Welcome to the Heavy Spoilers show I’m your host Paul aka the guy with no work-life balance and in this video, we’re breaking down Severance on Apple TV.
It’s by far one of the best shows this side of the twenties and the Ben Stiller led series maintains its mind-bending motif all the way until the end. Now the series itself follows the employees of Lumon, a company whose work is so secretive that its staff have to go through a procedure known as Severance in order to work there. The entire company is built around its founder Kier who’s very much seen as a deity amongst his employees. Many worship him and prop him up but like a lot of churches and religions, the secrets that they share have to be kept from the outside world.
Boiled down to its simplest terms Severance basically involves splitting one’s brain so that it perceives life inside work as being completely isolated and this is the same for outside as well. The person who has undergone this cannot share memories with themselves and thus they very much live two lives.
Now the one side of this sees someone basically living like they’re never at work and they have no relationship with their colleagues or people from the company.
They even stagger the entrances and exits of the employees so that there’s less chance of them meeting on the outside. They just spend their days either at their desk or Christopher Walken through the corridors until they find a connection.
The other side of this consciousness never leaves work and to them, they end the day and immediately start the new one. As someone who worked lots of soul-destroying, 12-hour shifts back to back in my past jobs I really related to this and I remember being on shifts and feeling like I’d never left the place.
You’re just stuck in this constant cycle of working and the characters in the series are further left in the dark by the fact that they have no idea what they’re actually doing there.
They’re sat there day in and day out literally crunching numbers which is of course a metaphor for dead-end jobs like this.
Sure once in a while, they get 5 minutes of dancing but it feels like what Boris tells us a Downing Street party was like and it’s not much of a break.
As far as they’re concerned they’re gonna be stuck here until the day they die or manage to get resignation which is also somewhat death for this version of them. Now in order to leave, you have to get your outie version to agree that you can quit. However, to them they’re just basically kicking back, putting their feet up, not experiencing work and still getting paid for it.
There’s no real reason why they would ever want to leave this and we watch as one of our protagonists Helly R feels like she’s trapped in Hell because her opposite won’t allow her to quit. There is of course a duality here in the show name as in work terms, Severance is often used when you’re getting rid of someone.
Trapped in Hell-y R
I dunno if Helly R is a Hell pun but throughout the series, she constantly tries to escape. This idea of wanting to be free is laced throughout her personality and even when we’re first introduced to her she’s trying to get out of the induction room as quickly as possible.
Now she’s been brought in to replace an ex-employee known as Petey who we had lots of issues with Lumon and Severance itself. On the outside, Petey goes to our second main character Mark played by Adam Scott.
Mark is apparently a widower and the majority of the characters feel like they all took on severance because they’re trying to get away from the pain of their memories on the outside. It adds a lot of complexity to the characters as we watch them in the outside world and it actually feels at points like it’s more depressing than being stuck at work all day.
However, we learn later on in the series that Mark’s wife is Ms Casey, the wellness coach who is trapped down there like them.
Petey gives Mark a map and after he mysteriously dies, Mark makes it his mission to try and find out exactly what’s going on with Lumon.
To make matters worse we learn his neighbour Mrs Selvig is actually his boss and the real driving force of the show is about finding the mysterious conspiracy that lies at the centre of it.
It all came to a head in Episode 8 when Selvig was fired, Ms Casey was sent down to be reformatted and our four characters from MDR launch a plan to awaken on the outside. Dylan remains behind to set it off and we closed out this entry with them all suddenly being snapped into consciousness on the outside.
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Back To Reality
Anyway, that takes us into Episode 9 where we watch the characters all waking up. Mark is shocked by the fact that he has a sister, Irving finds himself in his basement painting the elevator that leads to the lower floor and Helly R finds herself at the Gala. Ever since the reveal in episode 8 of her wearing flashy earrings many theorised that she’s actually an Eagan and we get it confirmed in this first conversation.
