Apple TV+ original series Severance, one of the best shows on Apple TV+, immediately caught the eyes of fans thanks to its intriguing premise and star-studded cast list. As the story goes, deeply depressed Mark (Adam Scott), grieving the death of his wife, decides to join a program called Severance that medically severs one’s brain into two parts: One for work and one for personal life. Severed people effectively have their memories bifurcated. They are an “innie” when at work and an “outie” in the real world.
In participating, Mark hopes he will be better able to cope through a workday by forgetting about his sorrows for eight hours, then return to normal life with his family and friends where he can continue to grieve and take things day by day.
Note: Spoilers ahead about the finale.
The Severance program is promoted as the ultimate way to achieve a healthy work-life balance. No severed person ever takes their work home with them. Once they get into the elevator and head down to the lobby of the Lumon Industries building, their “outie” portion of the brain kicks in and they forget everything about the office. Likewise, when they hop on the elevator and rise to the severed floor, the “innie” is activated and they completely forget who they are in the real world. There are no distractions: You don’t know about your sick family members, troubles with the spouse, worry about kids (or even if you have any), or that you live alone. Inside the office, you look and even, to some degree, act the same aside from confusion about your actual identity. By and large, it’s like you’re two different people, one of whom is a prisoner to the other.
As Mark goes through the motions in his mundane day-to-day job, working in a nondescript room doing seemingly nonsensical, monotonous microdata refinement work on an ancient computer, he slowly begins to question what’s really going on. Triggering his doubt is a former colleague and work friend Peter (Yul Vazquez), who approaches his “outie” in the real world to warn him of…something. The fact that Petey seems conscious of both his “innie” and “outie” is puzzling. While Mark’s “outie” doesn’t know who Petey is, he can’t shake the feeling that this guy’s for real. The tension begins to build in this moment, slowly progressing through each episode.
When Mark meets new co-worker Helly (Britt Lower) who goes to drastic measures to unsuccessfully convince her “outie” to remove her from this horrifyingly monotonous existence, he starts to see more and more signs that something is amiss.
As various events occur, Mark, Helly, co-workers Dylan (Zach Cherry), and Irving (John Turturro) shockingly discover that Lumon can activate an “innie” in the outside world if necessary through something called “overtime contingency.” Thanks to Helly’s passionate determination and hatred of her existence there, they figure out how this is done and concoct a plan to release their “innies” into the real world for just long enough to reveal the truth to the public. It all comes to a head in the explosive finale.
The final episode, particularly the last 15 minutes, defines edge-of-your-seat tension with each passing scene. The performances and delivery style, with the camera flipping back and forth among the three characters wandering the real world as their “innies,” is fabulously shot and wonderfully acted. Mark, attending a book reading as his “innie,” discovers the author of a book about control and humanity that he had been secretly reading at work is actually his brother-in-law. He is completely thrown when he meets his “innie’s” boss Harmony (Patricia Arquette) at the party going by the name of Mrs. Selvig in the real world. She is not only his sister’s birthing coach and his next-door neighbor, but Mark suspiciously gets the feeling that she isn’t actually severed and is fully aware of both her personas.
Meanwhile, Helly is completely shocked to discover that her outie is the daughter of Lumon’s CEO and a corporate bigwig at the company. She severed herself as a marketing ploy, a means of promoting the program. Irving, meanwhile, finds out that he’s a lonely painter with a dog, and his at-work crush Burt (Christopher Walken) is already in a relationship.
If you have ever watched a TV show and felt the need to scream at the TV, this is the kind of episode to elicit such a response. Watching Mark squander one opportunity after another to tell someone, anyone, what is really going on, is enough to make you break into a sweat.
As the scenes flip back and forth, you feel the anguish of each character as they grapple with the reveal of who they really are and what their lives are like outside of the office. The ticking clock adds a sense of urgency as Dylan holds on for dear life to keep the “innies” aware for as long as possible. But it isn’t easy seeing as he has to contort his body to reach the required series of buttons, not to mention severed floor supervisor Seth (Tramell Tillman) is onto them and on his way to stop Dylan from activating the “overtime contingency.”
For a psychological thriller like Severance to deliver the goods, it needs a shocking twist or cliffhanger, and this show delivers in spades. While Helly makes it in time to reveal some harsh truths to a confused crowd, viewers are unsure if Mark was able to accomplish his mission before the clock ran out. Reeling from the discovery that his wife isn’t actually dead, but rather working as the severed floor’s wellness counselor Ms. Casey (Dichen Lachman) (with whom he has interacted many times as his “innie,”) both Mark and viewers gasped in disbelief. If there was any question about how well the Severance program worked, this proved its power.
But the throw-your-remote-at-the-TV moment comes when Mark is mid-scream to reveal this fact to his unsevered sister and the screen cuts to black. Did he reveal it in time or not? It was a moment that still has fans talking.
With such a climactic ending, fans would have been outraged if there wasn’t already confirmation of a season 2. There’s still so much story to tell and questions to be answered.
What is Lumon’s goal, and what are the implications of the company seemingly also severing people outside of the work/home life experience? Are there side effects to the Severance program that aren’t being discussed, considering the state Petey was in when Mark saw him? Are early severed subjects simply guinea pigs for a program that will be used far more widely? And what really happened to Mark’s wife Gemma, aka. Ms. Casey?
Admittedly, Severance was a slow burn through a few of the episodes, but it was worth it for the nail-biting, exciting, frantic final episode. A season finale’s job is to draw viewers in and keep them wanting more, after all. And Severance‘s finale achieved this better than any other I have seen in some time.
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