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.
Many shows attempt this and save too much for the last minute. Severance is a master class in avalanche pacing, where a rolling snowball gradually turns into a glacier sliding down a mountainside: giving us more information each episode, but not overwhelming viewers with too many details and red herrings or rambling off into pointless side plots; repeating and emphasizing important points just enough so that we understand what to watch out for, but not beating us over the head with them; while also developing unique, memorable characters and settings.
All of the puzzle pieces work together to make Severance the achievement that it is. But pacing, as far as I understand filmmaking (which is as a total amateur), comes down to writing, directing and editing, so kudos to writers Dan Erickson, Andrew Colville, Kari Drake, Anna Ouyang Moench, Amanda Overton, Helen Leigh, and Helen Leigh; directors Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle; and editors Geoffrey Richman, Gershon Hinkson and Erica Freed Marker.
The episode picks up at the moment episode 6 ended, in the middle of the night, at Ganz College, where Mark and Gemma used to teach. Outie Mark meets Reghabi hoping to learn more about Lumon’s secrets and Petey’s reintegration. When he asks who she is, in response she walks down the hall and tells him to follow her.
As they take the stairs, then move into an unused portion of the building, she asks him why he didn’t just throw Petey’s phone away. He asks her again who she is. She says she’s the one who helped his friend. He replies that reintegration killed Petey rather than helping him.
Reghabi: “The procedure didn’t kill Petey. If he had followed my post-op instructions and not simply run away at the first sign of sickness–“
What does that mean? Petey was in hiding, including from his daughter, June, who loved him. And he had blocked Reghabi’s number, so he was hiding from her, too. He stopped working at Lumon, so he was also hiding from them. It appears that Mark is the only person Petey trusted. Unless I’m right that he was also working with Harmony and her call to Mark just before he appeared at Pip’s in episode 1 was to set up his visit. Did the chip make Petey overly paranoid or did the reintegration of his memories reveal information that made Reghabi and almost everyone else appear untrustworthy?
Mark asks if she’s a doctor. She doesn’t give him her official credentials and she still hasn’t told him her name. Instead, she says, “I put that chip in your head. And I’m still the only one who can deactivate it.”
Is or was she a scientist working on severance, who’s realized the dangers of her work and switched sides? And did she know Gemma when she and Mark worked at Ganz College?
They finally reach the lab Reghabi uses as her home base. Mark suggests he might not want his chip deactivated. She counters that his innie probably does, if only so that he no longer has to go by the infantilizing term “innie”. Then she remembers that Innie Mark is only two, so maybe infantilizing him isn’t inappropriate. Mark defends his choices by saying that his innie is his own man and they lead separate but equal lives. Innie Mark’s deprived, diminished life, which is lived as a prisoner doing forced labor, completely underground and mostly in one room, makes Outie Mark’s middle class life on the surface possible.
You can tell he’s purposely avoided thinking that through until now.
Reghabi: “But he only exists because of you. And for all intents and purposes, he is you. Do you really think he’s different down there? Combs his hair differently, laughs at different jokes? Maybe he loves it, you’re right. But maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he dreams everyday about clawing his way to the surface. But you wouldn’t know. You’ll never know. You brought him into this world without his permission, based on your own desire for emotional convenience.”
Mark: “I’m not a bad person.”
Reghabi: “I think you wanna do what’s right. Both of you.”
Graner walks in at that moment. Reghabi has positioned herself in the shadows, away from the door, on the other side of a room divider, so that Graner sees Mark but not her. Graner smiles and greets Mark by name, explaining that they work together, so it’s safe to talk to him. He wants to know who Mark was speaking to. Before Mark can figure out what to say, Reghabi sneaks up from behind and hits Graner in the head, hard, with a metal baseball bat. He drops to the floor and she smashes his head a few more times to make sure he’s really dead. Crunchy, squishy sounds convey how effective the bat is on his skull and brain. No word on whether he has a chip or what happens to it.
This is the second person to die in front of Mark this season. Petey’s death took him back to Gemma’s death. Reghabi yells at him to help her move the body. He says he worked with Graner, but she denies it, seemingly saying that Innie and Outie Mark are two completely separate people in her mind. That would be the Lumon position. They can enslave, exploit and assault one side while socializing with the other as if nothing untoward is happening.
Mark helps drag Graner across the floor, leaving a wide trail of blood. When Reghabi says Graner was the head of security on the severed floor, he nearly vomits, but she stops him because she doesn’t want the DNA from his vomit at the crime scene.
Seems like he might have already shed a hair or two at this point in the action, but okay.
Reghabi gives Graner’s security card to Mark, saying “Full access and it can’t be tied to anyone. Take it to work tomorrow. He’ll know what to do.”
Why can’t the security cards be tied to anyone? Shouldn’t they be the most secure cards instead of the least? Does that mean management really doesn’t have chips of any kind or that they’re so severed they have no permanent identity to attach their key cards to? Or is their work so super secret that it’s too risky to put their employee ID numbers on their cards? Which has to make you wonder, again, just what those MDR numbers represent. Viable nuclear warheads versus expired ones? Different types of viruses and poisons meant for biological warfare?
Reghabi takes Petey’s phone from him, saying she’ll take care of it. She tells him to go home and get rid of his clothes. He turns back once as he’s leaving, unsure of what just happened. She says she’ll be in touch, that they’ll finish what Petey started. Then she yells at him to get out and he runs. He vomits on the pavement as soon as he’s outside, leaving behind an unmistakable DNA trail after all. Then he runs for his car and home.
When Mark gets home, he rushes to strip off his clothing, shoes and all, down to his boxer shorts, and put it all in a garbage bag before Alexa gets up and finds him. Yes, this is still the same night when he went out to dinner with Alexa, then left her asleep in his bed while he went off to meet Reghabi. He’s going to have a hard time explaining where his boots and winter coat went in the middle of winter. And it’s a crime to toss that sweater.
Alexa appears just as he’s stuffing the bag of clothes under the cupboard. He backs away when she tries to get close to him. When she asks where he went, he tries to convince her she was dreaming when she heard his car leave. She tells him she’s been up for an hour and he definitely wasn’t in the house.
