Noah Hawley's newest TV series, the comic-book-inspired Legion, is a fascinating and refreshingly complex take on Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Like the protagonist himself (Dan Stevens's David Haller), we're unable to differentiate between his experiences and the real world; we're left with tantalizing questions about the nature of reality; and we can't help but wonder just what in the world is actually going on!
At the core of the story is David's encounter with a beautiful, if troubled, young woman: Rachel Keller's Syd Barrett. The story tells a strange, trippy tale in which Syd is admitted to Clockwork Hospital, where David is being treated. Like all the patients, she manifests some pretty strange behaviors; most notably, she's terrified of being touched. Here's the catch, though; at one point David kisses her, and something happens. That something is clearly the trigger for the whole story — but what happened?
In order to understand this, we're going to have to first ask another question: Is Syd Barrett real?
Theory 1: Syd Barrett Is An Alter
Technically, the different personalities in a person suffering with DID are referred to as alters; the alter who has most control over the body is known as the host. These alters can meet, interact, and even relate to one another; alters can be friends, siblings, enemies, or even lovers. Significantly, many alters speak of existing in a sort of 'waiting room', where the different alters gather and await their turn in the driving seat. For a man like David, who has so many alters that he is said to be a 'Legion', I don't think a waiting room would cut it. It's far more likely that Clockwork Hospital is 'in David's head'; it's his equivalent of the waiting room.
If that's the case, then it stands to reason that every person we meet in Clockwork Hospital is an alter. So either Syd is a newly-created alter, one he's never encountered before but who perhaps exists to fulfil David's need for intimacy, or she's been the host for years and has just lost control.
But what, then, does the kiss signify? It's difficult to say, but it's worth noting that many of the characters we meet after David leaves Clockwork Hospital still fit common alter archetypes — specifically, protector and persecutor. This is because DID is usually associated with some sort of childhood trauma. The persecutor is typically modelled after an abuser, while a protector is a tougher, braver personality created to rescue the original person from a crisis they could not cope with themselves. It's very possible that the anti-mutant paramilitary forces are persecutor alters, and the mutants who 'rescue' David are protector alters. That entire end scene may well have been 'in his head', and I'd caution against assuming that any of that is more real than the Hospital.
An Alternative Possibility: Mutant Freedom Fighter
However, considering we've only taken our first tentative steps into Legion Season 1, it's also possible at this point that Syd is actually a mutant freedom fighter! If David's interrogation and escape are real, then in the world of Legion mutants are persecuted, hunted, and feared. But even here, it seems likely that David's experience of Clockwork Hospital was a 'waiting room' environment.
In this scenario, David was, perhaps, unconscious or comatose; in the comics, when his powers manifested he suffered a trauma, and wound up in a coma for years. Syd suggests that she was projected into his mind — presumably the moment when she was 'admitted' to the hospital. When she left, what was actually happening was that the projection was being withdrawn; but David couldn't cope with it, and he kissed her.
Here's where it gets interesting. By this take, Syd is loosely inspired by the #XMen character Rogue. She's a mutant who is unable to touch; when David touched her, he triggered her powers, and the two wound up switching bodies. Syd was unable to deal with the experience; Legion's powers flared on an unprecedented level, catching the watchful eyes of mutant-hunters. They swiftly realized that David had been contacted by other mutants, and interrogated him; thankfully, that interrogation was ended rather abruptly, courtesy of Syd and her fellow mutant freedom fighters.
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These are two possibilities. One of the most fascinating aspects of Legion is that we're as lost as David himself is; we simply can't differentiate between David's experience, and the objective reality of the world in which he operates. Showrunner Noah Hawley has transported us into a beautifully complex narrative, one that will surely test our understanding of reality itself. Right now, one episode in, we still don't even know if Syd Barrett — one of the major characters of Legion — is even real.
Do you think Syd is an alter, or a mutant freedom fighter?
(Poll Image Credit: FX)