Severance Recap: Inexplicable Goats


The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Apple TV+

It’s not hyperbole to say that Severance is the most visually arresting show on TV today. Along with the gorgeous costuming, deft art direction, meticulous production design, and spot-on cinematography, the entire credit sequence (by Oliver Latta, a.k.a. “Extraweg”) is a glorious work of clay-like animation designed to compliment the series’ artistic sensibilities. I can’t stop watching it. And the setting — Eero Saarinen’s stunning Bell Labs — is a real-world piece of mid-century modern art that serves as a crucial centerpiece for the narrative.

As an eagle-eyed Redditor pointed out this week, the overhead view of the Bell Labs complex looks very much like a severed brain. Whoa. And this imagery nudges us to think a bit more critically about the mind. If Lumon has concerned itself with the workings of the brain, they sure aren’t seeking to tap into its untold potential. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

In a healthy brain, all areas are interconnected with synapses firing, connecting, and sending messages throughout the mind and body in seamless concert. But the severance process — and the entirety of the severed floor — operates quite differently. Everything is a mystery; there’s no connection or teamwork. Obfuscation is the goal. Lumon is actively working to stifle the workers’ potential and make them into unwitting puppets for mysterious ends. And no one is allowed to leave.

Especially not Helly R.

Even though Helly’s outie had a horrifying near-death experience — murder by innie is a shiny new way to die in this strange world — she has no intention of resigning. Maybe a Pip’s VIP card convinced her to stay? Hey Helly, you accidentally slipped on a projector slide today and bruised your neck … in a nearly fatal way … but never mind that! Here’s a gift card!

Outie Helly’s refusal to leave the job on the severed floor despite her innie’s attempt to harm herself is inexplicable and borderline terrifying. From the scant few times we’ve seen Helly’s outie, all we know is that Milchick was very grateful to have her go through the severance procedure and that from day one she’s known her innie wants out. What would compel someone to stay at a job after experiencing such horror? Money? Fame? Duty? Who is this woman?

Even though Helly returns to the severed floor days after her suicide attempt, it’s like there’s been no gap in her consciousness. She awakens, gasping for air on the floor of the elevator. Mark’s there, trying — and spectacularly failing — to make his eyes kind.

While Helly was out, innie Mark had a revelation, courtesy of Ricken’s book. Many passages resonate with Mark, but one quote in particular, “fight for the freedom of the soldier next to you,” seems to rouse him into shifting his mindset so he can better help Helly.

The triangular dynamic that is starting to develop between Mark’s innie, Mark’s outie, and Ricken is quite funny. Ricken clearly cares very deeply about what outie Mark thinks of the book, but that version of Mark didn’t receive it. Innie Mark has it, and he’s smitten. In fact, if innie Mark knew that Dr. Ricken Lazlo Hale was calling his cell phone in the real world, I do believe he’d be quite delighted. Also, Ricken’s panicked voice mail to Mark in which he addresses his innie as “still in severed work form” and “Mark’s work self” is gold. May Kier bless Michael Chernus and his impeccable comedic timing.

With his insubordination impulse rekindled by Ricken’s words, Mark decides to save Helly from Ms. Casey’s wellness surveillance. He takes her on a mental health walk through the Lumon labyrinth. They somehow end up in a corridor where all the lights are on motion sensors. Helly forges ahead, the fluorescent bulbs illuminating only a few feet ahead of wherever she tries to go. In keeping with the show’s motif, the effect provides an otherworldly feel, almost like Helly and Mark are being beamed up to another planet. It also evokes great anxiety. How is someone supposed to navigate this perverse maze at all, much less in the dark?

As they stalk the hallways, trying in vain to find their way back, they hear the most goddamn unsettling noise. It sounds like a screaming robot baby or a shrieking eel. (Dylan can sense these, you know.) Surprise! It’s baby goats. And these baby goats are being inexplicably raised on the basement floor of a windowless office building. Mark and Helly aren’t even able to process what in the what is going on before the goat caretaker frantically shoos them away, shouting, “They’re not ready! It isn’t time!” This, obviously, leads Helly to wonder if the goats are somehow related to the numbers. Personally, I’m wondering if they’re putting chips in the goats or maybe even cloning them for some reason. The real answer is probably something even wilder.