He changes gears and says sleeping with her was a big deal for him, implying it’s the first time he’s been with anyone since Gemma. So he drove around for a while to try to clear his head. She asks if he wants her to leave. He answers, “Maybe.” Without a word, she turns to go. He doesn’t stop her.
Not cool, Mark, but it has been a night.
In the morning he considers Graner’s security card for a moment, then puts it in his pocket. Next he takes the trash bag with his clothes out to his bin. Selvig catches him and comments that he usually takes his trash out in the early afternoon. She notices he looks troubled and suggests they chat about whatever’s bothering him over a cup of lavender tea later. He says he needs to see how the day goes and she makes a silly Jack Frost joke about the snow.
Harmony is dressed in full Selvig regalia, laying it on thick this morning. However, lavender tea is beneficial for digestive disorders, including vomiting, and for insomnia, headaches and mood disorders. Whatever else she might be up to, Harmony does prescribe helpful herbs for Mark and, as Selvig, provide a warm, maternal presence that he lacks otherwise. I suspect Cobel also had a rough afternoon yesterday, just like Mark. She could use a quiet chat over lavender tea with her surrogate son in order to feel like she’s gotten their relationship back on track, even if she’s the only one who knows it. But maybe she also wants to calm his nerves over Graner’s death and check to see whether watching a coworker die has caused personality bleed between his two sides.
It’s 8:06 AM and Milchick is at the office before everyone else to tie up a few loose ends. His first order of business is to try his own all access key card on both sides of the new locked MDR doors. He works the door more times than necessary, with a palpable sense of schadenfreude over MDR finally being properly corralled.
The new doors look like Star Trek starship doors, except they represent the opposite from what they did in original Trek. These doors symbolize the oppression of common humans to a single underground room and its closets, their minds partitioned so they know only work, all personal progress cut short. In the early 1960s, the way Star Trek’s doors opened automatically as one approached was a marvel, representing humans advancing toward vast freedom and equality in mind, body and spirit.
Milchick’s next stop is the MDR bathroom, where he finds the card that Dylan took from O&D the day before. As he pulls the card from underneath the toilet, we get a glimpse of its back, where it clearly says “Lumon” in big letters. There’s at least one other word I can’t decipher. This is why it was worth the risk to wake Dylan up at home when Milchick couldn’t find the card at the office. He was afraid Dylan had smuggled the card out and in the process figured out the secret of the Lumon code detectors.
The code detectors aren’t real. Milchick thought Dylan got that card out with no one noticing. If the code detectors were real, that wouldn’t have been possible. As many suspected, they are a lie and in reality the severed employees are watched so closely that plans to smuggle out contraband are detected and dramatically foiled to make the others think they can’t get away with it. Anyone who figures out the truth is promoted or disappeared.
Milchick is lucky that Dylan was distracted by his son and hasn’t stopped to think through the implications of Milchick’s visit. Yet. Because that means the only issue with smuggling out writing is stealth. The refiners already know where the blind spots are and how to create distractions. Maybe some of the rumors about shocking events on the severed floor describe distractions meant to help escapees and smuggling operations.
Maybe Milchick purposely let Dylan see his son as a distraction, but I think Milchick is secure in his authority now that he has the card back and MDR is locked up. I think he’s severed too and doesn’t have all that much experience with schemes, other than the sanctioned managerial schemes listed in the handbook. Yet.
Milchick returns the card to Burt (Christopher Walken) in Optics and Design. He’s relieved to have the missing 7199G back and says that Oswald will be as well. Milchick wants them to focus on the final preparations without any further interruptions, but we aren’t told what they’re preparing for. Burt and Felicia (Claudia Robinson) are doing restoration work on some of the Kier paintings. Milchick takes a peek at how it’s coming along, then tells Burt he’s been a great department leader and deserves something special. Burt doesn’t look at Milchick as he says, “Not another trip to the Break Room, I hope. Yesterday was quite enough.” Milchick assures him that it won’t be that, but says he’ll have to wait to discover what it is.
Milchick moves on- it’s time to meet Dylan at the elevator. When the doors open, for Dylan it’s only been a few moments since he met his son. He’s still overwhelmed and confused. Milchick wants to take advantage of his conflicted emotions to railroad him into choices he’ll regret later. Milchick explains his plan as he leads Dylan to MDR.
Milchick: “What happened last night is called the Overtime Contingency. It’s a safeguard we occasionally employ to remotely awaken workers off-site.”
Dylan: “You never told us you could do that.”
Milchick: “It’s for emergency use only. And I didn’t consult Ms Cobel because she’s been so stressed.”
Dylan: “The boy. Was he- was that my son? “
Milchick turns to face Dylan: “He’d agreed to count to a thousand, which he then violated. [He takes a step closer, so he’s right up in Dylan’s face] I really wouldn’t mention this to your colleagues, Dylan. This OTC’s pretty need to know. Understand?”
Dylan, in thoughtful bargaining mode: “Can you tell me his name?”
Milchick thinks he holds all the cards, literally and figuratively, but he still needs to seal the deal: “Not knowing is probably for the best. Hey, I know this has been a tough quarter. I’m gonna see about rustling you up some perks. That sound good?”
Dylan doesn’t answer. What do you say when your boss offers you finger traps in exchange for forgetting the existence of your child? There’s really no office appropriate response to that, though Dylan will find a way to express his feelings on the matter to Milchick later.
Milchick confidently continues leading Dylan on the 10 mile walk to MDR. Dylan follows, with a confused, questioning look.
In a season of stellar acting, this scene showed sides of both Dylan and Milchick that we hadn’t seen before and, as always, both Zach Cherry and Tramell Tillman added layers of nuance and complexity to their characters that (probably) weren’t on the written page.
Outie Mark stands at his locker and exchanges his civvy accessories for his Innie gear. When he’s almost done, he considers whether to leave Graner’s security key card in his pocket or not. Judd is reading the newspaper, so Mark decides to go for it.
Weird how Judd is unaware and nonthreatening at all the right moments. Wonder if he has a connection to Reghabi.
