Syd shows David a life's worth of pain to teach him about love.

By Evan Lewis
April 24, 2018 at 11:01 PM EDT
Suzanne Tenner/FX
S2 E4
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Chapter 12 of Legion finds David trapped in a maze, but not the maze. It’s a Sisyphean curse in which his boulder is his lover’s entire life, and the struggle of the repetition is the point, not a punishment. As a deep character dive on Syd, who often tends to feel aloof and underdeveloped, this episode is a welcome change of pace, and it brings the scale of the stakes from global catastrophe to personal development in a way the season has desperately needed. Season 1 focused almost exclusively on David finding himself, but season 2 has so far been short on meaningful character moments. Chapter 12 remedies this by focusing on Syd’s worldview and David’s understanding of it.

A Kerry and Cary scene partway through the episode reveals the immediate aftermath of the Mi-Go monk’s plunge from the skyscraper at the end of Chapter 11. Kerry, with a little more effort than usual, is able to separate Cary from herself, and the two immediately see Clark rushing down the hallway. According to Clark, when the monk died, everyone who had been infected with the chattering ailment woke up, creating “300 angry people who all need to use the bathroom at the same time.” The only two people who didn’t wake up when the monk died were David and Syd, but they’re not trapped in the monk’s mental plague. The cycle David needs to navigate to reawaken his true love is one of Syd’s own making.

Picking up where the last episode left off, Chapter 12 opens in the tundra of Syd’s mind. From the igloo of her mother’s womb, a fully formed adult Syd crawls toward the sounds of a hospital delivery room to be born into the world as a baby. What follows is an accounting of Syd’s life in the style of the montage of David’s past that ran at the start of the series’ pilot.

This first pass through Syd’s memories — set to Bon Iver’s “22 (Over Soon),” the first in a series of excellent soundtrack choices —  reveals the loneliness of her childhood. From the time when she’s a baby, Syd avoids her mother’s touch. When she’s older, she passes the time with her academic mom by visiting an art museum and reading books like The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven.

What really seems to catch her attention at the museum, more than the art on the walls, is a couple sharing a romantic moment on one of the museum benches. She approaches the oblivious couple and gazes at them as though they’re one of the exhibits: something separate from her experience that she can witness but never approach or touch.

Later in life, Syd plays dress-up with guests’ coats as they listen to her mother read a passage from a paper she’s written. Syd, who has previously used her bedroom mirror to pretend she’s holding hands with someone or sharing a kiss, tries on the clothes of her mother’s academic peers to pretend she’s someone else.

When Syd goes out to join the crowd in the living room, her mother is reading a passage about the perception of survival as both a tempering agent that can make people stronger and a curse that must be relived daily. One of her mother’s friends bumps into Syd, causing her to panic and pointing her down a darker, more rebellious path for her teenage years. Dressed in punk attire, she goes out to a grimy club to swap bodies with as many people as she can in a rowdy mosh pit. The next thing David sees is Syd restrained in a hospital bed.

Back at the art museum, which serves as the central hub of the Syd-memory experience, David approaches an adult Syd who is admiring a painting. David still thinks he’s in the monk’s maze and is looking for Syd’s true desire, as he did with Ptonomy and Melanie. He doesn’t know yet that Syd has created this setup to teach him something else. David makes his first guess at the meaning of the maze, postulating that Syd’s desire is for a place like the museum where she can be part of the world without touching it. Syd’s rebuke to this guess is harsh and poignant.

“You don’t know anything,” she says. “You think ghosts like living in a haunted house?”

With that, everything starts over from Syd’s frosty birth. In this second loop, David is present in the delivery room when Syd is born and meets her as a baby in what feels like a callback to the episode in season 1 in which Syd met a mental projection of a young David. The second pass focuses much more on Syd’s school years, with vignettes of taunting by a trio of mean girls and a violent encounter with a sexually aggressive boy.

The boy corners a teenage Syd and demands a kiss. When Syd refuses, the boy shoves her into a chain link fence while the three girls look on and giggle. As the boy turns to leave, Syd gives him the kiss he wanted, swaps bodies with him, and uses his body to beat the onlookers with a lacrosse stick. By the time she and the boy switch back, the three other girls are on the ground, and school security has come to take the boy away.

David’s guess at the end of this cycle is that Syd’s true desire is to be like the couple in the museum, but that’s still not the answer Syd is looking for. Another cycle passes and shows some of the darker aspects of Syd’s young life, like the times she would use dull scissors to cut herself. David still isn’t able to figure out the meaning of it all.

In his fourth cycle through Syd’s life, David finally learns that he’s no longer in the monk’s maze. When he gets to Syd’s school years, he chases off her tormentors to ask her what’s wrong. Schoolyard Syd responds that it’s cheating to ask her about the problem directly. The whole point, she says, is for him to figure it out on his own.

After the fifth cycle, David uses his time in the museum hub to profess his unflagging, unconditional love for her. He says that nothing she shows him will scare him away, which is a sentiment that Syd has expressed to David when he’s been going through some mental trauma in previous episodes. But still, this isn’t the idea she wants to get across.

David, determined not to give up on Syd, returns to the igloo to start again. In this sixth and final cycle, David sees a scenario Syd had mentioned back in season 1. One night, she wakes up to find her mother passed out on the couch and her mother’s male caller in the shower. She takes her mother’s body and goes to the bathroom to get in the shower with the man. She’s enthralled by her ability to touch someone, but she seems surprised when he moves in closer to initiate sex. Even though he doesn’t know he’s doing anything wrong, there’s a feeling of violence to the act. The body swap doesn’t last long enough and Syd and her mother switch places. The man is now in the shower with a 15-year-old girl, and he can’t explain why. Syd’s mother, furious, calls the police, and the man is taken away in cuffs.

Seeing this, David finally realizes what Syd has been trying to tell him. Everything Syd has been through — her isolation, her mistakes, her misdeeds — has made her stronger. David quotes the old Hemingway adage that “the world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” David loves Syd, but love alone will not be enough to face the coming danger. Syd is preparing David for war by finding the divinity in their sordid pasts. David quotes a passage from the book he saw Syd read: “Junkies and masochists and hookers, and those who have squandered everything, are the ring of brightest angels around heaven.” If Farouk wants David to view himself as an infallible god, Syd wants him to embrace the strength of imperfection to become a guardian angel.

“Love isn’t gonna save us,” Syd explains. “It’s what we have to save.”

Whether a fight to save and protect love is some sort of commentary on the modern political climate is up for interpretation, but the impulse to wear anger, despair and failure as armor to fight for what’s right certainly resonates.

Once she’s explained all that to David, Syd is finally ready to return to reality. When David and Syd wake up, they find themselves alone, because everyone else has gone to take Lenny into Division 3 custody.

Whether Syd’s view on love comes across as pragmatic or pessimistic, this episode gives the series’ best look so far into how the character thinks. As a result, Chapter 12 is the first of the season that feels like it really has something to say. With callbacks to the structure of the pilot and the “FX presents” tag pushed to the end, this feels like where season 2 begins in earnest. The exposition seems to finally be exposed, and the cliffhanger of Lenny’s arrival at D3 sets up some solid momentum for Chapter 13.

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  • 02/08/17
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