S1E1 * S1E2 * S1E3 * S1E4 * S1E5
In Which: Everything gets weird, and Mark can’t protect Helly anymore.
We pick up where we left off, with Petey fighting a nosebleed in Mark’s basement bathroom. Petey makes jokes and says he’s fine. Mark, awkward, is trying to thread the needle between being a good host and remaining as uninvolved as possible; he apologizes for the robe he’s loaned Petey, saying was a gift from Ricken, and asks Petey if he needs anything else. “Yeah,” Petey says, all banter, “I want you to stop shitting on this awesome robe.”
In the bathroom, Petey is looking at himself in the mirror; Irving walks in and crosses behind him, and he’s at Lumon again, in the restroom. Now in a suit, Petey walks out of the bathroom, cracking jokes with Mark, teasing Dylan about his work; from moment to moment he’s back in Ricken’s bathrobe. And then he’s back in Mark’s basement, outside the bathroom, and Mark is repeating his name, concerned. Petey says the sickness makes him disoriented, but it’s temporary. Uncomfortable, and probably aware Petey’s not being forthcoming, Mark climbs the basement stairs.
Cobel’s house. Hers is the same as Mark’s: poorly lit, monochromatic, depressing. She’s in flannel pajamas, her hair in two braids; she looks the part of the eccentric old woman. She pours herself a glass of milk and sits in the dim kitchen, her eyes on Mark’s windows.
Petey explains to Mark his perception of time is cluttered, but “they” have told him it will improve. Mark wants to know who “they” are, and without naming names Petey tells him “they” are a group that’s going to do something about severance. Mark mentions the protesters he saw the other night with Alexa, and Petey scoffs. “Someone else,” is all he says, which doesn’t do much for Mark’s skepticism. Petey challenges Mark: doesn’t he want to know what he’s doing down there? Without answering the question, Mark says he has no plans to reintegrate. He says severance has helped him. Petey says without knowing what he’s doing while he’s severed, he’s not making an informed choice. Petey becomes disoriented again, losing track of whether he’s in Mark’s basement or at Lumon. Petey says “Where the fuck is June?” before clutching his head with another headache. He apologizes to Mark, and explains June is his daughter.
From her window, Cobel sees Mark come out of the basement and take off his coat. He turns on the television and sits down. “Oh, Mark,” she says aloud. “Are you all right?”
Mark is watching a talking head interviewing Natalie, Lumon’s PR person. Natalie is poised, confident, photogenic: perfect chestnut curls around a beautiful, flawlessly-made-up tawny-skinned face. She smiles throughout the interview, even as she dodges and deflects the newscaster’s questions about a woman who claims she got pregnant while at work in a severed space. Natalie is the perfect PR person: unflappable, dishonest, talking over the interviewer, just the right combination of impenetrable good cheer and self-righteous indignation. Mark, who is very, very drunk, watches for a while before shaking his head and changing the channel.
The next morning, Mark wakes to the TV weather report, anemic sunlight doing little to illuminate the room.
Cleaned up and dressed for work, Mark goes down to the basement to wake Petey. Mark says Petey can stay if he wants, then explains he’s not going to reintegrate because he lost his wife in a car accident a few years back. He feels severance is helping him. Petey says he’s sorry, and Mark waves it off. Petey says sometimes Mark would come in to work with red eyes. “You carry the hurt with you,” Petey tells him. “You feel it down there too. You just don’t know what it is.”
Mark dodges again, telling Petey to help himself to the contents of the fridge, then heading out to his car. Next door, Mrs. Selvig/Cobel appears, applying a hair dryer to her icy front stoop. He thanks her again for the cookies, and she says she’ll bring more. He heads off, and she watches his car disappear down the road.
Down on the severed floor, InnieMark picks up his daily task sheet, along with a flat envelope containing four copies of the new group photo. Helly brags to him she deleted some scary numbers, and when he asks when that happened, she tells him he was absent the day before. Irving remarks that Mark looks thin, and wonders if he had food poisoning. Helly, energetic and cheerful, tells Mark he shouldn’t bother replacing the photos–she submitted her resignation request. He looks disconcerted, and she assures him it’s good, because he won’t get sent to the break room anymore.
Before Mark can respond to her, Milchick comes in to listen to Mark read his first morning announcements as department head. Mark reads from the sheet as Milchick takes photos of him. The others tease him, but eventually he gets underway: someone’s been putting garbage in the recycling, don’t put Post-It notes on your faces, don’t brag about previously-earned waffle parties. Mark stumbles on the fourth item, and turns hesitantly to Milchick; he has never seen a resignation request come back so quickly before.
Helly bounces to her feet, all smiles, and asks if she needs to work the rest of the day or not.
Mark looks at Milchick again, but Milchick isn’t going to help. He looks down at the paper, and reads: “Lastly, Helly’s resignation request was denied.”
Irving nods, knowingly. Helly’s disbelieving. Mark tries to comfort her, but she runs into the restroom. Milchick stalks out of the room, pulling out his cell phone to make a call.
