The people we’re closest to can be the hardest to know. We take for granted that shared memories mean a shared point of view. We lose sight of how differently two people can remember the same moment, until one day someone answers a question it never occurred to you to ask, reminding you of the vast gulfs that yawn between human minds.
Despite the brevity of their relationship (and its yearlong hiatus), David harbors several unexamined assumptions about Syd and their relationship. This, combined with his success at extracting Ptonomy and Melanie from the maze, leads him to assume that solving Syd’s maze will be a cakewalk. He is so wrong that the maze will undergo several iterations before he can even begin to consider where his assumptions end and Sydney’s convictions begin.
Syd’s labyrinth begins with the fissure of her birth: even as an infant, she cannot tolerate contact. This revulsion fractures her relationship with her mother before it can begin. The adult hunches heartbroken over the child who refuses her touch. Eventually she finds ways to be close without forcing contact, curling around a pillow between them. Young Syd seems to tolerate rather than enjoy these maternal overtures. The first creature she connects with is a goldfish, a fellow creature to be seen and not touched. The child and the fish commune across the glass between them. Years later Syd will kiss glass again: this time a mirror, herself the fish, remote in arm’s reach.
Unable to touch her daughter, Syd’s mother tries to connect through art. They visit an exhibition of Egon Schiele’s portraits, and Syd tunes out a lesson in Expressionism, transfixed instead by the couple who have stolen into the gallery for a quasi-public display of affection. It is here that David, undeterred by Syd’s apparent lack of recognition, proffers his first, triumphant analysis: “This must be your place, somewhere you can be part of the world without needing to touch it.” And it is here that Syd, for the first time of many, looks shocked and disappointed at his ignorance. “You think ghosts like living in a haunted house? Watch it again.”
And he does. David returns again and again to the igloo where Syd warms her hands over a simulacrum of fire, waiting to be born. And he rushes again and again into the gallery to be repudiated and reset. The sequence alters slightly with each iteration: David witnesses the bullying, harassment, rebellion. He sees domestic idyll and self-injury. Each time he assembles the images Syd has shown him into a narrative that is wrong or incomplete and the mission begins again. David explores different perspectives. He interacts, and he watches from a distance. He lingers in vacant spaces, poring for clues.
In each iteration there is a constant: David mistakes it for loneliness, and the first few times indulges the conviction that Syd only needs to be told how badly she wants to connect with others. But Syd has always been self-sufficient. Even before she agrees to be born, Syd is the fire that warms herself. The first intentional public use of her power weaponizes her difference, avenging herself on the girls who mock her and the boy who threatens her. Like David, Syd possesses the power to violate the sanctity of other selves. But her power is only superficially isolating: It’s less an exile than an expression of her refusal to need anyone.
Syd reserves her most devastating memory for the moment just before David finally puts the pieces together. She shows him the events she recounted after their first astral encounter, when she switched bodies with her (unconscious) mother to experience sex – with her mother’s boyfriend. But the switch didn’t last long enough, with horrifying results. After confessing this, Syd asked David to promise: “If we get lost, we get lost together.” It is a promise David broke almost immediately, leaving Syd to mount a one-man assault on D3.
While the lovers parse the shape of their understanding, the monk’s death lifts the chattering plague. Kerry returns to herself and extracts a stuck (but unhurt) Cary as a profoundly irritated Clark hurries past. Everyone’s back, and Clark observes curtly that the folks in quarantine came to with full bladders and short tempers. While D3 tends to the awakened, Summerland retrieves David and Syd from the roof. According to Cary’s scans, the sleepers are awake; but Syd will leave when David does, and David will not leave until he understands.
His mistake is assuming the Syd’s labyrinth is a fantasy or anxiety she has not confessed to herself. This lack of self-awareness is what traps people in the maze. But Syd is acutely self-aware. Knowing who she is and what she wants is essential to keeping her consciousness intact as it travels between bodies. And at last, David understands: All Syd wants is to survive, for her scars to make her strong enough to keep surviving, to be enough for herself so she doesn’t need anyone else to go on. And David – and viewers – have seen Future!Syd, and know she will go on without Summerland, without D3, even without David. The best David can do is honor the places where she is broken, and to respect her enough not to break the few promises she asks of him. She does not want a love that is “a warm bath.” She wants a love that is worth saving. She is indomitable, and she invites David to be indomitable with her.
Of course, Syd’s stance makes war almost inevitable: If everything is a battle, there will always be a loser. Future!Syd is one of the last people standing. Does she see this as a win or a loss?
That is a question for another time, though, as the moment when our lovers wake up is also the moment Legion’s latest chapter finally deploys the show’s opening credits. Something, it seems, is finally happening. D3 has a new prisoner. No one stops David and Syd as they approach the knot of guards.
Turns out Lenny is a real person after all.
- “The missing all woke up, 300 angry people who all need to use the bathroom at the same time.”
- “It’s not about being alone or being in love. It’s about the things you survive.”
- “It’s a war, baby, this life. The things we endure. You saw the future. You said it was an apocalypse.”
- “Lovers don’t survive, fighters do. Love will not save us. It will make us stupid and weak.”
- “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.”
- “Junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything are the ring of brightest angels around heaven.” The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven is a real story collection, and you can still read one of the stories here.
- “Afterward many are strong at the broken places.” This line is taken from A Farewell to Arms. The full quote goes: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
ODDS & ENDS
- Syd’s mother seems to be out of the picture. Maybe Syd didn’t see enough love there for the relationship to be worth saving.
- This is the first episode without a narrated animated sequence. The only scene with a plain white background is the one after David solves the maze and before David and Syd wake up. It’s worth noting that the gallery paintings are also figures superimposed on a void of plain white canvas.
- It makes sense that Syd likes Egon Schiele; her unnatural powers foment unnatural desires. Schiele’s style – revolutionary, transgressive, and problematic – has been described as grotesque and pornographic, and he was arrested at least once for seducing a minor.
- There are so many callbacks to Season 1: The montage of Syd’s childhood parallels the pilot’s story of David (rewatch both with an eye for crib and cord). The cushion she brings to place between them echoes her mother’s pillow. And at the end, just before she agrees to leave the maze, Syd is wearing almost exactly the same outfit as the night David takes off for D3.
- Calvino hasn’t been name-checked this season, but David’s initial blundering analyses are reminiscent of this passage from The Nonexistent Knight: “Thus does a young man always hurry towards his woman. But is he truly urged by love for her, and not by love of himself? Isn’t he looking for a certainty of existing that only a woman can give him? A young man hurries, falls in love, uncertain of himself, happy, desperate, and for him his woman is the person who certainly exists, for which only she can give the proof. But the woman too either exists or not. There she is before him, also trembling, and uncertain. How is it the young man does not understand that? … What he yearns for is a woman who exists, a woman who is definite. She, on the other hand, knows more things, or less, anyway things that are different. What she is in search of is a different way of existing….”
FAN THEORIES, OR WHAT THE HELL I THINK IS GOING ON
- Yeah, nope.
- I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that Syd’s trademark orange matches the goldfish she loved as a child.
- Young Syd wears bright red to the underground dance club where she loses control.