Legion is FX’s mysterious new show loosely set in the X-Men universe that begs plenty of questions, one of which is who is Sydney Barrett?
Sydney Barrett is one of the more interesting characters on Legion, and that is certainly saying something. The show is nothing if not intriguing, but Syd stands out as a character who poses as many questions as our hero, David.
Sydney was first introduced at Clockworks Mental Hospital, the psychiatric institution where David was being treated for schizophrenia. The first thing we learn about her is that she doesn’t like to be touched. She’s a bit distant (physically and emotionally), speaks her mind, and immediately agrees to be David’s girlfriend. And let’s not forget she’s named after the founding member of Pink Floyd, who is rumored to have suffered from schizophrenia himself.
Right from the start, something is different about Sydney. She challenges the idea that they’re all crazy. Just because David hears voices doesn’t mean he’s insane. Since we know these two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, this immediately sends up a red flag. What does Sydney know that David doesn’t?
For one, she knows more about her powers than he does. Despite their emotional intimacy, there can never be any physical touching. Sydney knows what will happen if there is, but David does not. On the day she is set to leave Clockworks, David rushes over to kiss her, and we find out for the first time what exactly Sydney can do.
Her ability is to switch bodies with whomever she touches with her bare skin. David ends up as Sydney, confused and more than a little concerned he now has breasts, and Sydney ends up as David, distraught, afraid, and unable to control his immense power. She destroys Clockworks and kills Lenny (Aubrey Plaza). Eventually, David ends up in Division’s hands, while Sydney joins Melanie Bird’s team of fellow mutants.
It’s at this point where I’d like to pause and emphasize how unreliable of a narrator David truly is. Yes, he really does have powers, but if you have any knowledge about the comics, you’ll know that he’s also mentally ill (he even continues to question his own sanity in episode 3 despite now knowing about his powers). David has a variety of abilities, which are traditionally associated with each one of his personalities.
At least five times an episode I question whether or not Sydney is real. As of this writing, I’m convinced that she is, but that could change next week. Since David is so powerful, we really don’t know what he’s able to do, and it’s clear that he and Sydney have a surprising and mysterious connection.
Sydney is often seen alone with David. She’ll find him in a room or down by the docks. When they’re in a room with other people, she stands off the the side. She doesn’t always participate in the activities. This last point isn’t too surprising, however, because we know that even being close to people makes her skin crawl. She avoids direct contact with most individuals because she doesn’t want to risk triggering her powers.
The lack of interaction does make you scratch your head, but it’s important to note that the other characters can see and talk with Sydney. In this episode in particular, we watch Kerry track Sydney as she leaves the room before David is to be tested. We also see her go into and come out of David’s mindscape, and then interact with other characters while he’s unconscious. If she were a figment of his imagination, she would have little to no impact on the real world, but she does.
Lenny, on the other hand, is just in David’s head. The real Lenny is definitely dead, and so every time we see her pop up on our screens, we know she’s not really there. The interesting part of this is that David’s speech center is working even when he’s not outwardly talking to her (just inwardly having a conversation with his friend). No one else can see Lenny and no one else can hear him talk to her, but she’s real enough to David that she causes his brain to function as if she were there.
People with schizophrenia or Dissociative Identity Disorder assume what they see and hear is real, and therefore they (and their bodies) interact with their hallucinations as if they are corporeal. But what happens when you have someone with these disorders who also happens to be an extremely powerful mutant? Would they be able to manifest one of their personalities into the real world?
We cannot deny that David and Sydney have a strong connection. In episode 3, David talks about still being able to feel her from the time they switched bodies. His center of gravity is sometimes off and he feels as though he has to brush her long hair out of his face. This could absolutely be a side effect of Sydney’s powers, but what if it’s something more significant?
After all, no one but David and Sydney can see the yellow-eyed demon. When the demon attacked, Melanie and Ptonomy couldn’t see him, nor could they see the way he ripped apart the world in David’s mindscape.
But guess who could see the yellow-eyed demon? Sydney saw him when she was in David’s body back at Clockworks, but she could also see him when inside David’s mind. Again, this could be some sort of residual ability left over from sharing David’s mind, but it’s still worth pointing out that out of everyone, Sydney is the one who can back up David’s claims that the creature in his mind is real.
Legion is meant to test you mentally, and so far they are doing an incredible job at just that. Sydney’s existence continues to baffle me, and I hope we don’t get an easy answer here. I would love if David were somehow able to manifest one of his personalities (though this story line would be a bit narcissistic, no?), or, on the flip-side, if he were able to absorb her mind into his thanks to Sydney’s unique abilities, providing them with a connection unlike anything David has experienced before.
If neither one of these options is the case, I’d love for Sydney to be the one person to truly begin to understand how David’s mind operates. Melanie is at a loss, and considering she seems like the most experienced mutant at their facility, that is certainly disconcerting.
Whether or not Sydney is real, I hope she’s able to help David understand what he can do.