When the elevator doors open onto the severed floor, Milchick is waiting, just as he was when Dylan arrived. He says they’ve instituted a new protocol, so he’s going to escort Mark to MDR and invites Mark to walk ahead of him like a Death Row inmate. Nothing makes a prisoner feel
self-conscious comfortable like having the warden two steps behind him for the 10 mile walk back to the cell.
Mark walks at a brisk pace, only to discover the locked doors to MDR. He indignantly asks if they’re going to be locked in. Milchick prefers the term “safely situated”, since the new doors are meant to keep the refiners tucked up “nicely” in their places. Innie Mark, who doesn’t know Graner is dead, asks if the security chief ordered the change. Milchick ignores the question and opens the doors. He tells Mark to sit down, then goes to get his coffee for him.
The kids are in time out until further notice.
The other three refiners are already seated at their desks. They say a subdued hello, particularly Dylan. Milchick brings Mark his coffee, “straight from the hills of Rwanda.”
Does that sound strange to anyone else? Though Rwanda is mainly known for its 1994 genocide, apparently the country’s farmers grow a great cup of coffee and the rest of the world has begun to figure that out.
Mark smiles a seemingly genuine smile at Milchick in thanks for the coffee, then goes wide-eyed in sarcasm as Milchick turns his back and becomes serious once his supervisor is gone.
Once Milchick passes through the Evil Mirror Universe Star Trek Doors into the hall, he calls Cobel to ask where she is, since Graner hasn’t shown up either. Two interesting bits of information here- Milchick is running the entire severed floor alone this morning, meaning he’ll walk 500 miles today instead of 250; and he’s close enough to his mentor, Harmony, to start his message with, “Hey, it’s me.” But he also reassures her that everything is fine- which it is, so far, except for Graner’s mysterious
No way can one person, alone, even the amazing Milchick, keep this band of rebels under control today, and he has to know that. The card debacle and all of the back talk should have been clues.
Harmony is busy acting as Devon’s lactation consultant, a Very Important Job. Feeding the children comes first, that should be something we can all agree on. As we join their session, which is already in progress, Harmony demonstrates proper nursing technique using a very serious, realistic looking baby doll. I’ll spare y’all the description of her instructions and refer you to the La Leche League if you need help with breastfeeding issues at any stage in the process. They were a lifesaver for me with both of my kids.
When Harmony is done with the lesson, she carelessly flops the doll on the couch next to her, hitting its head on a double breast pump. It’s hilarious, but keep in mind, this was a doll. She was able to get Eleanor to sleep within a couple of minutes of meeting her, proving she’s gentle and loving with actual babies. Nothing wrong with being able to tell the difference between the two and not pretending.
Devon looks exhausted, as you’d expect of a mom having trouble feeding her baby. But Harmony’s instructions work and Eleanor latches on properly on the first try. Within moments she’s happily nursing.
I think there’s another goat’s head on the bureau behind Harmony’s left shoulder, telling us she’s breaking the official Lumon rules. She could be visiting Devon on special assignment from a faction within Lumon or an outside group, such as Reghabi’s people.
Harmony stays for a cup of tea after Eleanor is done eating and down for her nap. She tells Devon some funny stories about the dangers of missing a feeding or pumping session and getting engorged, leaky breasts. She also tells Devon that she’ll stay a while longer because she’s enjoying Devon’s company and Devon doesn’t have much help otherwise, implying she’s helping out with the housework, too.
Devon tells her about meeting Gabby Arteta the night they were both in labor and then again at the park with her husband. Harmony pretends that she thinks Gabby was being a snob. Or maybe she really doesn’t know that civilians are severed. Devon suggests that Gabby may have been severed to avoid remembering the difficulty of childbirth.
Harmony: “Well, I don’t think I’d remember even Clark Gable if I’d just given birth.”
Except that Devon remembers Gabby. More than 25 years later, I remember the faces of the nurses who were there when my kids were born and what was said. If anything, those memories are seared into my brain.
It’s odd that someone Harmony’s age would reference Clark Gable, since he died in 1960, 8 years before Patricia Arquette was born. Unless that’s a hint that either Severance takes place in the past or Harmony has someone else’s consciousness living in her head with her via a chip and reintegration. Maybe Mommy’s consciousness was preserved and she lives in Harmony’s brain now, thanks to Reghabi?
Now that Devon has brought up severance, Harmony takes advantage of the opening.
Harmony: “Severed. Why do you think Mark did it?”
Devon: “Well, it was right after he lost his wife. At first he tried to keep teaching at the college, but he couldn’t.”
Two things: Mark’s grief was so deep that he was unable to work and support himself without severance. He made the choice in order to survive, as he’s basically suggested. As far as I’m concerned, severance is a form of dissociation, along the lines of forcing oneself to develop Dissociative Identity Disorder or enter a fugue state for a portion of each day.
Also, we haven’t been told the circumstances of Gemma’s accident, other than the implication that her car hit a particular tree. If Mark was the driver during the accident that caused Gemma’s death I don’t think he’d visit the tree and treat it with reverence the way he does. I’m starting to think she drove into the tree on purpose and he visits that spot because it’s the place where she chose to die.
Or at least where Lumon has made him believe she chose to die. He’s made her sound well adjusted, but people frequently hide very dark thoughts behind pleasant masks, so we don’t have enough information yet to make an educated guess. I suppose she could have secretly been so unhappy with her life that she chose to have Lumon fake her death and make her a permanent Innie as a form of suicide followed by donating her body to science.
Harmony: “Does he ever talk about her?”
Devon: “Not as much as I’d wish.”
Harmony: “When my husband passed, I thought I saw him everywhere. It was just so hard. Does Mark ever think he sees her?”
Back in the MDR office, Dylan is repetitively tapping his tracking ball, but not putting the scary numbers into a bin. He has that dark, sullen expression on his face that people get when they’ve reached their limit and are being pushed beyond it.
Irving approaches Mark’s desk and says he was in the bathroom and noticed the soap dispensers aren’t labelled “soap”. This seems like an oversight that O&D should take care of. Dylan tells him they all know it’s soap, so it doesn’t need labels. Mark reminds him they can’t leave. Irving confesses that he’s worried Burt is being punished. Dylan goes on the attack, reminding Irv that he was the one who went to O&D when he wasn’t supposed to, even though Dylan warned him repeatedly not to go.