Throughout the series, we have had several hints at her being someone special and in episode 2 Milchick said that it was amazing what she was doing there and that it was like a miracle. Milchick is of course aware of the outside world and therefore he would know how important she was.
At one point she looked over the first female CEO of the company and talked about wishing she remembered her own childhood. She probably knows this person from her childhood and seeing her sparked something off in her subconsciousness.
There was also the fact that her outie version said that she had to remain in Severance because of how important that it was. However, she did it in a really threatening way and promised to make her life hell, showing just how much she needed her to stay inside.
She told herself that she wasn’t a real person and though this was initially viewed as being extremely cruel, it also hinted at the fact that Helly R is just a task she is carrying out.
We also saw the Gala being prepped in episode 8 and knew that the board would be assembling there for the speeches so the flash of her all dressed up kinda gave away the twist a week early.
Still though really impactful and I almost feel like going back through the series to see what other clues there were that she was involved. Here she meets the senator and his wife who were somewhat of a mystery throughout the show.
It turns out that she ended up participating in severance because she wanted to endorse the controversial technique. It’s very much an undercover boss situation where she went in to see things first hand and through this, she could talk about how good it was.
Going through the procedure herself would be its biggest endorsement and mean that for every one person who talked about how cruel it was for Lumon to do it, you’d have someone at the top who could shut it down.
Helena clearly is very business-driven though and she has a completely corporate mentality because we know Helly hasn’t had a good time. She attempted to sever her fingers and she almost hanged herself in the elevator trying to escape. Helena completely ignores all of this because she wants Severance to be seen as successful so that she can continue making profits for the company. Everyone is enamoured by Kier and in many ways, I think that she’d view herself as a failure if she didn’t live up to his legend. She’s had the idea thrust into her that workers are their family but this really isn’t the case and it’s all a PR statement which this entire exercise very much feels like. Corporate propaganda is rife in the series which she wants to help enforce.
This propaganda is also seen in the wellness session in which people are fed lies about how nice and kind their outie is.
As she goes through the Gala we hear the book reading over the top which really adds to her discovering you…not you..her…but you. There’s also mention of Schroedinger’s cat, a thought experiment that hypothesised if a cat is put in a box along with a toxic substance that it is potentially in two states until it’s observed.
The substance could be knocked over killing it which would mean that the cat is dead. However, this may not have happened and thus the cat may still be alive.
It’s very much in two states until it’s looked upon and the cat is both alive and dead much like those in Severance who exist in two states, then neither of which are whole.
About the Gala, we see photos of her which were taken by Milchick earlier in the season. These are all of her smiling, even though we know she was the complete opposite of this. Again it’s propaganda used to hammer home a point.
From her father, we learn that she’s been in a lot of pain over everything, which again ties into Severance being a form of escape. He thanks her for going through with it which explains why her inny was so resistant to everything. She never really wanted to do it herself so there was a side of her that was constantly trying to escape.
Kier clearly has a structure to it where they want everyone separated so that they’re unable to come together. This is why the paintings of the two departments attacking each other exist and why each section is kept separate. Unions are very much something that corporations try to dissuade because it tips the power balance. Severance stops workers from coming together under one unionised banner because it stops people from forming meaningful relationships both inside and outside of work. Helena was sent in as a trojan horse to show that it’s the best way to do things but this completely backfires when her privilege and mission are wiped from her memory and she sees things from a worker’s perspective.
Her arc culminates with her taking to the stage to deliver a talk about how well Severance works so that it can be rolled out across the entire world. However, instead of Helena, Helly is there, to tell the truth about it. She delivers bombshell after bombshell and is escorted off. However it looks like the damage is done and though Helena regains control, there are a lot of things that could end up happening in Season 2 which we’ll talk about later on.
After the titles, we cut to Dylan to see that the gift he requested was a photo of the team together.
Dylan learning that he had a son was a massive part of his arc that pretty much pushed him into deciding that he needed to shut down severance and I love how this is very much reflected in Mark.
