Mirror, mirror. Through the looking glass. Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.
Mirrors are uncanny places. They contain our phantom selves, and even their truths are backwards. A glance in the mirror is a dance with your doppelganger, an alternate self who is and is not you. Mirrors reassure, amuse, confront, and mislead us.
Last week, as his past revealed itself to his present, as his friends picked their way through a maze of reflections and echoes, David stepped through the looking glass. He returned unalone, a mirror image of his former self. His is the first reversal of many, and by the end, everyone from Summerland to D3 to Amy find themselves on the far side of the looking glass.
David’s 180 started at the end of Chapter 4, when he teleported out of the astral plane and into his friends’ escape from Dr. Poole’s lighthouse. His ambivalence about the cost of his arrival – Kerry took a bullet from The Eye in the ensuing confusion – is tempered by exhilaration at this taste of power. The first thing he does after they return Kerry to Summerland for treatment is create a room where he and Syd can be together. Having grasped that he can transmit signals directly into people’s brains, David has created a personal Matrix that allows him to deliver…sensory stimuli…directly to Syd’s brain without physical contact. This is equal parts cool and terrifying, but Syd makes the totally understandable decision to roll with it. Unfortunately, she also decides to forego sharing the results of their investigation of Philly and Dr. Poole, and David’s subsequent decisions are made without knowledge of his excised and manipulated memories.
While Cary tends to his wounded counterpart, David and Syd announce to Melanie that they’re going to D3 to retrieve Amy. Melanie objects that such a mission would require thorough reconnaissance and a fully prepped team. She also warns him against habitually creating new worlds for his own amusement, citing her husband’s fate, and David takes this opportunity to change the subject. In another of Chapter 5’s inversions, Melanie is discomposed by the hope of finally retrieving Oliver from his two-decade exile. Meanwhile, David’s nervous stutter has been displaced by a cocky conviction – D3 will be no match for him – which slides into predatory cruelty as he probes at Melanie’s loss. David offers to take her to the astral plane, but perhaps sensing a trap, Melanie musters enough composure to answer that she just wants Oliver back.
There is something new behind David’s eyes, something avid and hungry and heartless, and Melanie seems to be the only one who can see it. Cary is too preoccupied with patching up Kerry to notice much of anything else, and Ptonomy – who gets one good moment but is otherwise woefully underused in this episode – doesn’t budge from his initial distrust of David. Syd notices a change but has opted to consider it a net improvement. In fact, David’s mini-Matrix seems to have some residual effect on her, who is suddenly taking every opportunity to throw Dr. Bird her best mean girl stare. It’s almost as though the parasitic corruption in David’s mind has leached into her, temporarily draining her of compassion.
However, considering how little physical contact she gets to enjoy, it’s hard to blame her too much for her impatience to return to the white room with David before they leave for D3. David obliges, and in the post-Matrix-coital haze Syd tells him how she had sex for the first time, by hijacking her mother’s body and seducing her mother’s boyfriend. Hours later Syd awakes to hear David arguing with Lenny in the bathroom, but when she gets out of bed to investigate, the bathroom is empty. David has left for D3 without her.
Syd rushes to the war room where Melanie, Rudy, and Ptonomy are planning Amy’s rescue. Melanie’s face tightens as Syd delivers the news. They have to follow him. For the first time, we see Ptonomy openly question Melanie’s judgment and motives, but she’s right: If David fails and falls into D3’s hands, Summerland will be well and truly fucked. They have to go in blind and they have to do it now. Melanie takes one last opportunity to warn Syd about the possible implications of this suddenly un-fragile David. Be careful, she says, without rancor, just before they climb into the car.
David and Amy are long gone by the time they arrive, and the Summerland team’s operation goes from search and rescue to post-mortem. They split into two teams to sweep the ravaged complex. Rudy and Dr. Bird review surveillance footage of David’s one-man assault, and viewers get their first unvarnished glimpse of apparently boundless power unrestrained by moral considerations. Thanks to some kind of psychic camera, they also get their first (remembered) glimpse of The Devil with Yellow Eyes. While Rudy and Dr. Bird consider this apparition that is standing where David should be, Syd and Ptonomy find Brubaker embedded in the concrete floor of the interrogation room. His last breath is a croaked warning: “Be careful…it wears…a…human…face.” Too late Brubaker realized David would never have been D3’s to use or control: something else got there first. Something with access to David’s nearly limitless power. Something that is now wearing his face.
This is what Cary tries to tell them shortly afterward (via hologram communicator watch!). He reviewed footage of David’s MRI, which captured flashes of young David and the Devil with Yellow Eyes and may have included bonus auditory hallucinations. Cary tells Melanie that David is schizophrenic, in that his mind is under hostile occupation by a consciousness other than his own. This consciousness has been “riding” David for nearly his entire life, manipulating his memories to camouflage itself. While the rest of the Summerland team assimilates the implications of this revelation, David calls Syd into the white room. He seems suddenly subdued, more like the shaky and uncertain David of previous episodes. He plucks out Rainbow Connection on a banjo, pointing to the bathroom door with frightened and tearful eyes. Syd closes the door against the persistent gazes of King and The Angriest Boy and then follows David’s gaze to a telescope that shows his childhood home.
