“The Inner Light” is widely regarded as one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (and rightly so). In it, we see Picard—under the influence of an alien probe—live out what amounts to a whole other life, and then have to leave it in order to continue his mission.
In terms of the overall narrative of TNG, inasmuch as there is one, the episode might seem insignificant, but in terms of the development of the character of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), it is central.
And I’d contend that Legion has done something similar this week with Syd. It’s not her living out a life to old age in separation from the dramas of working at Division (though this does seem to be where Oliver and Melanie’s story is heading), but rather her having another chance at childhood.
We’ve seen Syd’s “actual” childhood before in Season 2, and though it wasn’t the worst one could imagine, it was certainly rifled with problems.
Most of those may have stemmed from her powers—which she would seem to not have in the astral plane reality where she is raised by Oliver and Melanie—but there were more mundane things as well. She was raised by a single mother, for example, and while all indications are that she did her best (and props to single moms in general!), it is perhaps not for nothing that Season 3 Episode 6 focuses more on her relationship with Oliver as her father than it does on Melanie as her mother.
I wrote last week about daddy issues in Legion, and how Freud thought about the importance of symbolically killing the Father (or killing the symbolic Father might be a better way to put it). Here we see Oliver ultimately killing the Father that he is himself to Syd, as he at times explains the parenting methods to her that he and Melanie have used.
He’s not a godlike figure, but someone to help guide her on her way, and—as he says in the rap battle—not only masculine, but a bit feminine as well. I’d go so far as to suggest that Oliver (or this version of him, at least) is an exemplar of what a man (and a father) should be.
We have to learn about love before we can learn about hate—otherwise everything goes to hell.
Half a Sandwich, a Very Nice Sock, and, uh, This Baby
It’s not entirely clear what has happened to Syd in all of this, though.
Her interaction with David last week left her lying on the ground with dead eyes.
And, while it was hard to believe that this was going to be her last appearance in the show, I did think that perhaps her consciousness might be trapped in David’s mind, or something like that, and her body might be dead. But this does not seem to be the case.
Instead, it would seem that her consciousness ended up on the astral plane with Oliver and Melanie (where are their bodies, by the way?), but that she also reverted to being a baby.
I’m not sure there is a way to make sense of this in logical terms. Oliver tells us that things end up there that people have forgotten, or lost: from a sock, to their dreams, to their minds. I suppose we might posit that Syd has lost herself?
Whether it is logical or not, what happens makes sense in terms of the narrative of Legion. After her confrontation with David and the failure of it—indeed, the failure of her whole relationship with David—her mind has run away. It’s like what Oliver and Melanie—whom we last saw listening to jazz and drinking martinis apart from the world—did, but whereas they have abnegated any sense of responsibility for the world that would lead them back, it turns out that Syd hasn’t.
Of course, that’s not to cast aspersions on Oliver and Melanie. They raise this version of Syd well, and ultimately recognize the importance of what she has to do. It’s not really like they have given up, so much as they seem retired.
The Lightbulb Loves the Dark
On the astral plane with them is Jerome Wolf, played by Jason Mantzoukas. I have to say that I loved his performance a lot, and that between what we get from him, Jemaine Clement, and others, I found this episode to be something of a laugh riot even while it was also exploring some dark corners of the human soul.
But why is this Wolf there, and what does he represent?
The running answer seems to be something to do with feeding off of human suffering and fear, as we see him try to tempt Syd, successfully tempt Cynthia (Samantha Cormier) and others, and so on. But he also does things like celebrate stepmother porn during the rap battle.
Here the point seems to be about our depravity, with Oliver representing an opposing view. It is at the end of the day a debate about reality. Is this defined by the Holocaust, chlamydia, toilet wine, and roofies?
Perhaps it is. It’s easy to get down on the world if one focuses on the online trolls and the Nazis and the like.
On the other hand, we have Oliver saying he’ll break this reality in half, and appealing to the love and connection he finds with others. He suggests that Jerome’s disposition stems from his sadness, and that’s probably right.
We hit on a question here: if you are hurt and broken, what do you do? Embrace the darkness like Jerome? Declaim against it in the abstract like Oliver (noting here that he ultimately refuses to leave the astral plane and join the fight)?
Do you thank the forces of good will but reconcile yourself to a life of abuse and addiction (like Cynthia)? Or do you perhaps recommit yourself to making the world a better place (like Syd)?
It’s an easy question in the abstract. Syd’s move is clearly the right one. And Oliver, though he talks a good game, falls a bit too much on the side of being a quietist about everything. Cynthia chooses the darkness even after having been shown the light. And Jerome, well, he basks in it.
But in the concrete, things are tougher. Cynthia is an addict, and while the addict might know that the thing they want is bad for them, that doesn’t stop them from wanting it. We don’t want things because they are bad, but because they are good: the good of the high, or the love from the abusive boyfriend. In short, her choice might be a bad one, but it is human, all too human. (And how about her being one of David’s cult girls here?)
Oliver has decided to withdraw from the world, and he won’t go back. He’s happy to raise/train Syd, but feels the fight is not his. I can guide others, but not take up the fight myself. I tend to feel this way myself. But is it really defensible? Aren’t Oliver and I saying that we just can’t be bothered? We’ve decided to just drink martinis and listen to jazz, and oh I guess if a kid comes along…there is a definite quietism here, which all of us who object to what’s going on in the world without doing much of anything about it should think about.
And then there is Jerome. He embraces it all: the rot of humanity. He is the Wolf, or the troll. He is the one who basks in our misery. And while I hope we can all see what is terrible about that, we should also see the pleasure. This is an option: to luxuriate in the darkness of the world. And given that the night is dark and full of terrors, there can be a certain pleasure in that. Maybe take their side?
Syd returns and is ready to go to work. She wasn’t trapped in David’s head, I guess, though I’m still wondering if there is something there that will be revealed later.
Kerry isn’t dead, and though I kind of think that this is plot armor at this point—given that David killed her twice without a second thought in the season premiere before Switch reset things—I’m glad to see that she is still around.
The scene where she and Cary merged so that he could take on her injuries was emotionally powerful.
And the time demons are back, too.
I guess they in some way maybe explain why Switch’s time door was left open and oscillating, but I’m also curious what role if any they might play in the final stretch of the season. David seemed to scare them off in Episode 4, so is it just that he’s not around on that plane of reality in this one, or is it something deeper?
And what is his plan at this point, anyway?
I can’t wait to see how all of this plays out, and I couldn’t have imagined that this would be the direction Legion would go in this episode.
But it never seems to cease to surprise me, in the best of possible ways.
Join me next week, when I presume we will find out what David is up to, and the following when we might just find out that this was all a story that Jon Hamm was telling his kid or something.