Any time a movie or show has a character live the same experience over and over, it’s invariably compared to the movie Groundhog Day. After all, it’s usually about helping an arsehole learn the error(s) of their ways. But Legion’s journey into Sydney Barrett’s (Rachel Keller) subconscious isn’t about helping David (Dan Stevens) be a better person. Rather, she wants him to understand how even the most horrible things they done in the past have value, because they have made them both stronger.
“Chapter 12” isn’t so much an episode as it is a prologue– literally, the title card doesn’t come in until the very end. That’s why the episode ends up feeling surprisingly small, but still complex and full of hidden depths (it is Legion, after all). David has ventured into Syd’s subconscious to free her from the Catalyst. At first, Syd plays along, pretending she doesn’t recognise him as he struggles to figure out what will free her from her mind maze. But as time goes on, we learn the Catalyst ended the moment the Mi-Go Order monk killed himself – yet Syd has not released David from her mind. She has something she needs him to learn.
Syd’s mum finds ways to cope with her aversion to touch.Image: FX
Over the course of the episode, David sees and experiences key moments of Syd’s life. The stories and situations always change, giving David insight into his girlfriend’s past, but they always start with her birth as she emerges from an igloo through a metaphorical birth canal. From the moment she’s laid on her mother’s breast, we see her abilities manifest. While it’s unclear whether she switches bodies with her mother in those first moments — though it sure looks like she did — what is clear is there’s something unique about her. She really does not like to be touched.
David struggles to figure out what Syd is trying to tell him. We see things like young Syd (clad in black gloves) and her mother sharing a smile from across the room, or Syd switching bodies with a boy and using him to beat the shit out of her bullies. Her life is a complex web of isolation, loneliness, and a fascination with connection. But David doesn’t seem to get it. At first, he thinks she yearns for contact, either through a mother’s embrace or a cute boy’s kiss, then he thinks she’s trying to show him her mistakes because then he won’t love her anymore. He’s wrong. Every time he comes to her at the museum with an answer, she tells him to dust himself off and try again.
Teenage Syd turns to punk as a form of rebellion.
Eventually, David sees an event that puts the pieces together. Syd, brimming with teenage hormones and a yearning to experience human contact, switches bodies with her mother so she can fuck her boyfriend. Her mother, unable to grasp what her daughter can do (partially because they’re so disconnected), understandably blames her boyfriend and he ends up getting arrested. Syd did a truly awful thing, an unforgivable act that destroyed a man’s life. But Syd doesn’t see it as a weakness, necessarily. This, along with all the other things she’s done in her life, is a source of strength. These things are what made her who she is. That’s the lesson she wants David to learn: Every one of their mistakes and misdeeds serves a purpose in their lives, because they have prepared them for what’s to come. In order to save the world, they can’t depend on love. They need to depend on themselves, sins and all.
This episode has come with a bit of criticism, and it’s understandable. Syd’s takeaway is very nihilistic and selfish. She’s choosing not to care about how her actions have affected others – instead focusing on how they shaped her, even when her deeds have been at the expense of those around her. Plus, having Syd as the life-hardened teacher telling David love won’t keep them together feels a bit out of character, even though they were separated for a year.
I feel like both of these are strong moral concerns, but not necessarily good story concerns. Legion isn’t about characters who are learning to take the moral high ground. It’s about flawed people struggling to figure out whether the flawed things they do are (or can be) for a greater good. It’s not exactly a good lesson – it’s not the ending of Groundhog Day, that’s for sure — but it’s probably the one our heroes need.
A surprise visit from Lenny (Aubrey Plaza).Image: FX
- While I do understand why some viewers are confused by Syd’s behaviour in the episode, keeping David in her mind to teach him these lessons, I feel it actually works with her character. We’ve seen how she feels emboldened in the astral plane, since she can do things there that she can’t in the real world (like make love with David). It would make sense that she’d be able to tell him things in her mind that she couldn’t articulate in the real world, given her history of isolating herself from others.
- “What happens when you leave something in a bath for too long? They get soft. Fall apart.” Best quote of the episode.
- The artist featured in Syd’s museum is Egon Schiele, an Austrian painter who was an early example of Expressionism. His paintings are known for exploring raw sexuality and distortion of the human figure, including in his many self-portraits. Sadly, his life came with a lot of hardships.
- The end of the episode saw the arrival of Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) in handcuffs. This ending flabbergasted me, and I’m psyched to learn what the hell is going on there.