It’s 11:35, a little late for morning break crazy time, but everyone was trying very hard to behave while they’re locked in. Milchick cheerfully wheels in a cart, just as the argument between the refiners is about to take off. Since he’s the one they’re all actually mad at, this is an unfortunate choice on his part.
Mark recognizes that Milchick has brought them an MDE cart, or Music Dance Experience, which means Helly made it to 75% on her current file, Siena. Milchick calls her forward to pick her music genre. Irving notices that Helly’s only reached 73% on her file. Milchick says they’ve all had a tough morning and he thought they deserved 5 minutes of frivolity. Helly asks why it’s been tough for him, but he doesn’t answer.
Helly gets to choose one music genre and one accessory. Accessories include a tambourine, castanets, maracas, a recorder and fringed party horns. The creatively named music genres include: Bawdy Funk, Bouncy Swing, Buoyant Reggae, Defiant Jazz, Effusive Ska, Exalted Choral, Exciting Rap, Hootin’ Tootin’ Country, Lofty Orchestral, Maximized Rhythms, Playful Punk, Reckless Disco, Spooky Ambient, Tearful Emo, Thoughtful Grunge, Wholesome Big Band, and Wistful Pipes.
Helly chooses maracas and Defiant Jazz. Milchick approves. Irving would’ve chosen the castanets. Milchick urges all of the refiners to take part in the MDE. Dylan, who continues to grow a thundercloud over his head, keeps working. Milchick starts the music and uses a remote to turn on flashing, swirling colored lights. Today’s defiant track is Shakey Jake, by Joe McPhee, from 1970.
Milchick is a smooth, amazing dancer. Mark and Irving gamely join in, dancing like a couple of middle aged white guys. Helly dances enthusiasticly, egged on by Milchick. Dylan is a volcano preparing to blow his lid.
Milchick spends a little dance time encouraging each refiner, ending with Dylan, who’s still stubbornly working at his desk. As Milchick dances by, Mark puts his hand in his pocket and discovers Graner’s key card. He quickly understands what it is, having watched Graner unlock the break room only the day before, and shoves it back in his pocket.
Milchick seems to think he’s encouraging Dylan to join the MDE, while Dylan is determined to ignore him and continue working. Milchick’s dance moves begin to feel threatening and he starts to look like a monster as he’s reflected in Dylan’s screen. The music sounds like noise to Dylan as he hears his son calling him Daddy over and over in his head and his temper rises.
Eventually, Dylan can’t take it any more. Yelling, “What’s his name?” repeatedly, he jumps up to attack Milchick, who is taken by surprise. Dylan tackles Milchick, then bites his arm until he draws blood, proving that he is a 2 year old in a grown man’s body. The others pull Dylan off and huddle around him protectively as Milchick complains about the blood, which is blooming in vivid red on his white sweater. Shocked, Irving declares that Milchick will need the “full tetanus toxoid panel.”
Just in case Dylan has rabies or hepatitis. Since he drew blood, Dylan is also at risk for catching any blood-borne illnesses Milchick might be carrying and he should eventually get tested.
Milchick announces that he is taking this violation straight to Ms Cobel. Dylan dares him to. In fact, they can go together.
Dylan also has something he’d like to share with Mom. He’d like to report that his work-life balance was violated last night. Dylan doesn’t have to say the quiet part out loud. Milchick backs down, but he cancels the rest of the Music Dance Experience and flounces out of the room.
He forgot to take his
ball MDE cart with him.
Milchick may not be living severed life in the same category as the refiners, but something is up with him. He acts like a bossy child on the playground who’s not much older than the gang of kids he’s babysitting; the kid who thinks of himself as their older, wiser companion at times, but who also isn’t above sibling rivalry and mild sibling abuse. Sort of like an 8-10 year old put in charge of the 2-5 year olds. He’s fine as long as one of the adults is nearby to provide support, but today Mom and Dad accidentally left him alone with his entire brood of younger siblings and a couple of scatterbrained uncles and it’s too much for him.
As soon as the doors close behind Milchick, Dylan tells the others about the Overtime Contingency, waking up in his closet at home with Milchick asking him questions and meeting his son. The team moves to the supply closet so they can speak about it more openly without being watched through the surveillance cameras. Then Dylan tells them how hard it was to be hugged by his son and feel his love, only to have Milchick shut down the interaction immediately. He keeps trying to remember everything about it so he can imprint it on his memory. There’s no way he can go back to his previous work life, knowing he has a son in the outside world that he’ll never see again.
Ignoring logic and biology, Irving tells him that the boy is his Outie’s son, not his. Dylan won’t even consider Irving’s Lumon-influenced opinion and insists the boy is his son too, which means by implication that in Dylan’s mind, he and his outie are two halves or aspects of the same whole person.
Helly realizes they can take advantage of the Overtime Contingency to see the outside world and find out who they are on the outside. They can investigate how the Overtime Contingency works, then commandeer it for their own purposes. Irving thinks it’s “perverse” for an innie to consider leaving the severed floor. After a minute, Mark remembers that he has Graner’s key card in his pocket, so access to the security office won’t be as impossible as it sounds. They all wonder how Graner’s key card ended up in his outie’s pocket.
But they don’t let the mystery stop them from making plans to escape detention and use the key card to do reconnaissance in the security office. Dylan is nervous that they’ll run into security personnel and Irving is just nervous, but Helly points out that they never see anyone from security except Graner. Mark knows where the office is thanks to Petey, who found it during a fire alarm. Mark is confident they can pull off their plan, so Dylan and Irving decide to go along with it.
For Phase 1, Reconnaissance Field Trip, Dylan will stay in the office and look busy so anyone who’s watching still sees refining getting done. Mark tries the key card on the new locked MDR doors and it lights up green with no hesitation. Out in the hallway, Helly and Mark turn right toward the security office, but Irving turns left. He has to check on Burt’s safety before he can concentrate on anything else. Rather than waste time arguing, they agree to separate.
Marks says security is a ways past Perpetuity. Once they find the unmarked office, he uses the card to unlock the door. Inside, the security office is unmanned, just as Helly predicted. There are rows of monitors, a couple of manuals, dials and buttons with the employees’ names next to them. The halls and elevators are monitored by security cameras.
