In Praise Of Sydney Barrett

Why Sydney Barrett is one of the best characters on TV.

Sydney Barrett was one of the key reasons the first season of Legion was such a success. A complex character brought to life be a nuanced performance, Sydney’s presence is perhaps more understated than some of the other characters on the show. But it’s no less important.

This article looks at some of Sydney’s best moments and then delves into some of the aspects that make her such a unique character.

Be warned. Spoilers below.

Smart & brave: the top five Sydney moments

Sydney cuts off Cary mid-mansplain

Cary is so sure he’s one step ahead of Sydney. And is so insistent on talking down to her. That it’s hilarious seeing Sydney cut him off.

Sydney goes straight back into Fakeworks

Straight after that clip, we get to see how fiercely loyal and unflinchingly brave Sydney can be. When she steps back into Fakeworks to save her team.

Sydney stops the Eye in his tracks

The Eye is the boogie man for Summerlands residents. His name provoking fear in those who hear it. But, after everyone else has fallen, Sydney steps up and saves the day.

Sydney rescues David

Another example of Sydney’s bravery. She only has the Shadow King’s word that this will work. She has no idea how it will affect her. But she does it anyway to save David.

Sydney takes control of group

I’ll discuss this scene in more detail below. But for now, let’s just appreciate how much Rachel Keller owns the room.

If you liked these clips you’ll probably want to check out this article on Jermain Clement’s portrayal of Oliver Bird or this short piece on one of our favorite micro-moments in season 1.

I’m sure others have their own favorite moments, and I’d love to hear them. But now I’d like to move onto some of the points that, I believe, make Sydney such a compelling character.

Sydney Barrett: the unapologetic loner

Sydney has had a lonely upbringing, a troubled relationship with her mother and is unable to touch anyone. In TV-land that would normally equate to a girl secretly wanting to make friends and to break free from the life of an introvert.

Yet Sydney isn’t waiting for love to melt her frozen heart. She’s not a wallflower waiting to be pulled into the limelight. She’s a type of person we don’t see enough of on tv: the unashamed introvert. Her relationship with David adds to her character but does not fundamentally change it. It’s refreshing to see an introvert on TV who isn’t secretly longing to be one of the cool kids.

She fundamentally doesn’t like people. She describes her happy place as being stranded on an island by herself. Her powers have clearly played a part in her dislike of people. But she doesn’t seem to resent them for it. She doesn’t seem to yearn for human contact or intimacy.

Take her response when David asks her out in group therapy in the clip below. She makes sure he knows she can’t touch him. Emphasises the point to make sure David knows there will be no negotiation on this point. And only then accepts.

Rachel Keller’s acting makes it clear that Sydney is happy enough in her skin and isn’t going to apologise for who she is to anyone. Perhaps surprisingly, this makes Sydney Barrett a great role model.

Sydney: A little bit of a teenager?

Prior to accepting David’s offer to be his girlfriend, another aspect of Sydney’s personality comes to the fore. Her less mature, more teenage, side.

Here’s what she says in group therapy:

“Like normal is this suit we’re all supposed to… But you know who else wasn’t normal? Picasso, Einstein.”

That quote displays the type of naivety normally reserved for teenagers and uni students who’ve mistaken a drug habit for intelligence. The point of group therapy in a mental hospital is not because the doctors want to iron out their patients’ idiosyncrasies. They want their patients to get better. In fact, as you can see in the clip above, she acts in a very teenage way in this scene. Complete with a moody ‘whatever’.

It makes sense that Sydney would be somewhat immature. It’s a byproduct of her enforced isolation. By separating herself from people, her opinions will have gone unchallenged. Like a teenager who has discovered politics and can’t understand that their views may not be as groundbreaking as they believe.

This isn’t the only time we see Sydney’s teenage streak. It also comes out at times in her relationship with Melanie.

Sydney’s Mother Issues

In episode 5 David returns from the Astral Plane with the Shadow King as a copilot. He then proceeds to be antagonistic towards Melanie. Sydney is more than happy to stand by as her boyfriend subtly torments Melanie about Oliver’s disappearance.

In this scene, where David and Sydney are telling Melanie that they are going to free David’s sister, Sydney has the air of a teenager rebelling against a maternal figure. Sydney, of course, had a rather complex relationship with her own mother. Culminating in having sex with her mother’s boyfriend while joyriding her mother’s body.

It’s interesting that Sydney becomes so antagonistic towards Melanie once she starts having Astral Plane sex with David. It’s as if she sees Melanie’s maternal position in David’s life as a threat to her position as lover.

When pushed Sydney says “I’m not treating him. He’s my man. Which means I care about what he wants.” Although that sounds sweet, it’s also a very teenage understanding of what love is. Just because he’s your man doesn’t mean you can’t call him out when he’s being a jerk.

David’s anchor

“This is real. I’m here. I came back for you. I love you.”

In the very first episode of Legion, at the culmination of that incredible escape scene, David turns to ask Sydney if all that he is seeing is real. Setting aside the ludicrousness of that question, it gives an early indication of how deep their bond is. He trusts Sydney more than his own senses.

This shows how Sydney grounds David in an insane world. It also illustrates the similar role she plays for the audience. David is, of course, an unreliable narrator. It’s Sydney who sees what’s real and what’s not. This is shown again when she sees through the facade of Fakeworks.

Season one of Legion only had 8 episodes. And covered a lot of ground in the episodes it had. It’s impressive that the writers and Rachel Keller were able to bring so much to this role in such a short period of time. I could have written an entire article on Keller’s performance alone, but that will have to wait until season 2.

If you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this page, you may also be interested in our five hopes for the new season of Legion. 

Since you obviously have taste, why not take a look at our favourite science fiction movies of all time?

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