Sydney Novak almost had the perfect high school moment. After a decidedly testing week (losing her virginity, failing a quiz in Bio, burying a family pet, manifesting uncontrollable telekinetic powers, getting detention), it all came this close to working out. Dancing together at the school dance, the girl she loved leaned in for a kiss. And then everything turned to shit.
In seconds, her girl’s ex had hijacked the stage to read aloud from Syd’s diary. In front of their classmates, he humiliated her, outed her and homophobically abused her. Seconds before Brad also outed her superpowers, Syd silenced him in the bloodiest way. Think Carrie meets Scanners. When Brad said that Homecoming was going to be “fucking mind-blowing”, he can’t have expected such a literal interpretation.
Dazed and covered in blood, Syd ran from the scene and was contemplating a life in hiding when she was approached by a mysterious, similarly supernatural figure. “Should I be afraid?” she asked. “They should be afraid,” he told her.
So, Syd was being followed
“It felt like I was supposed to follow it, or maybe it was following me.”
Yes she was. Her mysterious stalker first made an appearance at the end of episode four, when Syd was walking next to the railway line after her and Stan’s bowling ball-related argument. As Syd stormed home, a dark figure in a long coat appeared behind her before dissipating into a moving black cloud. An episode later, Syd encountered the mysterious black cloud in detention when the lights started to flicker before she destroyed the library. And then in episode six, she felt it following her home from school.
Convinced by her counsellor that she was only experiencing grief hallucinations of her father, Syd told herself and Stan that the stalker was all in her head. Not so. When she ran to the forest tower after accidentally killing Brad at the dance, Black Cloud Man revealed himself. It isn’t her dead father, because Syd didn’t clearly didn’t recognize him and asked who he was.
Who is Black Cloud Man?
In episode four, Stan attempts to pinpoint the nature of Syd’s superpowers using his comic book collection. He asks her if she’s had any recent contact with “…an unknown visitor, a professor, a wise old sage, some form of a mentor figure.” Their role in all this, Stan explains, would be to “visit the hero, explain their abilities, the mythology behind them, and how they can harness those powers for good.”
That, we can assume, is the role of Black Cloud Man. He’s the Watcher to Syd’s Slayer, the Yoda to her Luke, the Professor X to her Jean Grey. Whether there are more like him and just how deep the show’s supernatural mythology goes are both questions for an eventual second season.
And Syd inherited her powers from her father?
“My dad was just like me, and it destroyed him.”
It looks very much that way. In the penultimate episode, ‘Like Father Like Daughter’, Syd learns from her mother that her dad was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following his last tour as a US Marine. On that tour there was an incident, “some sort of explosion,” explains Maggie, in which everybody died – the enemy, friends, innocent civilians – but him. His guilt over that, it’s suggested, led to Syd’s father taking his own life.
The way Syd’s mother describes him, Syd’s father could well have been experiencing the same symptoms as his daughter. (“He always said that no one could possibly know what he was dealing with, no-one could make him better.”) He was paranoid, thought he was being followed, said that he was dangerous and avoided confrontation, ultimately choosing to take his life instead (we assume) of putting his loved ones at risk from his uncontrollable power. (“He had something in him, Syd, something that he was always wrestling with, and that thing, won.”)
What triggers Syd’s powers?
“Does she know about you? That you’re a superhero?.”
Anger, grief, humiliation, and sexual arousal – all emotions she’s unable to control. She gives Brad a nosebleed because his presence at the diner enrages her, and pulls a street sign out of the concrete in anger at Dina and Brad’s relationship. She cracks her bedroom wall out of anger at her mother’s cruelty and unexpressed grief over her dad’s death, destroys the grocery store after feeling humiliated for not having enough money to pay for her food, and accidentally kills Banana Wigglesworth because of having to confront the place her dad killed himself.
The forest destruction happens after Syd kisses Dina at the party and feels rejected by her. She psychically throws bowling balls at Stan when he goads her about her dad. And Brad’s head explodes after he humiliates her in public, invading her privacy in the worst way and outing her to the school with gross homophobic insults.
She is sometimes, however, able to control her powers. In the basement in episode six, Syd focused her energy on breaking the lock to her father’s secret box, and it worked.
Differences to the Charles Forsman comic
“Dear Diary, go fuck yourself.”
Comic book spoilers ahead: in the comic series on which the show is based, Syd’s powers manifest as a kind of sinister beast that looms over Sydney – who is aged 15 in the comic series, not 17 – at times of overwhelming emotion.
The person who found her father after his suicide, Syd was in fact revealed to have used her powers to help her father kill himself and release him from his torment. An ambiguous but bleak ending also suggests that she too, ends up taking her own life.
What might happen in a potential season two?
“I tried to be normal, but I’m just not wired that way.”
It’s not been commissioned at the time of writing, but a second season would likely focus on Syd’s relationship with her new mentor figure and her journey to learn about her powers as well as those of her father.
There’s also the matter of her budding romance with best friend Dina, who coyly told Syd in the finale that she didn’t not like it when they kissed. Stan’s no longer a love interest, but his role as Syd’s confidant (the only person who knew about her powers before the Homecoming dance bloodbath) would likely become crucial, especially if she were to be pursued for Brad’s murder. If Sid can learn to control her powers, perhaps she can teach Stan’s horrible father a lesson.
And while there’s no hint as yet, if the mythology sticks with the idea that Syd’s powers were inherited, then there’s no reason why her younger brother Liam wouldn’t also develop them in adolescence.
I Am Not Okay with This is available to stream now on Netflix.