I have to go back

Lost’s series finale aired the night of May 23rd, 2010. I took my time with the recap, opting to sleep on it versus immediately execute one of my then-weekly “stay up until 3am spewing a torrent of randomly-pinballing thoughts into WordPress, capturing screenshots from a hastily-downloaded copy of the latest episode, and trying to avoid catching my bedspread on fire from the steadily increasing temperature of my laptop” ritualistic blog posts. The fourteen-plus pages of messily scrawled notes taken during the episode could sit and wait for sunrise.

Writing those recaps served two loves: that of “prestige” genre television and, much more so, my passion for writing. The latter, I’m sorry to say, is something I’ve not been able to find much time for over the past decade or so. The obligations of family and work, deservedly so, come first, along with whatever other random bullshit comes up each day. On top of that, I’m not sure there’s been another piece of media content that’s really seeped its way into my soul and took it over quite like Lost did, what with its combination of strong acting, incredible production values, and the never-ending fuel it supplied my obsession with conspiracy, mystery, and technical details feeding a heavily serialized plot intended to make the viewer ask, “What’s it all mean?”

Nearly twelve years later, with nary a whisper in between, there’s a familiar feeling creeping back in…

I first heard about Severance on an early-March episode of The Watch podcast hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald. They recap and discuss all manner of TV, film, and entertainment industry content and happenings with a particular interest in all things genre. Moreover, they have great taste and profound ability to speak intelligently about it all without sounding like pretentious critics. If they’re excited about a show or movie, chances are I’m going to add it to my to-do list. I was careful to avoid listening to any actual discussion of the show as the way they talked about it had the hallmarks of a mystery-driven drama that offers plenty of material to obsess over. Add to this the show seems to have flown largely under the radar, perhaps by virtue of its place on AppleTV+’s streaming service still trying to play catch-up with the behemoths like Netflix and HBO.

And, so, to the top of my list it rose. I burned through the first eight episodes in a couple of days and then endured an agonizing one-week wait for episode nine which aired last night (4/7). I can count on one hand the number of times I have literally been “on the edge of my seat” watching something. Episode nine delivered the goods and my butt on the edge of aforementioned seat.

For those of you who haven’t watched, it has my highest possible recommendation and an urging to stay off the internet and dive in as soon as possible. One, it’s likely going to be growing in popularity over the summer as word of mouth spreads and two, it rewards ignorance going into it. Go in cold. Enjoy the ride.

Also, I’m about to scratch that Lost itch and go into a mini-recap of episode one. Spoilers abound. You’ve been warned.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING SPACE

In spite of my desire to one day get back to writing pages upon pages of analysis and screenshots, I’m a bit rusty and am going to take a laid-back approach to dipping my toe back into this water. This is more brain-dump than full-fledged recap. Expect lots of bullet points and writing from the perspective of someone who’s seen all nine episodes. As much as I’d like to go into this recapping each episode on its own, it’s hard to keep my brain from speculating about the big picture and focusing on what everything means having seen all nine.

Episode 1: “Good News About Hell”

“She used to say that there was good news and bad news about hell. The good news is, hell is just the product of a morbid human imagination. The bad news is, whatever humans can imagine, they can usually create.” – Cobel

The overriding question at the center of Severance is, largely, “what the hell is Lumon really up to?” Are the Innies guinea pigs for a science experiment? Fodder for sadistic corporate overlords who get their kicks through psychological torture? Trying to save the human race from itself? Or is it just Lumon cornering the market and monetizing the very concept of work/life balance?

I’ll stake my claim to this after watching that ninth episode: The Eagans are building a cult. Not a cult intent on drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid before boarding a spaceship and blasting off to Xenu’s home planet, but one rooted in the desire to mitigate or even eliminate the baser impulses of human nature. To quote Kier Eagan himself from a recording in the Perpetuity Wing:

“In my life, I have identified four components, which I call tempers, from which are derived every human soul. Woe. Frolic. Dread. Malice. Each man’s character is defined by the precise ratio that resides in him.

I walked into the cave of my own mind, and there I tamed them. Should you tame the tempers as I did mine, then the world shall become but your appendage. It is this great and consecrated power that I hope to pass on to all of you, my children.”

That doesn’t quite sound like a devout capitalist intend on wringing every dollar out of the concept of severance. Misguided as though it may be, Kier seems to want something better for the human race, and he’s willing to drag them to that utopia whether they like it or not.

