Severance Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

 

Mark (Adam Scott) struggles to recover from the loss of his wife in a car accident. And, in order to be able to somehow distract himself from sad thoughts, he agrees to go to work at Lumon Industries, which practices the separation procedure: with the help of an electronic chip implanted directly into the brain, a person becomes, as it were, two personalities in one – a person at work has no idea what a person does outside of work, and vice versa.

Out of the office, Mark is plunged into depression and at the same time categorically refuses to be guarded by sister Devon (Jen Tulloch) and husband Ricken (Michael Chernus). And office Mark, apparently, is quite pleased with the state of affairs, especially since the stern head Harmony Kobel (Patricia Arquette) has promoted him to the head of the department.

Mark’s department is in charge of “macrodata processing,” which really means looking at some random numbers on pre-deluge-looking monitors and picking out the ones that are alarming, sort of like playing Tetris.

In addition to Mark, there are three other people working in the department.

Old-timer Irving (John Turturro) is an imposing, graying man obsessed with the strictest implementation of all sorts of rules and regulations. Irving is very boring, sarcastic and somewhat patronizing to the rest of the employees, which irritates them terribly.

Dylan (Zach Cherry), a fat man who is afraid of trouble and enjoys like a child all sorts of rewards, including finger traps, erasers, waffle buffets and musical breaks. Dylan has been named the best employee on the block multiple times and is proud of his accomplishments.

Helly (Brittney Lower) is new to the department. She has just been separated, the girl is very nervous, she does not like everything in the department, and she is trying to figure out how to quit quickly. Mark takes care of her.

Also, a certain Petey (Yul Vasquez) also worked here – he was the head of the department before Mark: other employees periodically recall him. But Petey doesn’t come to work anymore and they have no idea what happened to him. However, employees know that, like, how to write a letter of resignation, and if your “outside” approves, then the dismissal can take place. So maybe Petey just quit, the department thinks?

Initially, only Mark is shown to us outside the office: viewers will learn about who the rest of the employees are in real life much later. Mark is depressed, he has a strange relationship with his neighbor Mrs. Selvig, under pressure from his sister, he periodically comes to visit her to chat with other people.

At some point, Mark is contacted by a completely unfamiliar man who introduced himself as Petey. Petey reveals that he was an employee of Mark’s department and his identity was also split. But he was helped to hack the implant, and now his outer personality is aware of what is happening in Lumon. Petey was Mark’s best friend at work, he is in terrible danger, and he gives Mark the information that he managed to collect.

***

The series’ showrunner is Dan Erickson. Dan came up with the idea for the script when he was working in all sorts of dull offices from nine to five in Los Angeles, and he always wanted to somehow erase this office burden from his life.

However, the idea itself is not new – in Philip Kay Dick, in the 1953 story “Full Account”, the main character entered into a contract with a certain “Retrick Construction”, according to which he had completely erased all his memories for two years of service. Moreover, as a reward for this, instead of the promised huge amount, he received only certain items that he himself chose at work. The hero of the story had no idea why he did all this, but the items received should help him get a full settlement with the company.

By the way, according to this story, John Woo in 2003 made the film “Payment Hour” with Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Aaron Eckhart and Paul Giamati. The film rolled very modestly and has a low rating.

Erickson wrote the script, but no one was interested, so Dan posted it on Bloodlist, a graveyard of unclaimed scripts, where it was somehow discovered by Ben Stiller. Ben brought the script to Apple TV+, said that he was ready to become a director, and since Stiller is an important figure in the film industry, in addition, he has directed seven films and TV series, five of which were very successful (among them, “The Cable Guy”, “Model Male “,” Soldiers of Doom, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, and the excellent recent series “Escape from Dannemora Prison”), on Apple TV + gave the project a green light.

Dan Erickson was finally able to send a dreary office job and become showrunner and writer of the series (this is his debut in these roles), Ben Stiller directed six episodes out of nine in the first season, and three more episodes were directed by Ifa McArdle, who worked on Brave New world”.

Filmed primarily in New Jersey, the role of Lumon Industries was played by the Bell Labs Holmdel Complex, an example of 1950s modernist architecture.


Bell Labs Holmdel Complex on satellite map

At the entrance to this building there is a water tower in the form of a transistor (it is shown in the series), which is not at all surprising, because the transistor was invented at Bell Labs.

The series is delivered in a very interesting and unusual manner. Events in it develop quite slowly – in modern English there is a special term for this “slowburner”. But this is done on purpose: you should gradually be sucked in by this lingering office atmosphere, these windowless rooms, these endless white corridors, minimalist rooms, strange monochrome monitors from the eighties and the special atmosphere of a department consisting of people who have no idea who they are generally like that and what they do in this life, but they meet every day at nine in the morning in this office, remembering only what happened in the department over the previous couple of months.