They find their names on a wall of names with a lit red or green light next to each one. Then Helly takes down the protocols manual to find the section on the Overtime Contingency. As she flips through the pages she momentarily lands on pages for the Elephant Access Circuit protocol and the Branch Transfer Steps, before finding what she’s looking for. The page for the Overtime Contingency states that the procedure must be authorized by a supervisor then performed by two users.
Which means Milchick broke the rules by waking up Dylan without clearing the procedure with Cobel first. If she finds out, he could be sent to the break room. And he had an accomplice or two in the security room who would also be punished.
As Helly searches for the correct page, Mark spots a panel flashing in red and beeping. The panel indicates that Cobel is on her way down to the severed floor in a non-severed elevator. He rushes back to the monitors and confirms that she’s almost to their floor. Helly doesn’t think Cobel will find them, but he doubts they’ll be that lucky. She tears out the page and they race from the room.
Cobel steps out of the elevator and begins a long, suspenseful walk to her office, mirrored with Irving’s long walk to O&D. She finds Natalie waiting for her in the hall outside her office suite. Natalie already has the board on the line waiting for Cobel. The board have already been informed of Doug Graner’s death. They find this so troubling that they’ve authorized their agent, Natalie, to speak first, provide information and ask questions, rather than sitting in silence, waiting for their victim to figure out what they want to hear.
Of course the questions are accusatory, in the form of questioning Harmony’s productivity surrounding the hours old murder of her coworker. The board wants to know if Harmony predicted Doug’s death and if she’s already solved the murder for them. I suspect she did and she could, but she’s not going to incriminate herself, so she folds this tragedy into her ongoing quest to speak to the board about reintegration. She tells them that whoever killed Graner probably also reintegrated Petey.
When Natalie starts to relay the board’s standard disclaimer that reintegration isn’t possible, Harmony interrupts and insists that not only was Petey reintegrated, she has the data and can prove it. She leans into Natalie’s earpiece so the board can hear her say, “And I would be happy to share my findings in person, without intermediaries.”
Natalie sounds surprised when she tells Harmony, “The board agrees and will be available to meet with you at the Eagan Family Gala next week to discuss this further. Details to come.” Harmony stays right up in Natalie’s face to accept their response before heading to her office.
Irving arrives at O&D and discovers they’ve in the middle of a party, complete with a large melon spread. He stops at the door to survey the scene in confusion and dismay. A sign on one of the tables says, “Bye, bye, bye.”
After the cartoon brains that split and released milk, the watermelons remind me of cracked-open skulls with their insides spilling out. I think there’s a subliminal association between brains and food going on. Maybe it’s metaphorical, as in Lumon consumes it’s workers’ lives then leaves them with nothing. Maybe it’s not, as in someone is going to steal their brains.
Helly, Mark and Dylan reunite in the supply closet to go over the Overtime Contingency Procedure. Dylan quickly memorizes the steps and is confident that he can work out how to get past the two person requirement. He’ll have to hold two levers down that are on either side of the door. He says that it’s only fair for him to be the one to stay behind at work while the others go out because he’s already seen the outside.
His closet hardly counts as out, but meeting his son changed his life and he wants that for the others.
When the action returns to the party, it’s revealed that there are signs all over the room saying, “Goodbye, Burt!” Milchick leads Burt in and encourages the O&D staff to cheer for their departing coworker. As Milchick gives his opening remarks, announcing that Burt is retiring, he notices Irving standing in the doorway and notes that he’ll have to check the new MDR doors.
Milchick introduces a farewell video made by Burt’s outie. His outie is dressed in street clothes. The video is of a similar quality to Helly’s introduction video from her outie, but this time it’s a goodbye message. Irving watches Outie Burt with fondness.
Outie Burt: “Hello. This is kind of strange, but a lot of things about this job are. You all know that better than me, I’m guessing. And, of course, I don’t really know any of you, but the man standing there with you does. He’s worked with you for nearly 7 years, and I hope they’ve been good years. I don’t know what they’ve been like, or what, exactly I, or he, has been doing with you, but I do know how I feel every day when I come from being with you. I come home feeling tired but fulfilled. I feel satisfied. I must like you very much. And though today is my last day with you, I’m certain you will remain with me in spirit in some deep, yet completely unaccessible corner of my mind. The impression you’ve left on me is indelible, though I’m unaware of it on a conscious level, and I will never forget any of you, even though siting here right now, I have no recollection of actually ever meeting you and no idea of your names or any of your physical characteristics or even how many of you there are. Anyway, I just wanna say thank you all. And Burt, I see you. Congratulations. Good job, buddy. Bon Voyage.”
What Did Burt Just Say?
Outie Burt gives us the run down on what kinds of memories he’s consciously aware of from his job. He also acknowledges his innie as one facet of himself, rather than a separate person with his own life. Innie Burt’s emotional memories carry through, but not specific memories of the people he interacted with or specific events of the day. The emotions he feels at the end of the day are so strong that they’ve given him a sense of attachment to his job and his coworkers and he knows he’ll miss them just as certainly as he would if his memories were conscious. This has implications for innies and outies running into each other outside of their normal circumstances. They might trigger an unexpected emotional response in each other, which could weaken the severance barrier between their memories, just as one memory can jog another in the real world.
Just as a hypothetical example, consider if Burt and Irving know each other well outside of work. If they were ex-husbands with unresolved issues which left them both with feelings of love and loss, they might have an especially strong reaction to each other at work. They might even reenact their relationship based on subconscious emotions, habits and memories. And if Innie Irving sees Outie Burt for the first time while being blindsided with the prospect of losing him all over again, it might trigger the beginning of even stronger memory associations.
We already have the definite example of Dylan feeling empty, alone, and torn between treating his coworkers as family and keeping his distance out of loyalty to the family he instinctively knew existed but couldn’t consciously remember. Some emotions and emotional memories are so strong they’re basically kinesthetic memories, encoded in the body. If you’ve ever been given shocking news about a loved one without warning, the kind that literally knocks you off your feet, you’ll know what I mean. We know kinesthetic and sense memories survive the severance process. Though the team doesn’t know why certain experiences trigger more intense emotions, the emotions are there. We’ve watched Cobel and Milchick manipulate the team using their emotions. For Dylan and Irving, the thought of losing their loved ones forever is like ripping their hearts out. It’s a huge miscalculation on the part of Milchick and Lumon, because they won’t just get angry. They’ll find ways to recover more memories.
