Warning: contains major plot spoilers for Netflix’s Bodies.
Of all the brow-furrowing questions surrounding the plot of Netflix’s ambitious time travel sci-fi Bodies, the role of a character who doesn’t even make it past episode one is still perplexing some fans.
In the 2023-set story, Syed Tahir (played by Sex Education and Accused actor Chaneil Kular) is the 17-year-old whom DS Hasan spots hiding in an alleyway at the Far Right march she’s been drafted in to help police in the opening episode. When Hasan sees that the teenager has a gun, she goes against orders and pursues him. She chases him all the way to Longharvest Lane, where she discovers a naked corpse who’s been shot dead. “This isn’t me,” he tells her, obviously terrified, and runs away.
The police later identify Syed, and Hasan convinces his sister Aaliyah (played by The Capture and Sandylands’ Natalie Dew) to put them in touch by promising to keep him safe. When Syed arranges to meet Hasan in the food court of a shopping centre though, he fatally shoots himself in the head before the armed police can take him in.
The question is: why? Other than it providing a dramatic and grisly twist in the show’s opening episode (surely the scene’s main purpose), what made Syed shoot himself in the world of the story?
Why Did Syed Shoot?
One word: radicalisation. Or perhaps a few more words: radicalisation by a messianic cult in a world where time travel exists, and who are willing to sacrifice anybody and anything to achieve their goal.
Syed, like police officer Rick in the exploding caravan, was a deliberate sacrifice by the Know You Are Loved Cult in order to bring about their goal of creating Elias Mannix’s dubious utopia.
The cult (including Hasan’s boss Daniel Barber and Mannix’s adopted parents the Morleys) knew that DS Hasan had to find the body in Longharvest Lane. Messages recorded for them by Elias in the past told them that Hasan would be a vital link in the chain of events that would lead to Elias detonating the bomb and thereby kick-starting the future they were working towards. So, they pulled the strings they needed to get Hasan in the right place at the right time.
“Everything they said was going to happen has. So is what’s going to happen next.”
Syed Tahir was one of those strings. A childhood friend of Elias Mannix who’d grown up with him in the same care home, Syed was parentless, vulnerable and – very likely also traumatised by his childhood – a prime target for manipulation (“Care home owners say wherever Mannix went, Syed followed”). His trusted friend Elias, fed by the cult, told him that the future was predestined – presumably giving him details like the exploding streetlights and the discovery of the naked body in Longharvest Lane to help ‘sell’ their story.
Elias gave Syed his adoptive father’s former service weapon and told him to lead Hasan to the corpse’s location on the day of the Far Right rally. The next part is unclear: either Elias told Syed that he was predestined to shoot himself (which would tidy up a loose end and cover the cult’s tracks), or he told him to shoot somebody at the Far Right rally (“I shouldn’t have brought you here. I was supposed to shoot…” he starts to tell Hasan at the shopping centre), which would of course either lead to him being shot by police or being arrested.
Either way, it was all designed to get DS Hasan involved. Syed Tahir’s ethnicity and religion weren’t at all incidental to the cult’s plan; he was deliberately chosen for this task because of being a British South Asian Muslim, which aligns him with Hasan. Barber knew that he could manipulate Hasan into approaching Syed’s sister Aaliyah because they’re both Muslim women who wear the hijab. (“You’ve a better chance of getting her to talk, that’s a fact.”)
A Sci-Fi Take on Religious Fundamentalism?
In that way, Syed Tahir’s story might be considered a sci-fi take on a depressingly familiar story in fiction and in the real world, in which young men are manipulated into performing acts of sometimes suicidal violence in the name of fundamentalism. Because what else is the Know You Are Loved cult but a religious group justifying mass slaughter in order to usher in Elias Mannix’s ‘second coming’ – to merge a few global faiths there.
Perhaps that’s one of Bodies’ veiled sci-fi messages: its story is a critique of groups like KYAL that justify killing and cruelty in the pursuit of “love” and a future paradise, as defined by them and their narrow belief system. Perhaps the series is also a critique of figures like Elias Mannix (interesting initials there), whose personal trauma drives them to take up positions of power where they make devastating changes to the world in an attempt to fill a gaping hole in their own soul.
Or, you know, it’s just time travel cops, corpses and headache-prompting split-screen action?
Bodies is available to stream on Netflix now.