Helly and Mark end up coming to a friendly truce just before Ms. Casey finds the duo in the hall. This is the third episode that’s featured Ms. Casey, and she continues to evoke a very strange yet warm presence. Even though she seems like she was pulled right off the assembly line at Westworld (see: her knowledge that a trip to the supply room takes exactly eight minutes), she definitely has a heart. After all, she’s the one who tells Irv that Burt is in the conference room.

After Irv dozes off and experiences another black goo nightmare, he decides he must consult with his new buddy. However, when he goes to make a copy of his O&D map for Mark, he finds a horrifying painting in the printer. It depicts the O&D department brutally slaughtering the refiners. Yikes. It turns out that Milchick planted this picture to deter Irv from seeking out Burt, but Cobel is not happy about this turn of events. She has her own plan, and she doesn’t want Milchick mucking it up. She delivers her potent quotable of the week when she says, “The surest way to tame a prisoner is to make him feel free.”

Undeterred by the photo, Irv heads out to see Burt. But Dylan is hot on his heels. As portrayed by the feisty and fantastic Zach Cherry, Dylan has been a peripheral — if unforgettable — character thus far, and I’ve been dying to learn more about him. His healthy fear of O&D and his affinity for the work perks have been well documented, but this week we get to see more of him, including a demonstration of a curious skill.

In trying to keep Irv and Burt apart, Dylan comes out of nowhere and efficiently secures the conference room door handle with nothing but a belt and a few sure knots. As motor skills are stored in a distinct part of the brain, muscle memory would likely be something that would carry over from the severance process. So we can assume that Dylan’s outie knows his way around a knot. Maybe he’s a sailor? A Boy Scout? Seriously, I’m just dying to know more about Dylan’s outie. Throw us a bone, Severance!

Dylan succeeds in physically separating Irv and Burt, but they still have an entire conversation through the glass. Even though a partition, the sparks continue to fly between these two crazy kids. They might just be soulmates.

In a peculiar twist, Burt tells Dylan and Irv that his team (kind of) believes the refiners have pouches in which they carry larval offspring. Eventually, the larva eats and totally replaces the refiner. Of course, all of these wacky rumors have been orchestrated by Cobel or Milchick or some upper management drone in order to control the severed population by keeping the departments at perpetual odds, but it seems important that Burt’s telling of this story overlaps with the introduction of the goats. It might even be worth wondering whether or not all of the severed employees are actually humans. (Looking at you, Ms. Casey.)

Dylan and Irv escort Burt back to O&D. Dylan finds the same painting that he and Irv saw in the copier earlier and freaks the fuck out but neglects to notice that the badge colors have been switched. Burt calls this painting the “Macrodata Refinement Calamity” and says it’s never been displayed. He invites the two refiners in to meet the rest of his crew as the music swells in the background.

It looks like it’s time for my staggered exit, so I’m going to go grab the elevator. Until next time…

Severed Sentiments

• The more I type “MDR” in these recaps, the more I’m reminded of EMDR or “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” EMDR is a process in which a therapist asks a patient to track an object with their eyes as they think of past traumatic memories. The combination of eye movements coupled with a guided remembering of negative events often serves to neutralize the emotion in those memories. Could the “scary numbers” be correlated to negative memories in a person’s life? Mark wanted to forget about his wife, and his innie gets to do so for eight hours a day, thanks to the severance chip. Someone had to delete that memory, Eternal Sunshine-style, right? This idea further confirms my original theory that the refiners are programming severance chips for future severed people by erasing personal memories and leaving a blank slate in its place.

• Along with his little gray cloud of sadness, Mark is definitely exhibiting patterns that carry over between the innie and outie worlds. One thing he’s been doing that drives me absolutely bonkers is asking people if they’re okay when they are clearly not okay. Mark is a sweet, polite dude, and it’s coming from a place of concern and love, but seriously? He asked Petey if he was okay when his brain was melting down in the second episode (no), and this week he asked his sister if she was okay while she was in active labor (also no), and then asked Helly if she was okay after her suicide attempt (definitely no). This is a nice guy reflex that Lumon has not erased. What else haven’t they erased?

• Speaking of Mark and his sister, it’s clear that he loves her, dearly and truly. If not for Devon, I think it’s truly possible that he might have ended it all after his wife’s death.

• Cobel and Grainer are totally banging. Gross.

Severance Recap: Inexplicable Goats