Irving is not okay with Burt retiring. He accuses the rest of the O&D team of standing by and watching Burt die. Then he asks if he and Burt are being punished for disobeying the handbook. Milchick puts on his smarmy smile and explains that this is just part of the Lumon life cycle and Irving can look forward to retiring someday too.
Irving tells Milchick that since he’s not severed, he has no idea what he’s talking about. Retirement for them means having their existence wiped out. Milchick loses his temper and yells at Irving to go back to MDR. Burt intervenes and asks Milchick to let Irving stay for the rest of his party. He promises Irving will behave from now on. For Burt’s sake, Milchick agrees to let him stay and support Burt’s transition, as long as he stops bringing shame on himself and the Eagan family.
Irving agrees, though it hurts him to do so. Milchick returns to his normal overly friendly demeanor and says it’s time for the group to say goodbye to Burt. He puts on Paul Anka’s Times of Your Life, introducing it as “Burt G’s Innie Retirement Song Selection”.
I can’t read every word of the fine print on the vinyl disk, but I’m pretty sure none of it is the song title. It says “Innie Retirement Song” where the title would normally be. The innies don’t have any knowledge of music beyond the occasional MDE or punishment hymn crooned by Ms Cobel, so it’s reasonable for Lumon to provide an appropriate song for the occasion. But why pretend Burt picked it? Did they play him the one song and tell him he wanted it?
As the song plays, Burt’s fellow designers line up to shake his hand. He playfully kisses Felicia’s hand, making her blush. Irving is last in line and the two stare into each other’s eyes for a moment. Then Milchick escorts Irving out of the room as Burt gets an introspective look. Irving also appears lost in thought during the hours long walk back to MDR.
By the time he enters MDR, Irving has returned to his earlier sour mood. The others notice the storm clouds hovering above his head and gather to check on him.
Irving: “Let’s burn this place to the ground.”
They are all in agreement.
That evening, Outie Mark gets super drunk, which is saying something for a functional alcoholic like him. He scrolls through news stories on Ganz College, checking to see if there are reports of a murder, a body being found or the discovery of Rhegabi’s clandestine lab. The headlines all seem typical, but he does pause on a report about a new scholarship for female pharmacology and psychology students that was funded by multiple donations. That seems very specific and pertinent to the story, so let’s flag it for future reference.
Alexa shows up to pick up her phone. She seems to have called ahead, but Mark forgot about the call. He found her phone between the wall and the bed. He tells her that he would have dropped it off at her her house, but he doesn’t know where she lives.
And clearly he had no way to get her address.
She looks over his obviously drunk, creepy self and asks if he’s okay. He uses it as an excuse to come on to her. She tries to leave and he stops her, then apologizes for talking about Gemma. Alexa doesn’t care whether he talks about her or not. This is his issue.
To prove he’s over his beloved dead wife, Mark pulls out a photo of her he just happens to have within reach. He dramatically tears it up into little pieces.and throws the pieces in the air like confetti, exclaiming that Gemma is now gone from his life.
Alexa watches in horror. This is just how a girl wants to imagine her own photo will be treated someday. But also, she’s heard how he talks about Gemma and she knows he’ll regret this. She walks out without a word.
Mark can’t understand her reaction and backtracks. He follows Alexa out to her car, promising to talk about Gemma as much as she wants. He tells her Gemma was great. She says a very final “Goodbye” and drives away.
He follows her car into the street. Reality begins to set in, once he’s standing there cold and alone. His face falls and he whispers to himself, “She was great. She was extraordinary.”
He goes back inside and picks up the pieces of his torn up
life photo. Gemma is all he wants but this photo is all he’s ever going to have.
As he carefully fits the pieces into place like a puzzle, then tapes them back together with scotch tape, Mark tells us what was special about Gemma.
Mark: “My wife was extraordinary. My wife was allergic to nutmeg. And when she sneezed, she always sneezed twice. My wife liked other people’s dogs. My wife thought cardigans looked ridiculous. I loved all these things about her. Equally.”
He finishes repairing the photo, revealing Gemma’s face to us for the first time.
It’s Ms Casey.
Maybe he has a shot at regaining something more than the photo. Innie Mark may not have noticed that his dead wife works at Lumon, but Outie Mark knows something’s up.
RIP Graner. He was the enforcer, but he was mildly amusing. Graner was also the goat who was the blood sacrifice. It remains to be seen whether Reghabi, Mark or someone else will be the scapegoat. The board certainly likes to pick on Harmony.
Welcome back to life, Gemma!!! Very much hoping Dichen Lachman will play a larger role moving forward.
Helly’s bright yellow dress, which smashes the corporate color code, is a signal that we’re about to break all the rules. On the other hand, Mark’s shadow self returns, with a goat’s horn. He’s about to go rogue, of his own volition this time.
I feel like the combination of excessive alcohol, the events of the day, the events of the night before and then symbolically rejecting Gemma all combine to bring Innie and Outie Mark together for a moment. Innie Mark supplies the information that Gemma isn’t really lost, just in hibernation. Because he’s drunk, Mark won’t recognize or understand what happened, but a small part of him may get the message and begin to act on it in some way.
Innie Mark is distracted by Helly, which is part of Ms Cobel’s hostility toward her. She keeps throwing Casey and Mark together, but Helly has the more outgoing personality, and Mark is her supervisor so he naturally notices her. It seems like Gemma’s personality has been wiped and barely replaced to create the bland Casey persona. She’s become a little more lively and individual as the season has gone on, but she can’t compete with Helly’s fully formed rebel for Mark’s attention.
On the flip side, the experiment seems to have worked on Casey. She always notices Mark and worries about him. She blossoms when he pays attention to her. But for whatever reason, Cobel appears to only be interested in how Mark is affected.
