About a third of the way through the Severance finale, Dr. Ricken Lazlo Hale begins to read from his new book, The You You Are. After sharing an insipid (and false) anecdote about Mozart, he asks two questions: “What, indeed, is you?” and “Who are you?”
From the very first frame of the series, Severance has been deeply pondering that question. All along, the innies have been seeking answers about who they truly are. But the concept of identity is a constantly moving target. Even though Helly, Mark, and Irv do learn a great deal about their outies in the finale, they’re still far from answering that ever looming existential question.
Honestly, it might not have an answer at all. But let’s start at that glorious beginning, shall we?
A fluttering montage of images tops the episode: Irv, Helly, and Mark’s locations are established, Dylan flips the switch, and we’re off to the races. After a season of watching these three characters toggle back and forth between innie and outie mode, the split screen showing all three innies coming online at the exact same time is extremely effective at evoking a feeling. Severance has cleverly been encoding a Pavlovian response in viewers; whenever we experience this curious visual and auditory pairing of that trippy trick of the camera accompanied by the elevator ding, we know we need to be ready for anything and everything.
Theodore Shapiro’s fantastically pulsating (and already iconic) score lets us know we’re dropping right into the thick of things. It kicks in immediately then carries us through to the very end, but this time that record-scratch sound from the very end of the opening credits is peppered throughout, indicating that the innies are clashing with their outie lives in a potentially risky way.
This episode clocks in at a mere 41 minutes long, but the exhilarating tension that carries throughout makes it seem so much longer. It feels like a rollercoaster called Anxiety: The Ride™. Who needs drugs when you have Severance? What a rush!
Let’s check in with each of our innies separately before bringing it all back together for those final breathtaking moments.
The innies planned to be ready for anything when they switched over, but Mark finds himself in the chilling embrace of Ms. Cobel, the same woman who begrudgingly gave him a handshake once. He did not put in a formal request for this hug.
Mark remembers the directive that he and his friends agreed to: find someone you can trust and tell them everything. He hones in on his sister, Devon, but she keeps getting distracted by her newborn baby. This is totally understandable but, in the context of this narrative, absolutely infuriating.
Of course, since Mark is a sweet, polite guy, he doesn’t insist that Devon talk to him right away. Instead, he follows the crowd and sits down for a book reading. Surprise! It’s his idol! As the camera spins from Mark’s point of view to the makeshift stage, the awestruck face Adam Scott makes as innie Mark when he realizes he’s related to Ricken provides one of the true LOLs in this episode.
Eventually, Mark’s polite-guy attitude brings everything crashing down as he automatically tosses a “Thanks, Ms. Cobel” over his shoulder while shuffling away from her.
Cobel is pissed, but honestly, this validates her choice to spy on Mark outside work, so maybe she’ll eventually get her job at Lumon? Unfortunately, when Devon goes to talk to Mark, she casually hands Cobel her baby. Gasp! After how she treated that poor baby doll the last time she was at Devon’s house, she could be capable of anything!
During their chat, Devon answers Mark’s key question: Why did his outie put him in there? While we know the answer to this question, it’s a sweet, emotional beat from Devon. She is careful to refer to innie Mark as a part of a whole person, not as some freak science experiment. Due to her calming presence — or perhaps lingering memories of their established relationship — Mark seems to feel incredibly comfortable with Devon, so much so that he asks about Cobel in a very light, almost joking manner. But it’s not a joke. Cobel has fled the scene. And the baby is missing.
When innie Irv comes to, he’s painting. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to take much note of the image on the easel. Instead, he takes a little tour around his apartment.
Irv’s dog’s name is Radar, calling back to the time when Ms. Casey told Irv that his outie likes the sound of radar. As Irv eventually finds all sorts of military medals and his dad’s Navy uniform in his home, it’s possible Irv’s affinity for actual radar might be what he named his dog after.
In the bottom of a trunk, Irv finds all sorts of information on Lumon. As he shuffles through the papers, we catch glimpses of newspaper clippings with damning stories about the company and the severance process and lists of employees. Dylan G is Dylan George! Irv also finds Burt’s information, address and all. And it’s on like Donkey Kong.
Love knows no logic, and Irv’s only goal is to see Burt again So he pushes the boundaries of his innie brain. He grabs his keys and heads outside. John Turturro’s talent transcends dialogue as he gets in the car. A series of expressions tells us all we need to know about what’s going on in Irv’s brain: This is my car? Here’s the lock. Okay. Here’s the ignition. Can I do this? I can do this. I’m doing this! I’m driving! Holy shit, this is driving! As he drives away, his face expresses wonder, awe, and terror in equal measure. And as he cautiously makes his way toward Burt’s house, Cobel flies by him on the road, driving like a maniac.