Upon coming across his sister he assumes that the baby is theirs, wanders around the book reading party and clearly has no idea what’s really going on.
After speaking to Ricken we get some more of the backstory filled in such as him suggesting that Mark get the procedure. Clearly, everyone has been lied to about Gemma and it’s a cover-up on an industrial level that completely masks her death.
Now it’s during this time that he accidentally calls Mrs Selvig, Mrs Cobel (Cobell) and this sets off alarm bells for her that the overtime contingency is now in effect. She was suspicious but it’s the final nail in the coffin that confirms her suspicions are correct.
Knowing that Helly is at the Gala about to deliver a speech she heads there, desperate to stop her before she takes to the podium. Cobell or Selvig or whatever you wanna call her was completely loyal to the company and I actually think that come the second season that she will be rehired by them. Her removal from the organisation allowed for Overtime to be enacted whereas if she’d been there she likely would’ve stopped the entire thing. Knowing what we know about Helly R it also makes sense that she was fired instantly for covering up her attempted hanging.
Lumon clearly doesn’t mind losing employees and it’s likely that Selvig has presided over several deaths before. However, Helly R may have been the thing that got her cut because she’s so important to the company but going forward I think that Milchick might end up being the one who is let go whilst she’s brought back in.
Under his watch Overtime happened and he’s instructed to stop Dylan. I think Milchick might even end up becoming an ally on the outside as he’s someone who is aware of what’s happened in and out of Lumon and did build a camaraderie with the crew.
Look at those dance moves.
Now he of course awakened Dylan and was the reason why he came into contact with his kid so some fault definitely lies at his feet. Just can’t see the guy being kept around no matter how much paintball or coffee cosies he tries to bribe people with. Tries to get him to do a flip on what side he’s on ey.
Irving comes across his dog named Radar, a palindrome that is spelt the same way forwards as it is backwards. His father was also in the Navy a fact that he proudly displays in his home with several of his medals and belongings on display. Now, these might also have belonged to him and shoutouts to Ryan Arey for pointing out that he may have served himself and have suffered from PTSD. This would make him perfect for severance as he’s trying to get away from it.
He’s also somewhat of an insomniac which explains why he was always tired at work even though we suspected he loved a bit of a party.
Also can’t believe I shouted out Ryan Arey
His outie and Inny are very much starting to bleed together which is why the black paint shows up at his job and why he also loves art.
He ends up coming across a list of Lumon employees that he’s compiled which outlines their names and addresses on a map almost like a radar ey.
Now, something is clearly going on with the character that we aren’t yet privy to. He of course has all of the paintings and the names even though as we know, he hasn’t been down to the testing floor yet.
However, I believe that he probably has and just in the same way that Ms Casey, or rather Gemma was sent down there to be wiped, that he may have been in the past too. Perhaps in his quote-unquote past life, he managed to gain consciousness and then he slowly started to collect all the names of the employees at Lumon. This was discovered and they sent him to be reset but something remained behind. The list stayed at his house and he ended up having flashes of the elevator to the zone that he painted. This was almost completely black which juxtaposed the brightly lit corridors of Lumon. Lumon means to live together which they all do but it also comes from the word luminous which means light. The corridors themselves are filled with bright light inside the company whereas the outside is pretty dark. This corridor completely changes that and feels like the darkest part of the company.
He couldn’t really understand why he did this and his outie has been heavily affected because of it. This could also explain what happened with Gemma and she may have been reset several times and kept down there so that she isn’t discovered on the outside by Mark.
Mark has been told that she died in a car accident so potentially his outie memories were fiddled with too on the testing floor and it makes sense that to make employees that are loyal to the company, they need to remove things on the outside to stop them leaving.
Now the car accident did indeed happen and Helena even hints at this by telling him in episode 1 to keep his eyes on the icy road.
