Sometimes we’re the ones putting ourselves through our own personal versions of hell. In Severance, Mark Scout seems like a very nice guy. He always goes out of his way for others, both in and out of work, but he doesn’t seem to care about himself much at all.
The concepts of dissociation and compartmentalization seem to be two of the bedrock foundations of this series. We don’t need brain surgery to do it; people detach from reality all the time for all sorts of different reasons. Scrolling mindlessly through your phone can be a form of dissociation. So can playing video games, gambling, shopping, or indulging in mind-altering substances. These activities can also be fun and healthy! But there’s a line. And Mark crossed it a long time ago.
Mark has effectively hit pause on his existence. In order to cope with the grief of losing his wife, he’s living in a self-imposed catatonic state. He wakes up, escapes into his innie brain for eight or so hours, then drinks until he passes out on nights and weekends. This is no life. Even Petey comments on Mark’s perpetual sadness, telling him, “You carry the hurt with you. You feel it down there too. You just don’t know what it is.” Mark seems to process this information superficially, but he’s not ready to give up on this particular coping skill just yet.
Speaking of Petey, the guy is not doing well. Mark is a nice dude, so he keeps asking if his friend is okay, but to paraphrase Marcellus Wallace, he’s pretty fuckin’ far from okay. While Mark is at work, Petey’s reintegration sickness sends him on a journey down the road and into a gas station mini-mart where he gets picked up by the cops. Mark arrives home from work just in time to see his work friend collapse in the parking lot, blood coursing down his confused face.
The jury is out on whether or not Petey is dead, but it feels like he has given everything he needed to give. He left detailed maps for Mark’s innie and his outie, sowed seeds of doubt in Mark’s mind, and left behind a mystery flip phone that may connect Mark to a larger network of severance activists. It’s up to Mark now. Will he take the bait?
The answer to that question is probably “yes” for both versions of Mark. What else is outie Mark gonna do but watch more bad TV, drink cheap red wine, and fend off Mrs. Selvig’s advances? We know that innie Mark plans on doing something, because he kept the map, which is a big deal.
Also, innie Mark is now grieving a loss as well. The game has changed due to the sudden departure of his bestie, combined with the insubordination of his newest trainee, Helly.
Oh, Helly. Did they vet this chick or not? It looks like not? In tandem with Petey’s comments about Mark’s perpetual sadness, Helly seems to have a willful and rebellious attitude that just won’t quit. She has no fear of questioning authority or flouting conventions. These seem like intrinsic qualities, which leads one to wonder why someone like that would voluntarily take a position as a severed worker at all.
Yet Helly’s outie promptly rejects her innie’s resignation request. Given what Petey said about all requests getting denied, it’s certainly worth wondering whether or not the requests are even making it to the surface. It’s possible that Lumon is just roundly rejecting every request because the innies have absolutely zero recourse. This is on Helly’s mind too. After Mark announces that her request has been rejected, she says, “That can’t be right. My outie wouldn’t do that to me.”
Helly is nothing if not perseverant, so she tries to hide messages on — and in — her person. This leads Mark to inform her about some chilling things, like the “bad soap” that Mr. Grainer uses to get written messages off of skin and how Mr. Milchick “extracts” messages from inside the body. Seeing that his new charge is desperate to escape, he takes Irv’s suggestion to head down to something called the Perpetuity Wing.
In order to get clearance for the MDR field trip, Mark visits Ms. Cobel. A very Office Space exchange ensues in which both Milchick and Cobel ask Mark if he has filled in paperwork for what should be a quick and simple request. Cobel’s latent anger bubbles up at Mark — she’s clearly frustrated from having found nothing but Gemma’s candle and Ricken’s totally useless book during her search of his house earlier that morning — and she hurls a mug at him. As Mark stares at her, agog, she claims that she did it for his own good; she wanted to help him learn and grow. This is textbook abuse.
