Episode 7 continues Mark’s meeting with Reghabi, the Lumon employee who helped Petey reintegrate. The meeting spirals out of control and Mark leaves in a hurry, with an upgraded Lumon key card in his pocket. The next morning, Harmony helps Devon with her breastfeeding issues, then sticks around to chat over tea. Helly earns a Music Dance Experience reward for the progress she’s made in refining her current file. When Milchick attempts to get the entire team involved in the party, Dylan’s emotions from the night before become an issue.
This episode is the set up for the finale, which takes place over episodes 8 and 9. As such, the pace and the reveals pick up even more. In past recaps, I’ve talked about the Johnstown flood in relation to Kier City’s geography and Lumon’s potential corporate history. The season is also paced, both in action and reveals, like a dam slowly losing its structural integrity, until it bursts and the reservoir behind it inundates the city below.
In episode 6, Graner and Cobel close in on the person who helped Petey with reintegration. Cobel punishes Ms Casey for letting Helly out of her sight the day before and warns Mark to keep MDR in their own office. Mark rebels against her orders and takes the team to O&D instead, where they meet the rest of the department. Outie Mark goes on another date with Alexa. While out on a walk, Devon runs into Gabby, the other expectant mother from the birthing center, but Gabby doesn’t remember her. Later, Devon learns that Gabby’s husband is a pro-severance state senator.
Dressed for bed in a homespun cotton nightgown and braids, Harmony (Patricia Arquette) finishes turning Petey’s (Yul Vazquez) implant into a pendant and clasps its chain around her neck. She’s made her bedroom in the basement, enclosed on two sides by the basement’s cinderblock walls, painted an institutional white, with only partially framed walls on the other sides, almost suggesting bars. Her bed has an old cast iron bed frame. The room is lit by a single fluorescent light, mounted on the wall over the head of bed, and candles the size and shape of Gemma’s candle, but Harmony’s are white.
It looks as though she’s recreated her childhood bedroom from a mid 20th century orphanage or school. Or she’s a survivalist who’s very worried about natural and manmade disasters, so she sleeps in her basement bunker.
In episode 5, Helly continues to work through her issues with the help of Mark and Ms Casey. Irving and Dylan find a disturbing painting which shows O&D attacking MDR. When they confront Burt about the painting and his lie about the size of his department, he tells them that the rest of the O&D department believes false rumors about MDR. Ms Cobel asks Milchick to have Petey’s implant analyzed. In the outside world, Devon goes into labor and Outie Mark joins her support team at the nature retreat birthing center.
Trigger warning for self-harm. And more about goats than anyone wants to know. There are some things you can’t unsee. Metamaiden was traumatized by flying goats, so I promised her that I will finally analyze Petey’s map in episode 6. Somehow this one got long, even for me. I didn’t even talk about the kelp. 💦
The episode begins moments after the end of episode 4, continuing Helly’s (Britt Lower) suicide attempt. The elevator reaches its destination and the doors open, revealing Outie Helly hanging from the ceiling and struggling to breathe. Judd (Mark Kenneth Smaltz) is missing from his desk once again. We’re briefly shown the view from one of the surveillance cameras, which is recording the scene. The elevator doors close again and Helly rides back down to the severed floor, still struggling.
The jeopardy ramps up in episode 4, as Helly’s desperation to resign keeps her in the break room and then leads to increasingly dangerous attempts to get through to her outie. The loss of Petey triggers outie Mark’s grief for his wife, while innie Mark ponders what to do about the map Petey left him. Burt visits MDR and makes Irving an offer he can’t refuse. Dylan continues to offer sage advice that nobody takes.
This would be a very different show if people listened to Dylan’s common sense more often.
Self-harming trigger warning for this episode.
It’s late afternoon and Helly (Britt Lower) is still in the Break Room. She’s been there for hours, since before lunch of this workday that started in episode 3. Even Milchick (Tramell Tillman) looks droopy around the edges, but he dutifully informs her that she’s still not sincere enough in her reading of the mandatory Lumon confession of Original Sin, ever after reading it 259 times. However, when the clock on the wall clicks over to 5:15, their shift is over, so Milchick’s mood lightens, he methodically organizes his space and puts the recording of Helly’s confessions in his shirt pocket.
In episode 3, Petey tells Mark more about how he became reintegrated. After Mark leaves Petey alone in his basement for the day, Devon and Ricken drop off an advance copy of Ricken’s latest self help book outside on Mark’s front stoop as a gift for Mark. Suspicious of what Mark has been up to lately, Cobel/Selvig finds the wrapped gift and takes it with her. Then she searches his house, driving Petey to escape back out into the cold.
