Things get even weirder this week on Severance [Apple TV+ recap] | Cult of Mac

Things get even weirder this week on Severance [Apple TV+ recap]

By

Severance recap: Things are not going well for Helly.
Things are not going well for Helly.
Photo: Apple TV+

Severance takes a detour to a birthing cottage as Helly recovers from her suicide attempt and Mark recovers from having misjudged her so wildly. Now that he’s starting to see her side of things, he just has to hope it’s not too late.

Elsewhere in this week’s episode of the Apple TV+ hit about a company with extreme ideas about work/life balance, Irving and Burt circle each other. Mrs. Cobel grows nervous about her grip on the employees. And a psychiatrist comes in to monitor everyone.

Trust is running thin at Lumon Industries, and tensions are running high.

Severance recap: ‘The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design’

In this week’s episode, titled “The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design,” Mark (played by Adam Scott) opens the elevator to go home just in time to see Helly (Britt Lower) hanging herself. They get her down before she can succeed at her task. But the fact remains that whatever Mark thought about working for Lumon before, everything is different now.

Cobel (Patricia Arquette) is furious with him. The suicide attempt happened on his watch, and his failure to make Helly acclimate led to this point. The scene of it is as horrifying as it needs to be, the crushing realization as Mark knows he’s about to leave for the day, blink, and then return to work having witnessed this and been given no time to process it hints at once at the true problem with the idea of severance. He’s just seen this place drive someone to try to attempt suicide, and now he’s trapped with the image with no counseling or care except for the vacant help provided by Lumon.

Mark takes solace in the book of empty platitudes his brother-in-law Ricken (Michael Chernus) wrote that was sent to the office instead of to his house by mistake. It’s a little funny how Mark finds his dunderpated writing so inspiring while in his Lumon brain, when in reality Mark thinks his brother-in-law is a fool. He reunites with them that night when his sister Devon (Jen Tullock) is having her baby at a chic “birthing cottage”. He starts to tell her about his suspicions about Lumon, but her contractions distract them.

Strange days at Lumon

The next day, everyone has a weird one at Lumon. Burt (Christopher Walken) stops by to talk to Irving (John Turturro) and Dylan (Zach Cherry) traps him in the conference room. He thinks Burt’s branch, Optics and Design, means their branch some awful violence. Dylan is drenched in paranoia and superstition. And Irving is starting to have the same visions of black goo that assailed Petey before he left the company. Milchick (Tramell Tillman) is also testing them because he’s now worried about everyone’s well-being and commitment.

When Helly returns to work, she’s miserable and unmotivated. Ms. Casey (Dichen Lachman), the office psychiatrist, stops by to observe her. Mark has a plan to re-create the map Petey started. But by the time he asks Helly to help him, she’s too far past hope to want to help him. He pursues her down a corridor to try and talk to her and they happen upon, of all things, a baby goat.

There’s a man in a strange office, away from everyone, who’s nursing a pack of baby goats.

They’re not ready, you can’t take them

This episode of Severance is marked by great off-kilter compositions. The show’s widescreen frame makes the Lumon offices seem endless, dispiriting and hostile. Many ennui-inducing compositions show the workers trapped in one far corner of the frame. And as the characters run out of ideas and think they can’t trust each other, they’re stranded in the sterile space.

As usual, the show contrasts this with the other spaces Mark occupies, like the birthing cabin Devon and Ricken rented out at a fancy lodge for the rich to deliver their children. Meant to be a cozy and beautiful retreat, it still feels as false as Lumon.

There’s an interesting vignette there that I don’t think we’re meant to grasp the significance of yet where Devon meets a woman giving birth to her third child. I like that they don’t explain who or what this person means. The show excels when it embraces mystery over more pointed characterization.

Take, for instance, Mark trying to get Helly alone to have their conversation about the map. Surely by now Mark has to know there are cameras everywhere. Why bother trying to have the conversation out loud at all?

Little logic problems still persist, but I’m hooked on Severance. I’m very excited for what promises to be a very dark ending of this show’s first season.

Watch Severance on Apple TV+

New episodes of Severance arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.