A brief aside about Ms. Cobel: Patricia Arquette is totally nailing her dual personas of the icy Ms. Cobel and the daffy Mrs. Selvig. As she toggles between Lumon and the “real world,” she is handily illustrating the concept of how many of us have distinct work personas and home personas. It’s starting to seem that Cobel is really more like Selvig in real life; she wants to be the likable neighbor who bakes the delicious cookies so badly that she’ll go through multiple burned batches before she gets it exactly right. But she also needs to present a no-nonsense exterior at work so that she can be taken seriously, especially at the intractable Lumon with its infuriatingly silent board and seemingly endless levels of middle management.
On the journey to the Perpetuity Wing, the refiners run into the crew from Optics and Design. Irv is delighted, Dylan is furious, Mark is annoyed, and Helly is confused. They say a quick hello and then go on their way. The refiners chat about a rumored violent coup that O&D incited years ago, and Helly and Mark launch into some pretty fantastic workplace banter that ends with Helly sarcastically quipping that she’s ready to cut off Mark’s face and wear it over her own face. Britt Lower is the queen of the wry comment, and I would seriously love to be her co-worker any day.
The Perpetuity Wing is a mashup of Madame Tussauds, a historical home tour, and a bizarre modern art exhibition. There are so many numbers involved: Nine core values, eight Egan CEOs, four tempers, and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s all unabashed Lumon propaganda, and the whole thing is so overtly weird and creepy that I feel like this section of the building probably isn’t accessible to most non-severed employees. Let’s just say that it shouldn’t ever be accessible to anyone.
Dylan, Mark, and Helly play “Egan Bingo” on the trip to survive and bond. Including boxes such as “Egan depicted with halo” and “Lumon will save the world,” the sheet illustrates how the company views itself as a savior of humanity. Samesies for all tech companies, amiright? But seriously, though, the life-size replica of Kier Egan’s home is a bit much. The “mouth wall” —a.k.a. Lumon’s Legacy of Smiles — is also a total creep show.
It’s all too much for Helly, and she finds her opportunity to bolt. She scampers through the never-ending hallways like a rat trapped in a maze. She smashes the small window in the door to the stairwell with the severed boundary, hoping that she can lean out juuust enough for her outie to read what she’s desperately scrawled on the back of her blue Egan Bingo worksheet. But she can’t. Because of course she can’t. Lumon can’t let her leave.
And, as punishment, it needs to break her spirit. Helly is taken to the dreaded break room, and we finally get to see what goes on in there. It’s nothing good. Helly reads off the same exact statement that we heard Mark read on Petey’s tape recorder in the previous episode. It seems to be a combination of guilt-ridden prayer, the classic and agonizingly repetitive “write it 100 times” chalkboard punishment, and downright torture. Milchick’s steely presence and curt responses (“No. Do.”) fill the scene with a sense of impending dread and an understanding that any refusal to do exactly as he says will be met with severe consequences.
It looks like it’s time for my staggered exit, so I’m going to go grab the elevator. Until next time …
• The brief shot of Milchick reading “The You You Are” is truly funny. Even though I wouldn’t have pegged him for a self-help type of guy, he is totally absorbed in the book.
• One of the most chilling things that Petey warned Mark about is a department where people don’t get to leave. Technically, the innies never feel like they leave, but their outies do. Is Lumon working toward a perpetually severed workforce?
• When Mark is watching TV after stashing Petey in his basement, he flips to two talking heads shouting about the severance process. One happens to be Natalie, the woman who reprimands Cobel in this episode, and the other is a furious journalist. The chyron announces that four states are in the process of proposing anti-severed legislation, and the topic of conversation is a woman who became pregnant at her severed job. Are they referring to Carol from the MDR department? Ever since the first episode, my mind has been wondering why the previous female refiner was allowed to leave, and the only explanations I could come up with were retirement or pregnancy. If she was prego, who impregnated her?! Do we know the father? Let’s get Jerry Springer up in here! Also, how terrifying would it be to be pregnant in the real world and have no memory of getting pregnant at work?!
• I continue to be obsessed with how Mark is being framed throughout the series. As he watches the news report, he zones out in the left third of the screen as a red fish bobs around aimlessly in the giant aquarium behind him. Moments later, the camera cuts to the morning. Now Mark’s head has shifted to the right half of the screen, and a glass of leftover red wine fills the left. These seem like warning signs hovering around Mark’s conscious and subconscious, and hopefully he notices them before it’s too late.