I know I say “poor Amy” at least once a recap, but still: Poor Amy. No sooner is she rescued from D3 than she’s enduring another interrogation from David. Confronted with a terrifying psychokinetic projection that is, by turns, Lenny, Benny, King, and The World’s Angriest Boy, Amy admits that he was adopted, and that she and their parents had feared telling him would only exacerbate the symptoms of what they assumed – or perhaps hoped – was a mental illness. Before they died, their parents did not disclose the identities of David’s biological parents or whether they knew who they were at all. David does not appear to take this news well, but comics fans are surely pleased by this hint at his biological parentage.
The Summerland team reaches David’s childhood home after nightfall, unaware that The Eye has followed them. A high-pitched noise (a weapon? A mutant power?) suddenly kills their ability to produce or hear sound, and they proceed into the house under an eerie silence. Recognizing the house from the terrifying events of Chapter 3, Syd lingers behind. Then the Angriest Boy runs past her and up the stairs, and Syd masters her fear enough to follow. Downstairs, Cary has caught up with Melanie and Ptonomy, bearing a headset that he hopes will disable the parasitic consciousness long enough for them to speak with David alone. Kerry’s here too, against Cary’s objections. Fully healed and brandishing a bat studded with nails, she leads the four of them upstairs. In the soundless chaos, Rudy’s whereabouts have gone unaccounted for, and “Rudy” (now The Eye in his switch-disguise) follows them.
Syd finds Amy catatonic in front of a mirror, trying and failing to rouse her before Lenny pounces. After a brief, sadistic display of her power over Syd and David, the rest of the Summerland group burst into the room. “Rudy” reverts to the Eye as he charges past them, plucking the tommy gun out of Ptonomy’s hands and firing. Syd leaps in front of David, who takes them back to the white room and confesses that he can’t overpower the thing that has taken over. The parasite emerges, cornering Syd, and David – seemingly paralyzed and utterly cowed – lets out a primal scream.
Syd pops back into consciousness at a Clockworks group therapy session. Somewhere, a ping pong ball is bouncing, its hollow, spherical FWOP the muffled rhythm of a clock underwater. She surveys the circle of fellow inmates: Rudy, Kerry, Cary, Melanie, Walter (The Eye), Ptonomy, an elderly man, and David. Everyone except Syd, David and the elderly man seem dazed and glazed over. Syd looks as though she might be remembering something, or forgetting it. A bespectacled Lenny holds a clipboard: Time to begin.
- “Who teaches you to be normal when you’re one of a kind?”
- “It’s all an illusion. I see that now. Why did I fight so hard?”
- “They made it sound like you were part of a team. With, like, a headquarters.”
- “Don’t kid yourself, old man. There’s always a fight.”
- “He’s not crazy. This is much, much wo—“
- “Did you have to let them kick you in the crotch so many times?”
ODDS & ENDS
- Melanie made it sound like Oliver got stuck in the astral plane, but Oliver said he was waiting for something. Is he really still waiting, and if so, for what?
- Really? Nobody’s gonna mention the frozen human on the other side of the cracked D3 window? The one hunched under what look like MRI scans?
- It looks like Cary yelled “motherfuuuu” during the silent sequence.
- Cary absorbs Kerry’s injuries, and also seems to function as a human Bag of Holding for her weapons of choice.
- Beetles. Strawberries. Gloriously understated nightmare fuel.
- Trees have been a recurring motif – in and out of David’s childhood home, in the nature tableaus at Summerland and Clockworks (the latter with bonus camouflaged inmate), and in the many upward shots looking through the treetops. The bathroom in the white room even has a tree growing over the tub. I have no theories about their significance, but there have been too many to be just set dressing.
- The comic fan scuttlebutt is that the Devil with Yellow Eyes is the Shadow King. This may turn out to be true, but as it did with “mutant,” this column will only use names as the show introduces them.
- “Who teaches you to be normal when you’re one of a kind?” would be a great question about learning to live as a mutant if it wasn’t deployed precisely at a narrative moment that seriously demanded pointed questions about consent.
- This week in music: Radiohead’s “The Daily Mail,” the Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection,” and – be reference if not by soundtrack – Cream’s “White Room.”
FAN THEORIES, or WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON
- I’m probably just embarrassing myself, but I’m still not entirely convinced that what we’ve seen so far is real. David is obviously capable of creating nested realities and I maintain that a Brazil-ception scenario remains a possibility. My (admittedly flimsy) evidence continues to be suspiciously consistent recurrences, like the trees, the ping-pong balls, and the taciturn elderly dude with the hand puppet.
- Either everyone in that final shot has been an inmate at Clockworks all along, or the parasite has simulated a version of Clockworks to contain all their consciousnesses. Or Clockworks was always an invented place the parasite tried to use to contain David, and we’re looking at a Groundhog Day-esque series of entrapments and escapes.
- Colorwatch: David wears yellow, black, and gray, suggesting his capitulation to the Devil with Yellow Eyes. He also tends to be wearing gray when he loses control. This is the first time since he was still wearing the Clockworks tracksuit that he has worn any yellow, and definitely the first time it’s been so prominent. Syd starts in her usual colors. She ditches the orange briefly while in defiant mean-girl mode but is wearing it again by the time they leave for D3. Walter/The Eye is still in the same olive green suit. This is also the first week we see Summerland’s campus in daytime without its golden forest-canopy sunlight. All the Clockworks inmates wear the same variations of the tracksuit used in Chapter 1. Lenny is dapper in black and white, with a red collar bar and wild socks. The white room’s pristine sophistication illustrates David’s new control over his power (which makes it fitting that the beetles show up in the strawberries, the one pop of red against the smooth neutrals of white and gold).