It is hard, as a woman, to be wholly knowable. We are bodies of locked doors, of spiraling caves, of dead ends. Not by accident, but by practice. And sometimes, for the more burdened of us, getting inside means playing a game. If you can’t crack the code, entry is barred. You can enjoy our scraps, but the feast is canceled.
There is the question, when it comes to media, if women characters operate under these conditions are merely flimsy cardboard renditions of the female experience. Male creators project, and have thusly created an entire trope of misbegotten, alien paper dolls: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. These fictional women are spontaneous, sexually available, mystically enlightened. They aren’t real, but occupy some sanctimonious space of the male imagination. Nevertheless, they persist.
For a while, it looked like
But there’s always been something fascinating about Syd, a buried story begging to come out. And finally, with the beautifully repetitive and incisive “Chapter 12,” we got a deeper peek at her traumatic and lonely life before David, starting with her literal birth.
This sort of over-the-top visual scheme might nag in other programs, but there is something touching and intimate about how it connects Syd both with David, the audience, and her single mother (Lily Rabe). Syd emerges from some other realm where she lives in iglooed confinement, symbolic of the cold and distant life she is about to endure. There is no laborious explanation for why she was born mutant, or when she first found out; no cloying dialogues between mother and daughter, no insights from anyone around her. Instead, we see her loneliness in a Bon Iver-scored opening montage: a little girl peering at her goldfish through a glass bowl, and then, a bit older, reading Rick Moody’s
David is observing her this way, the history of her life, from a young child to the woman he’s come to love. They discuss the nature of these mental loops in a special museum room, where an exhibit of Egon Schiele paintings serve as tantalizing clues into Syd’s interiority. Together they look at Schiele’s
David: “You like this painting?”
Syd: “You don’t?”
David: “Well, it’s –”
Syd: “It’s what?”
David: “Well, it’s trapped in that negative space. No feet, no hands. Mouth covered. No way to communicate or connect. It’s –”
We don’t know exactly why we’re here or what we’re looking at, but that doesn’t matter. For the first time arguably ever,
Narratively and visually, the episode is reminiscent of Michel Gondry‘s
By episode’s end, David and Syd finally crack the code together. They understand what they mean to each other. This is no longer the hollow love story we’ve been forced to endure. It’s two characters who are finally fully exposed, who have challenged the nature of their pairing and are ready to move forward together. As Syd explains, “Love isn’t going to save us. It’s what we have to save.”