ve seen her in gloves, but otherwise not taking any other precautions to keep people from touching her.

Syd wanders out into the main living area, where Joan is still reading:

“Afterward, some are strong at the broken places. The word survivor used to mean “one who has survived”. But now, modern psychiatry would have us believe survival is a curse, like Sisyphus with his rock. And so, everyday we wake to survive again.”

One of the guests puts a hand on Syd’s shoulder as she walks by and Syd screams a little, startled. Everyone turns and stares. Joan asks what happened in a firm tone of voice. Syd yells, “Leave me alone!” and runs back to her room.

Syd’s time of innocence is over. She transforms herself into a punk, with a leather jacket, torn Tshirt, chains, and heavy makeup. The gloves come off. Then she goes to a dance club and puts herself in the thick of it, bumping into people all around her. Her face blurs and contorts.

Later, she’s still in the same outfit, but strapped down, unconscious, in an institutional room with her mother sitting next to her. The gloves are still off. End of Round 1.

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Round 2 begins with young Syd watching the couple making out in the museum exhibit. She turns into adult Syd, and the couple disappears. David walks in and says, “So this is your core desire.” Syd doesn’t recognize him, or pretends she doesn’t. They banter for a minute, with Syd treating David like a stalker. David doesn’t like the paintings, but thinks Syd must. She says he doesn’t know anything. “You think ghosts like living in a haunted house? Watch it again!”

David is in the delivery room this time. It seems like baby Syd can sense him for a moment. He sees how hard it was for Joan to accept that her baby didn’t want to be touched.

In elementary school, there’s a group of girls who regularly bully Syd. They have a chant they sing at her:

“Poor lost elf, keeps to herself, lives with her mom, cause her dad’s in hell.”

Teenage Syd is reading a tragic book, and the smiles between her and her mother are a brief respite from their tension.

Punk Syd is still being taunted, years later, by the same three girls. She draws slashes on her wrist to mark the insults. One of the jocks at school tries to push her into kissing him, but she refuses, and her bullies laugh at her. Syd has had enough, and decides to kiss him after all. Once they’ve switched bodies, she uses the boy’s body and lacrosse stick to beat up the bullies. When their bodies switch back, Syd tells the principal that the jock started hitting the girls for no reason, then smiles to herself as he’s dragged away.

David watches from the other side of a fence.

From her reaction, it looked as though that could be her first time switching. End of Round 2.

Back to museum and Syd staring at the couple, who are really going at it, while they are surrounded by these poignant, enduring, omnipotent depictions of pain and suffering. David pops back in and says he gets it now. Syd pretends not to recognize him again, and David paternalistically explains about the maze, and that she’s motivated to stay there for the couple. He thinks she wants what they have. He thinks he’s there to save her.

Syd says, “Wrong. Watch it again.” Then she walks away.

Back he goes, over and over, trying to watch more closely, picking up a few more details, like Syd cutting herself and cutting the people out of photos. A cover of Cream’s White Room made by Noah Hawley and Jeff Russo plays over the montage:

David gets so frustrated with his lack of insight that he tries to talk to little girl Syd after chasing her bullies away. She proves that, not only are they no longer in the maze, but Syd knows it and is consciously directing everything. She tells David that talking to her is cheating. He needs to figure this out for himself. Once again, she tells him to watch it again, and walks out.

Out in the “real” world, Kerry wakes up from standing frozen in the Division 3 hallway. The orange emergency lights are still flashing. As she pulls Cary out of her like she’s giving birth to him, Clark rushes by and white lights come on. Cary has to call to Clark several times to get his attention.

Clark stops and explains that everyone appears to have woken up when the monk died after falling off the roof, including all 300 of the stored Catalyst sufferers, who now all want to use the bathroom at the same time. They’ve figured out that the monk caused the plague, but not much else.

The Carries find David and Syd still frozen on the roof, then move them down to the lab. Cary’s tests show that they are awake, even though they seem unconscious.

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David looks at the paintings again and decides that Syd is using the loop of her life as a test of his love. He thinks that she thinks that he won’t love her any more once he knows what she’s really like. He reassures her that he still loves her, especially since he’s lived the same kind of life she has. Syd is touched by his speech, but she still unceremoniously dismisses him. It not always directly about you, David.

Round and round the loop David goes. Little girl Syd starts getting a little bored with the whole thing. David tells her he’ll never give up. Joan reads the words from her party again:

“Afterward, some are strong at the broken places. The word survivor used to mean “one who has survived”. But now, modern psychiatry would have us believe survival is a curse, like Sisyphus with his rock. And so, everyday we wake to survive again.”

David finally watches with his eyes open to what Syd is showing him, instead of looking through the rose-tinted glasses of what he wants to see.

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Syd goes out to the club, then comes home and goes to bed, but can’t sleep. She’s boiling over with emotion the entire time. When she gets out of bed in the middle of the night, Joan is asleep on the couch and her boyfriend is in the shower. Syd touches Joan to switch bodies with her, then, as Joan, she joins the boyfriend in the shower. They have sex.

Joan wakes up and breaks the spell, leaving Syd fully dressed in the shower with the boyfriend. Joan finds them and blames the boyfriend, since Syd is only 15, even though he protests that he didn’t do anything. He’s dragged out by the police, while Syd sits with a small smile on her face.

This time, David meets Syd back in the igloo instead of the museum. He thinks he’s got it this time. It’s about being broken, but stronger at the broken places. They’re both damaged because of their difficult lives, but they’ve emerged better because of it. David says it was like a fairytale love when he met her, but Syd disagrees. Syd thinks that love is like a hot bath that eventually makes things soft and weak.

David says that he read the book that she was reading as a tenager, about addicts and sex clubs. He couldn’t figure out why she was into it, until he read:

“Junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything are the ring of brightest angels around heaven.”