This is how Gemma apparently died but I think that Lumon likely took her body and experimented on her. This could speak to their overall goal to bring all of the Eagan family back to life through chips in their minds which Gemma may be the prototype for. Potentially we could be in a Get Out situation where they’re attempting to put their own minds into the bodies of the dead so that they can come back to life. Their own bodies would be completely rotted away at this point so they’d need fresh ones to implant the chips into.
In Irving’s home, he finds a newspaper article talking about a severed worker who sues for information following an inquiry at Lumon. If we pause the footage we can see in the caption of the paper that this is the Counsel for a man named Mr Emory. In the article, we learn his name is Dalton Emory and potentially this was Irving’s past life. We learn his surname is Bailiff and this has several meanings. In the UK it means someone who seizes and takes things away whereas in the US it’s an official in a court of law that looks after prisoners.
Irving very much feels like he’s the one keeping all the employees in MDR in line because he’s the most senior member. He’s tried to make contact with several of the severed and I think his arc in season 2 might be about going to the other employees to find out what they can tell him.
There’s also the theory that he was one of the first people to receive Severance and potentially it was initially used on soldiers. The military tends to be where a lot of things are initially tested before they’re rolled out and his past life may have been a soldier put into the programme. I dunno if you’ve seen bloodshot yeah but minor spoilers for it, should’ve watched it in lockdown but that contains a soldier who has his mind constantly reset to hide him from the horrors of the jobs he’s constantly committing. Could very much be used on soldiers too and it would explain why Irving has all these medals.
The Final Scenes
Now amongst the addresses, he discovers Burts name and he drives out there. Sadly he finds that Burt is married to another Man and Irving has a breakdown whilst banging on his door.
Back with Mark he finally speaks to his sister and they decide to go to journalists in New York to reveal the truth. He also brings out the fact that Cobell has been masquerading as a kind neighbour to the family. Hide your wife, hide your kid and though she doesn’t take them she speeds back to Lumon whilst Milchick tries to get to Dylan.
Selvig makes it to Helly but she fails to stop her and she delivers the speech.
Mark finds a photo of him and Gemma and he rushes to his sister Devon and screams ‘she’s alive’ which is when we cut to black.
Now going forward Mark will be put back into Severance with his memories of Gemma in the outside world. I think that Petey’s map will come in handy even more in the future and that they’ll slowly start to map out the lower floors. They will potentially discover her down there and Irving could also end up learning the truth about his past as well as why he sees the elevator.
I think this will be when Lumon’s true goal to bring Kier back will be revealed. It could also explain the goats and typically you carry out animal experimentation before moving over to humans. Still have no idea what they are and it’s very much a situation like the polar bears in lost.
Now there’s also the rogue group that is helping with Severance. We know very little about these and I love the theory that they might actually be working for Helena who wants to destroy the programme. Potentially she kept herself in because she knew that she’d expose it and she might actually want to escape her overbearing father and bring the whole thing crashing down.
I think there’s a lot going on with the company that we haven’t scratched the surface of yet and as I go into my review I’d love it if you typed out your best theories below.
Now as for my thoughts on the season, I have to say I think this is easily the best show of 2022 so far. Much in the same way that Devs took a high-level concept and ran with it in a really creative way Ben Stiller has managed to build something head-scratching that feels like a must-watch.
I actually had two attempts at the show and the first time I watched it I accidentally put on episode 3 first. I sat there with the wife like ‘well I heard it was confusing but I didn’t think it would be this bad’ and kinda gave up on it. I’m so glad I went back to it and watched it in the right order as there are a lot of commentaries here on office life, working 9-5 and what can happen if you don’t get the balance right.
On Wednesday Apple announced that a season 2 request had been granted and I can’t wait to see what happens next time. It definitely feels like this show has been a sleeper hit and it’s kept asking some big questions each and every week.
There are also the performances and subplots which really add to it all and the creative team manages to do a lot with very little.
When you think about it the sets are pretty simplistic, the acting is extremely understated and yet there’s a power to the whole thing due to how well it explores its core concept.
For that reason I loved it and it gets a 9.5/10