This raises all sorts of questions about how Gemma survived the car crash or if the crash and her death were faked. Did she enter the severance program voluntarily, as a form of suicide, or was she forced into it, either through blackmail or kidnapping? Or does Lumon have the ability to bring the recently dead back? Dare we hope for the return of Petey? Cremation is a convenient burial method for switching bodies, but surviving Harmony’s amateur brain surgery might be tough.
Have I recommended Altered Carbon yet? This Netflix show uses disks instead of chips to encode the entire personality, which can then be moved from body to body at will. Bodies become a commodity and the rich and poor become even further apart. The show explores the ramifications of separating mind and body so thoroughly and allowing the process to become both necessary and for profit.
Mark, Gemma and How the Brain Stores Memories
The severance procedure appears to suppress the innies’ explicit long term memories, memories that require conscious thought to access and are more likely to store personal details, while retaining their implicit long term memories, memories that can be retrieved without conscious thought, such as perceptual, motor, procedural and emotional memories. Implicit memories include the routine activities you can do while thinking about something else, that are so ingrained they are second nature to you, like walking, talking, reading, typing and responding to familiar stimuli, such as answering a ringing phone or remembering the layout of your neighborhood. Your personal address and phone numbers would be explicit memories.
I believe that Harmony’s theory of reintegration, which corresponds to what we’re seeing among the refiners, is that deep, long term love creates implicit memories. The innie won’t automatically recognize the person in the present or recall any details about their loved one, but they will have sense memories and possibly memories of the routines they followed together that can be triggered to form a bridge to the explicit memories they connect to.
Mark has Gemma and Dylan has his son. Irving is attached to Burt, but we don’t know yet if they have a connection in the outside world. Helly has a blood feud going on with her outie, which is another whole situation, but it has created strong emotional memories and a near death experience or two. Innie and Outie Helly might have to settle for choosing a dominant persona rather than reintegration.
These articles explain the memory concepts in more detail:
Implicit Memory vs Explicit Memory– verywellmind.com
What’s The Difference Between Implicit And Explicit Memory?– mywellbeing.com
Since Gemma is never far from Outie Mark’s mind and he has so many experiences of her, it stands to reason that some must be close to being coded as fundamental knowledge of his world, even though they don’t appear to be implicit memories. But Harmony seems to be pushing them together in an effort to stimulate spontaneous reintegration in Mark. In this episode, she even asked his sister if he ever sees Gemma anywhere.
Mark’s final speech shows his experiences as an innie are bleeding through to his outie’s subconscious. Ms Casey’s bland personality, her frequent repetition of certain phrases and the similarity of Mark’s various wellness experiences may have made her predictable and familiar, allowing her to become an implicit memory that his outie can access. Unfortunately, we don’t usually fall in love with people who are so predictable that they are nearly invisible. Innie Mark hasn’t had a reason to notice Ms Casey as a potential partner rather than a colleague and in some ways they are both different people now and both children. (Burt and Irving are at least preteens.)
In dementia patients, the last explicit memories to go are the oldest and strongest memories of family that the person spent the most time with. The person will become stuck in a particular time of life, often, but not always, childhood. Currently, my mother no longer recognizes her adult children, but she is certain she needs to rush home to get me and my siblings off the elementary school bus every day. She hasn’t done this in 50 years, but she did it every school day for 12 years before that. Remembering to get the kids off the school bus was a procedure that was so essential it became fundamental to her memories. Perhaps it’s even a form of implicit memory, since it was so routine for so long.
In previous experiments with reintegration, Cobel and Rhegabi may have found that zeroing in on the memories from the most important or happiest period of a person’s life, times when they were involved with people they loved and repeated the same activities with them on a regular basis, until their person became encoded as part of the routine in their implicit memory, can serve as the key to unlock a bridge between the two sides of the brain.
For Petey, it seems to have been memories of making music with his daughter, June. For Mark, it’s memories of the good times with Gemma, maybe especially working together at Ganz College. The visit with Rheghabi may have been meant to trigger deeper memories of Gemma- it seems to have worked that way. By the next night, he’s spontaneously equating one of Ms Casey’s catch phrases with his wife.
These fundamental memories may also eventually serve as an anchor for the innie, providing common ground for both the innie and outie to access as the beginning of the framework that will become a reintegrated personality. Without that common ground, the innie and outie’s explicit memories, which create their unique personalities and life stories, might run the risk of remaining separate and disorganized.
One of Petey’s issues seemed to be the collapse of his mind due to disorganization when his brain was faced with more new memories than he could cope with at once, as his outie and innie memories combined. Once the process has been sufficiently triggered to ensure it will continue, it may be necessary to reintegrate slowly and in a minimally stimulating environment to let the mind adjust to the flood of information from the entire brain, instead of alternating on a chronological and spatially dictated basis the way it’s been trained by severance.
Notes on Reghabi, Alexa, Mark and Graner’s Death:
-Rheghabi asks if Mark came alone. A natural question, but I also wonder if Cobel tipped her off that Alexa is currently at his house. Alexa could be a Lumon mole who’s watching Ricken & Devon because of the books and who checks in on Mark after rough days to see how his outie is holding up.
-Rheghabi quickly manipulates and guilts Mark based on framing his innie as both his neglected inner child and his actual child who’s been abandoned. Just before Graner arrives, she tells him that deep down, he wants to do what’s right.
– I think she was tipped off that Graner was on his way and knew she had to do a fast, hard sell with Mark before he got there. She stays out of sight of the door during their conversation and speaks softly. She placed Mark where Graner would see him, then used Mark as a distraction while she snuck up behind Graner to disable him. She had the bat at the ready and didn’t seem surprised at all. For example, she didn’t accuse Mark of letting Graner follow him.
-She argues Innie and Outie Mark are the same person, then she tells him he doesn’t work with Graner. She also has him help drag the body and turn over the phone, then screams at him to leave. It’s as if they wanted to make sure he could be implicated in Graner’s death. Was he set up as the fall guy in case it comes to that?
-Mark vomits and leaves his DNA all over the driveway. Throwing his clothes out leaves the evidence intact and makes the change in winter boots and coat, items most people don’t replace often, obvious. He would have been better off thoroughly cleaning everything with bleach or maybe vinegar.