The reveal of Helly’s true identity is one of the biggest answered questions in the finale. While many Reddit detectives guessed that she was an Eagan weeks ago, the reveal lands with a vengeance as we witness innie Helly learn this information in real time.
Helly is dumbstruck, but she has the presence of mind to blame her altered state on the drink she’s holding. Life on the severed floor has trained her to be really great at lying and pretending to understand even when nothing makes sense, so she is adept at navigating the party even when huge curveballs are thrown her way.
As she enters the gala floor, Helly is confronted with a This Is Your Life tableau of brightly lit photos swirling in front of her face. It’s a twisted interpretation of her experience on the severed floor. She’s looking fondly at Mark, dancing with her co-workers, and cheesing while prepping for her severance procedure. We don’t see the pictures of her attempted suicide or the video outie Helly made in which she viciously told her innie she wasn’t a person. This all reminds me of reality TV, where they can edit absolutely anything to make it look like something else. As told through Milchick’s snapshots, Helly is a beaming, enthusiastic employee when, in real life, the job literally almost killed her.
Helly encounters some truly repulsive people, including the slimy senator Angelo Arteta and his wooden wife, Gabby, who shower praise upon her for making severance more accessible to the world. Gross. Then she sees her father.
A wispy creep of a man sidles into the bathroom to talk to Helly, and while her eyes are initially terrified and she starts vaguely twitching, she pulls herself together quickly. He recounts how the chips used to be blue and green, which explains the vaguely DNA-looking swirl of glittery blue and green on Helly’s stunning gown along with her matching earrings. He says the whole world will get a severance chip. “Because of you, they’ll all be Kier’s children,” he says. To innie Helly, this sounds like a threat, not a promise.
The moment he leaves, Helly faces the mirror. She recites the compulsion statement from the break room, and she only has to say it once. Because this time, she fucking means it. Britt Lower is astounding in this scene; her whole face tenses up and becomes deathly serious as she stares down her reflection. In a matter of moments, Helly processes what it means to be responsible for the other half of this woman that she sees before her, and she knows what to do.
Dylan is the real MVP of this episode. This episode unfolds in real time, more or less, so he’s holding those switches open in that very awkward, Jesus-like position for a full 41 minutes. And he was prepared to stay there even longer! The dude might actually do muscle shows on the outside because even just the thought of him standing like that makes my arms ache.
Milchick promises a wide world of perks as he starts sawing through the belt Dylan expertly tied on the door. Drink cozies! Paintball! More weird waffle sex! When that doesn’t work, he tells him about his kids. But it’s too late. Dylan has tasted free air, so he’s holding firm for his friends, but time is running out.
All together now
As Milchick and Cobel converge on the OTC jailbreak, all three innies reach turning points. Irv arrives at Burt’s house, Helly makes the decision to go onstage, and Mark spots a picture of Gemma.
Cobel briefly attempts to stop Helly, and the defiant snarl that Helly gives her hellish boss as she steps onstage is a sight to behold. As Helly exposes the truth to the gala guests, Irv makes the decision to head to Burt’s door, and Mark races to find Devon. They’re all screaming. They’re all distressed. They all have purpose.
Dylan holds on until the last possible second, when Milchick body slams him to the ground. But in those extra stolen moments, Helly outs the severance procedure as a fraud, Irv finds his Lumon love, and Mark communicates some key information. The moment when Scott desperately shouts “She’s alive!” will haunt me for the rest of my days, I swear.
And then — ding! The Pavlovian audiovisual combo kicks in, and the innie spell breaks, leaving us in tattered shreds to await season two.
Cliffhangers? Yup. What are the scary numbers? What’s up with those goats? Will innie Dylan ever get to see his kids? Will the innies ever wake up again? What will Burt say when he opens the door? I understand if there’s viewer frustration over the lack of answers in this finale episode. Personally? I’m going to love thinking about this show for months to come. For me, the best shows are the ones that tease my brain with possibility. Given how stellar the first season was, I fully trust the Severance creative team will capably steer this ship, and I will follow wherever they lead.
I’ve truly enjoyed being your Lumon luminary throughout this season of Severance, and I hope you appreciated all of these recaps equally and without preference.
• The “She’s alive!” line evoked Frankenstein feels for me, and I feel like it’s a curious choice of phrase given that we know Gemma was once assumed dead. That’s a big hmmm to ponder.
• Wanna talk Severance theories over the break? Yes, please. Hit me up on Twitter. You can find me @miffedcupcake.