Severance draws its excellent first season to a close this week with an episode that makes excellent use of every second of its pulse-pounding airtime.
The perfectly curated frames give way to woozy chaos as Lumon Industries workers Irving, Mark and Helly experience the outside world for the “first” time.
Revelations await them. And they’re going to have be savvy if they want to get away with this illegal operation to bring down Lumon. Everyone’s in fine form as usual, and the show makes a great case for a second season. (Which Apple just made official, BTW.)
Severance season finale recap: ‘The We We Are’
In this week’s season finale, titled “The We We Are,” Mark (played by Adam Scott), Helly (Britt Lower) and Irving (John Turturro) are awake. They’re in the bodies of their outies with a simple mission: Tell someone they can trust as quickly as possible that they need to be freed from their indentured servitude at Lumon.
They have a limited time, and don’t know who to trust. Mark wakes up at his sister Devon’s (Jen Tullock) house during a party, hugging Kobel (Patricia Arquette), his boss until last week. Irving is at home, painting. Helly is at a political event. No, she’s the centerpiece guest at a political event and she’s about to go speak.
Also there? Angelo (Ethan Flower) and Gabriela (Nora Dale), the couple Devon met at the birthing cottage who can’t seem to ever remember the last thing that happened to them. The event is to raise awareness for, surprise surprise, severance. Turns out Helly is related to the Eagan family that started Lumon.
Meanwhile, Dylan (Zach Cherry) is stuck at the Lumon security offices, holding open the switches that keep the rogue employees awake. He can only keep it up for a few minutes — the strain on his arm is too much.
So many revelations …
Mark had been reading Ricken’s (Michael Chernus) book for strength, and he’s stunned to learn that this great author is his brother-in-law. Irving discovers his father was in the Navy — and that he’s been secretly trying to shut down Lumon from the outside this whole time.
Helly discovers that she severed as a political stunt for her father. She put together an art project to describe her experiences getting severed to prove there’s no harm in it. That’s why she was so strident that her double not leave Lumon. If she did, there’d be no project.
Mark calls Mrs. Selvig “Mrs. Cobel,” so she knows he’s awake. She then rushes to the Lumon event where Helly is due to speak, and calls Milchick (Tramell Tillman) to get him to stop Dylan.
It takes Milchick the better part of 15 minutes to get through the obstacles Dylan placed in his path. That’s just enough time for Irving to drive to Burt’s (Christopher Walken) house and see him with his husband. And just enough time for Helly to meet her father (Michael Siberry), the creator Lumon, then go onstage and start to talk about how severance is slavery.
It’s also just enough time for Mark to find a picture of Gemma, who he recognizes as Ms. Casey (Dichen Lachman) from work.
“She’s alive!” he screams, just before Milchick tackles Dylan, they go back to sleep, and the episode and the season ends.
This is a tremendous 40 minutes of TV — perfectly paced and unbearably suspenseful the whole way through. I was a little suspicious of Severance when it started. However, the show’s creative team handled the final plot developments, and the parallel editing between events, with such aplomb that I’m desperate to know what happens next.
It’s not every TV show that manages that, to the point that you’d kill for another 10 minutes of content just to get your heart out of your throat. Severance creator Dan Erickson and director Ben Stiller really brought this one home.
I also liked the appearance by Stiller’s sister as an event coordinator. Confirming the director’s own attachment to the project has as much to do with it being about a brother and sister as anything else.
A cameo by Rajat Suresh also proved funny to see. Suresh is a comedian mostly making inroads on social media, and it’s wild to watch him in a million-dollar Apple TV+ show.
Special mention has to be made of all the contributions of the production assistants and art directors who made Severance what it is. The show is an aesthetic marvel. Every inch of the set must be perfect to pull that off, and this show is the result of the work of dozens of people whose names you’ll never know.
Obviously this is true of every TV show and movie. But a show like Severance, which so relies on perfectly symmetrical environments and on houses that feel like they’re a few years in the future, needs the help of its teams. You can see all their stupendous effort up on the screen.
I can’t wait for season 2 of Severance.
Watch Severance on Apple TV+
New episodes of Severance arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
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.