-If the chip memory functions as a recorder and Graner was chipped then Mark will be the one Lumon sees just before Graner dies. They’ll see that he didn’t attack Graner, unless Rhagabi, who is a chip expert, alters the chip data. There are now two potential pieces of blackmail data on Mark: he was involved in Graner’s death and he slept with Alexa. She may have placed her phone in a hidden spot next to the bed to make a recording that could be used to make it seem like he cheated on Gemma. In real life, no sane person would accuse him of cheating on a dead wife, but the dynamics are complicated here. If Gemma begins recovering her original persona, a recording of Mark with another woman could also be used to convince Casey to give up on him because he’s moved on. That might be enough to drive Gemma back into hibernation.
-So far, Outie Mark has believed every lie Lumon has told him about how he got hurt, or at least he hasn’t bothered to question it. Under normal circumstances, he eventually wouldn’t need the gift card anymore. A bit of praise for his loyalty and devotion would do the trick. In this episode, he also followed Rheghabi’s instructions, even though he’d just met her. Is this passivity new or was he this way with Gemma? In his conversation at the restaurant with Alexa, he implied that Gemma was the one in charge.
-Maybe watching two different coworkers die in two different ways over the last several episodes will wake Mark up to the dangerous reality of his situation. He should be asking himself why Graner was there at all and why Reghabi felt she had to kill him to protect herself and Mark. She let Mark leave after he watched her kill Graner, so she’s probably not a threat to him. She trusted that he wouldn’t call the police on her as soon as he left, even though they’ve just met. How much does she know about him through Petey, Gemma or others? And what is the Ganz College connection?
The Music Dance Experience
We need a special “Inside the MDE” episode. And a Spotify/iTunes playlist. Or did they release one and I missed it?
‘Severance’ Creator Dan Erickson Knows Exactly What the Goats Are For– Thrillist.com
Thrillist: You conceived the idea for this show some time ago. How does the final product compare to your original plan?
It’s different for sure. But, I’m amazed how little of it I had to compromise. The very first draft I ever did of it felt more like Brazil or, you know, Being John Malkovich, where there was even a little bit more of a surreal weirdness to it, and a heightened reality to it. And I think that that was the biggest change that came about through working with Ben [Stiller] and working with Red Hour [the production company]. The more we talked about it what we found the most interesting was the quiet sadness at the center of the conceit, which is that these are all people who chose to do this, it wasn’t forced on anybody. These are people who, for whatever reason, decided that their life would be better if they didn’t experience it all at once, and instead segmented it.
The initial ideas came to me while I was working a really bad office job and going through a somewhat depressive state. And so I wanted to really protect that the humaneness is at the center of that idea, and Ben, fortunately, was all in on that. That was the thing that he was most drawn to about it. So, we pulled back a bit on the surreal stuff, and the sci-fi stuff and the thriller-y stuff. And we’re sort of like, okay, what’s the best way to use those elements to serve the story and to serve the characters’ stories? Once we had that general philosophy for what we wanted it to be, there was very little that we were forced to compromise or cut. It was incredible that we got to make this as unique and weird as it turned out to be, because I kept thinking they were going to come in and sanitize it, but they never did.
[Metacrone: He and Ben Stiller found the right balance between the sci fi elements that make the show mysterious and unique (and important) and the pathos in the characters that makes them relatable, real people who we want to know more about. I love that it gets strange and surreal, but that would get old without the meaning in the characters’ journeys. Hopefully they can hang on to that balance in the future. I’ve watched too many shows spiral off into trying to outdo themselves with cool or surreal plot lines, only to lose the humanity that made them successful.]
Thrillist: I’m glad that you guys have a definite answer for the goats because that really has been keeping me up.
Dan: A lot of people want to know what those goats are. That’s a big thing. My mom really wants to know that the goats are okay.
Thrillist: I do too!
Dan: I will say you don’t know if those are good or bad goats. They could be evil goats.
[Metacrone: A huge segment of the internet will riot if the baby goats are evil. The rest will say, “I told you so.”]
Thrillist: I love all the stilted corporate language and all the terminology, like “Music Dance Experience.” How did you come up with all of that?
Dan: Well, I didn’t come up with it. It’s mostly, in some cases, it’s actually a watered-down version of real stuff I encountered in the corporate world. Because there’s just so much insanity there. The Lumon Core Principles are taken largely from a couple places I worked at that had their own version of that, these empty words that were thrown out to give a sense that there was a deeper philosophy to the place.
[Metacrone: This makes me feel so much better about spending time on the four tempers in almost every recap but ignoring the nine virtues almost completely. They’re so broad, vague and redundant, just like real life corporate “goals”, that I haven’t been able to see where Lumon was incorporating them, other than when Harmony and Irving bring them up for a brief moment. And they don’t include Valiance. Megacorporations aren’t interested in Valiance. It brings in union organizers and whistleblowers.]
The Security Room
Each severed worker has a red and a green light next to their name, with one or the other turned on, suggesting it denotes whether their severance programming is active or not. Most are active, including all four refiners.
The Elephant Access Circuit and the Branch Transfer Steps show that, as suspected, Lumon has more detailed control of the severance procedure than simply bifurcating the brain by turning memories on or off chronologically and spatially. My guess is that the Elephant Access Circuit is a way to retrieve stored memories or personas that haven’t been in use for a while ( elephants never forget). The Branch Transfer Steps might be instructions for wiping a current innie persona, then restarting a new one when the severed employee changes jobs. Or as punishment. Or when they see something they shouldn’t. Guessing this one has been used on Irving a few times.
One of the security panels shows various readings for the separate elevators for severed and nonsevered employees. Cobel takes the nonsevered elevator. Does this mean for sure that she doesn’t have a chip or is the distinction fake, like the code detectors? Maybe the distinction is that you can bring whatever you want in and out if you use the nonsevered elevators, regardless of chip status. Or maybe Harmony isn’t severed, she’s just fascinated by the process. Or she has a chip, but she’s permanently in one state or the other- innie or outie. I wonder how reintegration fits into the elevator classification scenario. Do you have to take the stairs if you’re both severed and nonsevered, so you don’t break the elevator’s sensors? 😉
Images courtesy of AppleTV.