“Chapter 12” is almost a bottle episode, but that bottle is Syd’s mind. David is trapped there, replaying scenes from her life over and over again, beginning with Syd crawling through an igloo representing her mother’s vaginal canal. We see key events set to increasingly dark montage music: First, the lovely strains of Bon Iver’s “22 (Over S??n)” play over a happy young lady growing up with a loving mother who takes her to art museums. There’s a loneliness here, as she watches a couple kiss and dreams about what that would feel like if she could just touch another human without swapping bodies. She kisses a mirror and dresses up as her mother’s guests, imagining what it would be like in their skins. It’s sweet and charming, even if we get hints of Syd’s rebellious streak. The music cuts off at an accidental touch, and The National’s driving “Turtleneck” — the closest the band has ever gotten to Nick Cave punk — plays as she sheds her gloves and raves unprotected and wakes up in restraints.
David thinks he has her all figured out after one go, but his interpretation of how to free her from getting trapped in her deepest desire is naive at best—a place where she can be a part of the world without needing to touch it.
“Watch it again,” she commands him. And we’re back to the montage, this time to the even darker, more psychedelic “It’s Not Meant to Be” by Tame Impala. We begin to see Syd at her worst, violently fighting back against those who would make fun of her or push her around. He guesses that it’s the couple kissing that she really longs for—the ability to connect that’s been denied her because of her unique condition/superpower. “Wrong,” she chides. “Watch it again.”
The third time is even darker. A creepy cover of Cream’s “White Room” plays as Syd cuts herself, and plays and replays her life for David, returning to the Michel Gondry-like igloo and retro crib until young Syd calls David on cheating. “You can’t just ask me. You have to figure it out for yourself.”
David realizes this is no longer the Monk’s disease at work. With the Monk dead on the sidewalk, everyone else is awake. It’s only David and Syd still locked inside a mind.
It’s heartbreaking to see David think that Syd is doing this because she’s afraid he won’t love her if knows her darkest deeds. And it’s more heartbreaking to see Syd at her very lowest. Back to Tame Impala and a final montage that includes 15-year-old Syd swapping minds with her passed out mother while her mother’s lover is in the shower. It’s the missing scene between her partying at the rave and her tied down in the psych ward. Inside her mother’s body, she gets in the shower with the lover and has sex with him. Her body switches back in the middle of the act, and the man finds himself naked in a shower with a minor, eventually getting carted off to jail. It’s the darkest place the show has ever gone, and shows a side of Syd we’d not really seen before. It’s difficult to watch. She’d been a bit of a manic pixie dream girl for David, with all the quirks and all the unquestioning love and the strangest meet-cute on TV (a psych ward followed by body swapping with David).
Now we see her for what she is: a survivor. A flawed, sometimes selfish, sometimes vindictive, damaged, cynical woman—one who doesn’t seem quite as different as Future Syd. There’s a coldness to her that David didn’t see, and so we didn’t see. But he sees it now and embraces it in one of the most intense and well-acted conversations in the entire series.
“It’s about the things you survived,” David says. “As it’s written, ‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’ It’s not the story of a little girl whose mommy couldn’t hug her, who grew up wishing a prince’s kiss could erase all her damage. It’s about the damage itself and how it makes us strong, not weak. You survived the bullies and the way they made you feel. You cut yourself with the dullest blade because it felt the worst. I know that life because I lived it, too. Then I met you, and it was true love, like in a fairytale.”
But Syd isn’t looking for a prince to save her, and she’s not a princess. She’s a fighter and a survivor. “God loves the sinners best because our fire burns bright, bright, bright,” she tells David. “Burn with me.”
Oh, and then Lenny shows back up, in all her corporeal, Aubrey Plaza glory.
It’s a breathless episode and a massive shift in tone. Are we to trust Future Syd when she tells David to help Farouk, the Season One villain who was basically a parasite inside David’s mind? (And was that a painting of Farouk we caught glimpses of in the art gallery?) Does she have David’s best interest in mind? Or humanity’s? The show has made the rest of Division 3 seem like villains at times and reluctant allies at others, but is David now working against the greater good?
This episode also tosses all care about time periods out the window. From the cues, Syd spent her childhood in the 1970s, her teens in the 1980s and her young adulthood back in the 1970s, as far as I could tell, but she’s also a big fan of Rick Bragg’s 2015 collection of short stories The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven: “Junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything are the ring of brightest angels around heaven.”
Life is war. And guided by Syd, David may just survive.