Syd: It’s a war, baby, this life. The things we endure. You said you saw the future, and it’s an apocalypse. Who survives that? The lovers or the fighters? They sell us this lie that love’s gonna save us. All it does is make us stupid and weak.

David: Thanks.

Syd: Look at me. Love- isn’t gonna save us. It’s what we have to save. Pain makes us strong enough to do it. All our scars, our anger, our despair- It’s armor. Baby, God loves the sinners best ’cause our fire burns bright, bright, bright…Burn with me.

He looks at her like she’s the best thing he’s ever seen and nods his head yes. She nods back, then wipes the scene away with her hand, leaving them in whitespace. She says she’s ready to go back to the “real” world. They wake up in the lab and look into each other’s eyes for a moment.

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Soldiers run down the hall outside the lab. The opening credits start. David and Syd run out into the hall and discover that the soldiers have a newly embodied Lenny. She says, “I’m back,” like the poltergeist she is. The opening title card pops up, and the end credits start, while Jeff Russo and Noah Hawley’s cover of Burning Down the House by the Talking Heads plays.


 

This episode’s director, Ellen Kuras, was the cinematographer on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another exploration of memory. This is the third of three (out of  eleven) episodes directed by women this season. All season 2 episodes are written by Noah Hawley, usually with a male cowriter. Season 1’s eight episodes included two directed by women and one written by a woman. This is tokenism more than female representation, when you consider that they’ve hired 6 female writers or directors for a minimum of 38 slots (16%), and women make up more than 50% of the population.

I’m going to let the onscreen misogynist aspects of the episode and season go, for now. There are so many layers and twists that I can’t decide if the showrunners and writers think the worst thing a woman can do is betray a man, or if they are ultimately using Melanie, Syd and Kerry to show things about the way women are socialized and used in this culture. This season, all three embodied women are being shown as extensions of their men, and are lost without them. Lenny is flat out dependent on Farouk for any form of life, and begged to be given a body so that she could be in the world independent of him.

While David was missing, Syd turned herself into a pet that represents loneliness, for heaven’s sake. There’s some not so deep symbolism there. Even when the cat was functioning as a spy, she was talking to David the whole time.

So, I don’t know if the overdependence on men we’re seeing in the female characters this season is commentary, or the way the showrunners think women are/should be. In this episode, Syd thinks she’s a sinner who deserves to burn for using the body of her sexual harasser to get revenge on her bullies, and making sure the harasser got the blame. That looked to me like the only form of justice she was ever going to get. To me, it lives in the moral grey area of justifiable fictional avenging, since the system failed her.

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She also thinks she’s evil for having sex with her mother’s boyfriend while in her mother’s body, getting caught when their bodies switched back, and then not telling the truth right away. But in the first loop through the story, we see Syd strapped to an institutional bed that same night, with her mother sitting next to her. That suggests that she did tell the truth before long, and her mother thought she was delusional. So, she was punished for her crime. Her sin was wanting the sex, but the boyfriend had winked at her earlier, expressing his interest in her. From Syd’s point of view, how else could she have sex? She’d normally switch bodies with any partner and her power would be exposed.

What she did wasn’t right or good, but it was understandable. As David tried to tell her, it’s the kind of thing that mutants who are left to their own devices end up doing all the time, because they have so few choices. It’s another grey area. The culture failed her, and she understandably worked with the options she saw open to her.  She shouldn’t be required her to hate herself forever over it.

The more interesting aspect is that she hasn’t come to terms with either incident, and thinks that both make her a bad person, while David is fine with himself, even though he committed worse sins. After the monk dies, instead of being freed from her maze like everyone else, she mentally imprisons herself alone in a frozen house with a cold paper fire, not because she wants to be so completely alone, but because she thinks she doesn’t deserve warmth and she can’t be trusted around other people. We saw, repeatedly, how much she loved her mother, and wanted her mother near, in ways very much like her relationship with David.

Her mother appears to have been her whole world until Syd’s betrayal broke their relationship. Joan intuitively understood Syd’s needs and was patient with her. She accepted Syd the way she was when Syd was a little girl. Syd’s relationship with Melanie mirrors her early relationship with her mother, and the two became partners in a way Syd must have wanted for her mother-daughter relationship. But that friendship has deteriorated as Melanie has grown depressed and cynical. This time, it’s the mother figure who’s become emo and the daughter who understands survival.

What happened to Syd’s relationship with her mother after the incident with the boyfriend? Joan was played by Lily Rabe, an actress known for American Horror Story, who doesn’t usually play sweet, uncomplicated women. Maybe Syd hasn’t forgiven herself because the use of her powers led to the loss of her mother, but she couldn’t bring herself to show that to David yet.

What she showed us about her life was far from complete. Last season it took several episodes to figure out the truth of David’s story, and there are still bits that he’s seeing in new ways. There could be major revelations about Syd still to come.

Watching her switch places with her enemy, you can see how anyone who knows about her ability can turn the tables on her by touching her, then using her body for whatever they want, the way David was able to escape from the asylum because he was in her body at the time. Future Syd may not be Syd at all. I knew it was ironic that Syd kept saying “Do you trust me?” and “Don’t you trust me?” to David. He can trust Syd, but he can’t trust Syd to actually be Syd.

The show deserves some credit for trying to make a mother-daughter bond important, but they still made the important events revolve around men. Couldn’t Syd and Joan have had a falling out over something other than fighting over a man? Surely their relationship was about more than just Joan’s boyfriends, and had other areas of conflict. It’s as if Noah Hawley can’t imagine women having lives, thoughts and emotions of their own that have nothing to do with men.

 

 

 

 

 

Images courtesy of FX/Marvel.

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