(By the way, the two-letter codes from Dylan’s computer screen sure do look like good representations of those four tempers to me…)

There are nine lockers in the anteroom leading to the SVR’d elevator. Why nine? There are four Macrodata Refinement employees and we see at least eight in the Optics and Design department in a later episode. There also happen to be nine core principles in the Lumon charter: Vision, Verve, Wit, Cheer, Humility, Benevolence, Nimbleness, Probity and Wiles. Mark’s locker is right in the middle. This could easily fall into the “meaningless detail only I am paying attention to” but you, dear reader, should be very used to such perspectives from me at this point.

We learn several tidbits about Lumon during the food-less dinner at Ricken and Deven’s house. Founded in the 1800s, among its many rumored products are topical salves, tech, and “pills.” What’s clear is that Lumon’s true scope and mission are anything but. The company seems to be the subject of intense gossip and debate and, as we learn later in the season, no shortage of controversy.

The lack of food at that dinner is weird enough on its own but made even weirder but the slightly off-center and disconnected with reality attitudes of the other guests there. They seem to lack some level of emotional maturity, saying whatever random thought pops into their brain about Lumon, World War I, or the death of someone’s wife. I don’t think the only Innies in Kier, PE (the name of which was revealed in episode 9, wherever the hell that is) are in the Lumon basement. There’s no reason Lumon can’t have deployed Innies out into the Outie world. Maybe these weirdos are hardcore Lumon corporate staff tasked with severing their way into the real world and gathering observations in service of whatever the board is really up to.

Cobel references her mother twice in the episode, once as Cobel while talking to Mark outside his condo. Both references religious concepts and, at face value, obviously tie into the themes of the show. More specifically, we see references to Cobel’s mother (“Charlotte,” apparently) throughout the season. It’s clear she went through some severe illness and may or may not still be with us.

So what? In the first half of the season, Cobel seems intent on Petey’s reintegration and whether it was truly successful. Most interestingly, she seems to be keeping this information from the Lumon higher-ups. For someone seemingly so devoted to Lumon and its mission, why is she playing her cards so close to the vest?

I think the answer may lie in what we know about Gemma, Mark’s once thought to be killed in a car accident wife, who we learn has been with him in the Lumon basement this whole time. Cobel seems intent in fostering a relationship between Innie Mark and Innie Gemma. Why does she snag the candle from the “Gemma” box in Mark’s basement and strategically position it between the two during a wellness session? Is she trying to get them to recognize something in the other and somehow link with their Outie sub-conscious? More importantly, why is Lumon hiding her existence versus handling her like any other severed employee who’ve retained their Outie lives?

Numerous Reddit threads I’ve pored over suggest that perhaps Outie Gemma is in a coma from the car accident and unable to wake. Somehow, her severance chip woke her up and allows her to function as an Innie. Un-sever and she goes right back into that deep sleep. Is Cobel’s mother Charlotte laying comatose in a hospital bed somewhere? Is Cobel conducting an under-the-covers experiment of her own under Lumon’s nose to get an Innie like Gemma to reintegrate with her Outie, stay awake, and be able to live a real life going forward? Seems like a plausible way to get her mother back if so.

A section of stray observations in which I just regurgitate things I saw and imply some larger significance:

  • Outie Mark almost runs over Outie Helly (née Helena Eagan) in the parking lot. Helena is carrying a bouquet of white flowers. Significant? (I like posing a bunch of questions I don’t have to answer.)
Someone seems awfully stressed despite her place in the upper echelons of Lumon management…
  • Mark was previously seeing a therapist, one with a “weird little mustache.” I know of only one mustachioed guy in the show so far…
What’s for dinner?
  • The bed Mark sleeps in at his sister’s house has a number ‘6’ on the bedspread.
  • Just before Mark sees Petey standing out in the woods, he takes a drink from a glass emblazoned with fish on poles.

  • Mark passes two other Lumon employees on his way down the stairs the first time we see him headed to the SVR’d floor. Both take notice and look back over their shoulders at him as they go up the stairs, seemingly fascinated. I take this to mean Severed employees are a relative rarity at the company and a source of interest for everyone else. Whether that interest has its roots in jealousy, sympathy, or the sheer mystery of it all, I’m not sure.

  • Why does Cobel/Selvig keep putting her garbage in Mark’s spot? Easy way to keep in contact?

  • Petey refers to Mark as his “very good friend” after Mark asks him if they’re best friends. Who’s #1 on his list then?

  • “You know, my mother was a Catholic. She used to say it takes the saints eight hours to bless a sleeping child. I hope you aren’t rushing the saints.”
    Veiled threat or a sign that Cobel/Selvig is looking out for Mark?

Well, that felt alright. Not sure how good a final product this first foray back into the world of recapping turned out but I did enjoy stretching these muscles again. No telling if I’ll be able to do this for eight more episodes; I’m subject to the whims of random life events and social media distractions as anyone. But I do hope to make time to write more, whether about Severance or whatever other muse I come upon. Until then…

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