They are completely cut off from real life, for them the boss Harmony Kobel is actually the God of Hosts, and her henchman Mr. Milchik is the punishing Archangel. However, we note that Mr. Milchik can be very nice, especially when he arranges an encouraging musical break, but it’s better for all of them not to anger Harmony Kobel in anything, because otherwise Mr. Milchik may invite the delinquent to the Break Room, and God forbid at all encounter something like this!

The real world is shown gray, nondescript and somehow timeless – it’s not at all clear what years it is: judging by the cars and other signs, it could be the eighties in general. Although on the other hand, when they show who Helly is in real life, it is clearly not the eighties there.

Adam Scott is really good as Mark. A kind of eternally young yuppie, although he is under fifty, not a particularly memorable face, a small office boss, but at the same time played really well! Two characters in one body: a heartbroken, depressed external Mark – and his “intro” in the office, where he is the boss, where he is more or less satisfied, but his office version is a sympathetic person trying to understand what is happening, and he not only helps his employees, but actually leads the office La Resistance (resistance) towards the end of the season.

Patricia Arquette – absolutely amazed in the role of the sinister boss Harmony Kobel, over which, of course, there are bosses. I didn’t really like this actress when she became a star in the late nineties (all sorts of Stigmata and all that), but she definitely grew into a very serious actress: she has a great role in Escape from Dannemore Prison, and here .

In this series, her Harmony Kobel is a very ambiguous character. There are employees in Lumon Industries who have not been separated. So Harmony Kobel is both Mark’s boss at the company and his roommate in real life. (This is not a spoiler, it is shown almost immediately.) At the same time, Kobel, on the one hand, clearly fulfills her duties, but, on the other hand, we are shown that she does not really like to participate in all this. And here Patricia perfectly demonstrated both an inflexible boss at work and a person who understands the horror of his situation and tries to somehow cope with it. Really great role, just wonderful!

The little-known (before this series, I hope) actor Tramell Tillman is very good, who played the same Mr. Milchik, who can be very friendly, but his main role is the punishing Archangel. He is such a darling guy when he arranges a musical break, but he also accompanies him to the Break Room and performs very unpleasant functions there. Well played, both sides of this character are shown quite impressively.

Dylan was portrayed by famous comedian Zach Cherry. The character is cute and funny. Dylan is genuinely passionate about his work and takes great pride in his collection of goofy finger traps that he is given as an encouragement. And he is terribly afraid of any trouble. However, when other employees in the department begin to fight the system and take great risks in doing so, Dylan nevertheless crawls out of his office bubble and takes on serious responsibility.

I really liked Brittney Lower as Helly. I have never seen this actress anywhere before, she played in some little-known films and series, but here her role is very noticeable and even somewhat significant. Helly doesn’t like this job terribly, she tries to quit all the time, she is in constant depression and commits self-destructive acts out of despair, but her external incarnation categorically refuses to allow dismissal even under the threat of suicide, and here’s why – the audience will have to find out.

Separate words deserve a married couple sister Mark Devon and her husband Ricken. Jen Tulloch is good as Devon, but Michael Chernus’s Ricken is extremely interesting. He seems to be a very ridiculous character at first, but gradually Ricken’s personality is revealed and there is an interesting story with a book written by Ricken, which does not arouse any interest in the out-of-office Mark and which actually changes the lives of the employees of the department led by Mark.

Well, the patriarchs John Turturro and Christopher Walken (Christopher played Bert, head of optics and design) are just great here! Irving and Bert develop a strong (even sometimes too strong) friendship, a funny story is connected with the rivalry between their departments, and every episode with these two actors is just some kind of holiday!

Despite the initial slowness, which, however, did not annoy me in any way, the series gradually accelerates and closer to the final there begins such a drive that just hold on! The first season, on the one hand, draws a certain line, but on the other hand, it leaves an excellent foundation for the second season, where all the cards should be revealed.

I really liked how it was done: how it was conceived, how it was staged and how it was played. The absolutely mesmerizing setting of this strange and frightening office, certain rituals that may seem silly and naive, or scare the hell out of you, meditative music and throwing characters locked in their office forms.

Great, just great! The impression made was somewhat reminiscent of the recent series “Programmers” by Alex Garland.

However, I am sure that not everyone will like this series. If you do not “enter” this situation, this atmosphere, then the series may seem boring and drawn out. But, by the way, the highest rating and the number of voters show that there are very few such people.

Severance

Director: Ben Stiller, Ifa McArdle Cast: Adam Scott, Zach Cherry, Brittney Lower, Tramell Tillman, Jan Tulloch, Dichen Luckman, Michael Chernus, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Patricia Arquette

Series, USA, 2022, 55 min. Fantastic psychological thriller, 2 seasons, 9 episodes in 1 season

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