At the office, Helly continues to be unhappy and to search for a way out. Mark and Irving decide she needs more meaning in her work life, so they arrange a group tour of the Perpetuity Wing, the corporate museum which highlights founder Kier Eagan’s family dynasty, Lumon’s corporate philosophy and it’s good works.
By the beginning of episode 3, Petey (Yul Vasquez) has recovered from whatever it was that happened to him in the shower at the end of episode 2 and put on the blue and red striped robe Mark (Adam Scott) that left for him. Mark must have heard something happen because he asks if Petey is okay and apologizes about the robe, saying it was a gift from Ricken (Michael Chernus). Petey says he just slipped a little in the shower and to respect the robe.
In episode 2, we follow Helly as she goes through the severance procedure in a flashback, then jump back to the present and watch her first full day in the Microdata Refinement department. Mark calls in sick in order to visit the address on Petey’s card.
The episode opens with Helly (Britt Lower) filming her video testimony consenting to the severance procedure. Milchick (Tramell Tillman) records the video then walks her to the procedure while going over some of the details of the day. They walk through an upper floor of the vast, open lobby that we watched Mark walk through in episode 1. Milchick stops in front of the monolithic bust of corporate founder Kier Eagan (Marc Geller) to comment that he loves the smell of napalm in the morning the look of the sunrise over Kier’s face. The window frame shadows create a series of bars across Kier’s face, enhancing the prison quality of the building’s architecture. Shadow bars are a staple of Film Noir cinematography, so they instill a subliminal sense of peril all by themselves, without Big Brother watching behind them or the reference to the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This is a recap of the AppleTV+ series Severance, season 1 episode 1. My review of the season is HERE.
Severance is ostensibly a series about work-life balance, but while it’s a complex, layered show, there’s very little balance involved. A little juggling, maybe, by some of the characters who haven’t been through the severance procedure, which splits memories into a work life and a home life, with no meeting of the two minds. But there is no way for two halves who can’t communicate with one another to negotiate anything like balance between them. Instead, this is a show about choices, connection and self awareness, in a controlled environment that tests the characters as if they are lab animals.
This distinction between the work self and home self as two halves of the same whole who don’t and never will know or understand each other is introduced and explored in episode 1 when Adam Scott’s Mark finds that his best work friend Petey has left his job at Lumon Industries. Mark is promoted to Petey’s former position on the spot and told to acclimate his own replacement, Helly R (Britt Lower), who has just undergone the severance procedure. The corporate philosophy that humans are replaceable, programmable plug and play resources is illustrated within the show’s first few minutes. The flaws in this sort of thinking are also exposed.
This is a review of season 1. You can find detailed episode recaps at the tag HERE.
Severance is an AppleTV+ series created by Dan Erickson and executive produced and directed by Ben Stiller. Season 1 consists of 9 episodes. Production has already begun on season 2, which will be 10 episodes (if IMDB is correct). This review was written after viewing the first 5 episodes, but only includes minimal spoilers for the first episode.
Adam Scott stars as Mark Scout, a widower who takes a job on the “severed” floor of Lumon Industries, a giant corporation with a cult-like following. Yes, it’s on the streamer brought to you by the cult of Steve Jobs. Sometimes, Apple is shameless. I say this as the parent of one of their lifelong devotees, while typing on a Macbook. Full disclosure- my laptops have all been Macbooks. I am also a fringe member of a corporate cult or two.
Because Mark’s work involves corporate secrets, he agrees to go through the severance medical procedure, in which a chip will be implanted into his brain, bifurcating his memories into two separate personas: one that can only access his time at work and another that only surfaces outside of his job. In addition to benefitting the corporation, the procedure will supposedly improve Mark’s work-life balance.
This has unforeseen consequences.
Severance is a cerebral science fiction dark comedy that, like its main character, has two personas. Much of the show takes place at the Lumon offices, on the windowless “severed” floor, located deep in the basement. This side of the show is a surreal, retrofuturistic psychological horror-thriller filled with characters who only know the world of the Lumon offices, which they aren’t allowed to leave, because they are “severed” personas, the Winter Soldiers of office drones. The walls are bright white, the fluorescent lights are always on and the hallways seem to go on forever, with only a few doors. Other than white, the main colors are the artificial turf green of the carpets and the blue of the men’s suits.
It’s stunningly but subliminally oppressive, in the way the clinical feel of the dentists’ offices of my youth let me know there was no point in resisting what was about to happen there.