Finally! I have often described Legion as a show that is at its best when it's at its most alienating, and this episode pushes the characters themselves to the brink of frustration. Taking place almost entirely inside the realm of Syd's mind, and seemingly bridging the gap between Present Syd and Future Syd, this episode presents the type of surrealism tied to psychological reality that I've been longing for since the start of the season. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's the first episode this season without the Narrator spelling out the themes for us.
We open on the blizzard that closed out last week's episode, but David doesn't appear until almost one third of the way through. Even then, he's cut off in the frame, much like the painted figure he describes; he's a voice and a torso with one limb, until he sits next to Syd and tries to reassure her that he's not a creep. That's getting a little ahead of ourselves, of course. First, we're treated to Syd's life from birth through adolescence as she tries to navigate life without touching people.
Eventually we see her embrace her power with a vengeance, but not before instructing David to "watch it again." Like Groundhog Day, but with an entire lifetime, David repeats to Syd's life with more details each time that offer some clue of escape from what he at first assumes is the "maze" that was so easily solved for Ptonomy and Melanie last week.
At first, it seems like a facile plot device to stretch out the experimentation, not unlike last season's episode that took place inside of a hallucination of Clockworks. That episode felt padded at times, but here we learn that David is being put through the motions by Syd herself because she has a lesson to teach him. If there’s any padding in this episode, it's in the scenes in Division 3 that start about halfway through. They seem to exist only to remind regular viewers that they are watching the same show they remember, and don’t worry we’ll be back to the status quo soon. They feel largely unnecessary, except for the reveal at the end that Lenny has gotten her wish and is free.
Again, I'm getting ahead of myself, which is fitting since this episode doubles back on the same narrative multiple times only to treat information we already had from last season as a revelation. The expert thing about this, and director Ellen Kuras’s handling of it, is that it feels new. We're aware of what’s happening and what's going to happen, same as David and Syd, but are powerless to stop it unless we learn from it.
"Chapter 12" is not afraid to remind you that you are watching an episode of television. The obvious and continuous reminders of artifice serve the medium itself in addition to the narrative purpose of taking place in an alternate reality inside a character's mind. A blizzard becomes an igloo that leads to a birth canal; Syd is later accused of being a "frigid bitch" by a schoolyard bully who insists he's due a kiss. Men are constantly telling Syd what she wants and who she is; even David reframes her narrative in terms of himself at one point, to her bored exasperation.
I'm not getting my hopes up for the next four episodes, no matter how much Aubrey Plaza's return to the physical world excites me. Syd's use of the word apocalypse during what was a moving speech about why she was putting David through the paces of her life filled me with dread, but maybe I'm overthinking things. I hope we don't bear witness to two bright colors laboriously smashing into each other instead of the intense, surreal, character-driven drama of which this show is capable. If we are, at least this episode will be one of my personal favorites of the whole series.