Above, Devon and Ricken pull up in front of Mark’s house so Ricken can drop off a gift: a copy of his new book. He’s excited, wanting to know if he should sneak up to the house or not. When Devon points out Mark is at work, he dithers about where to leave it on the doorstep. He asks if she thinks Mark will be surprised, and she says, shortly but not unkindly, that she does. Ricken gets back into the car. “He’s going to be so excited,” he says. “I hope he comes home early.” “He’s not going to,” Devon says.
They pull away, and Mrs. Selvig/Cobel emerges from her house. She heads over to Mark’s. She picks up the book, tucks it into her purse, and lets herself into the house with a key.
In the basement, Petey is trying to draw a map of the severed floor from memory. He’s still in Mark’s robe, still fighting headaches. Petey flashes to Mark in Macrodata Refinement. Mark asks what he’s drawing; they exchange jokes, and Petey gets jolted back to reality.
Mrs. Selvig/Cobel looks around Mark’s sad little house, then heads down into the basement. Petey is nowhere to be found. She opens the tub marked “Gemma’s Crafts” that Mark had opened earlier; she lifts out the same candle and sniffs it. She puts that into her purse as well, then closes the tub. Her phone rings–this is the call Milchick was making–and she walks across the basement, talking. From his hiding place, Petey watches her pace, and flashes to an image of her pacing in her office at Lumon. He sneaks out of the basement before she can see him. Mrs. Selvig/Cobel tells Milchick she’s on her way, then leaves Mark’s house to get in her car.
Hidden in the bushes, Petey watches her drive away. When he emerges, he finds himself wandering the white corridors of the severed floor, blinking at the map he’s been trying to draw. He pushes forward, clearly in pain. In reality, he’s walking over a bridge, away from Mark’s house.
At Lumon, Mark barges into the bathroom after leaving Helly for 45 minutes. She’s been writing LET ME OUT on her skin. He adopts the Confused Boss stance, saying he thought she’d been doing well, that finding the numbers might have made her feel better about it all. Helly points out the numbers literally cause fear. She tells him bluntly she doesn’t want to work there with him, and there’s no point in him trying to convince her. He chooses annoyance, and says he’ll give her five minutes to scrub her arms. When she asks what the consequences would be if she doesn’t, he asks if she wants Graner to “use the bad soap.” She’s derisive, and he turns the faucet on and storms out.
Irving greets him outside the bathroom door, concerned about Mark’s stress level right after his food poisoning. Mark defends Helly, telling Irving adjustment takes time. Irving says it also takes guidance, and suggests they take her to the Perpetuity Wing.
“It seems premature,” Mark says. “That place is a lot.”
“Correct,” Irving says, with the conviction of a true believer. “That place is everything.”
Cobel arrives at her office, and hands the book to Milchick. She identifies it as Ricken’s fifth book, The You You Are, and tells Milchick to check it for messages. Mark arrives, and Milchick quickly sets the book down, cover hidden.
Mark tells Cobel Irving thought they should take Helly to the Perpetuity Wing. “Well it’s a good thing I made Irving department chief,” she says archly. Mark regroups. “I think I should take Helly and the team to the Perpetuity Wing.” She asks if he’s filled out a reservation slip, and admonishes him when he says no. He apologizes, then tells her it’s been “weird” since Petey left. “He set the tone,” he says. Cobel tells him if that were true Petey would still be there.
She’s focused on a paper on her desk, and Mark says, “What does that mean?”
She keeps writing, not looking at him. “Are you going to make me throw my mug at you?”
He’s puzzled, and then she does. He ducks, and the mug breaks against her door. She tells him to get MDR to their numbers, then tells him throwing the mug was painful for her, but she knew he would grow from it.
Back at MDR, Helly writes “I don’t want to work here” on a Post-It note, rolls it up, and shoves it into a pen cap. She tapes the pen cap shut, then heads into the lounge for a glass of water. She pops the pen cap in her mouth, but before she can drink, Mark, back from Cobel’s office, interrupts her, and tells her–in case she finds it “relevant”–the code detectors can scan inside the body as well. He tells her it’s Milchick’s job to extract the message, and he suggests she be honest when Milchick asks how long ago she ingested it since that will dictate which end he starts from. Mark holds out his hand, and Helly spits out the pen cap into his palm. He tells her to shut down her workstation, because they’re taking a trip.
They walk down the anonymous halls, Irving carrying a book in a blue tote bag as he explains some Lumon history. All eight CEOs have been Eagans, leading back to the Founder; he has a mnemonic to remember their names. The others trail behind him; Dylan hands Helly a piece of paper with “Eagan Bingo” on it. He hands one to Mark, who objects weakly but takes it anyway. Helly asks what Eagan Bingo is; Dylan says “It’s how you don’t die of boredom in the Perpetuity Wing.”
Irving rounds a corner, and there is Burt, with a woman holding a tray. Burt and Irving stare at each other; the others catch up. Mark and Burt greet each other formally, as department heads. Irving says hello with more warmth, and he and Burt exchange innocuous words about their encounter in Wellness. Mark is surprised they know each other, and Irving says they’d been admiring some art together. Burt says the new handbook totes will be in soon. Dylan becomes combative, wanting to know what O&D is doing out and about. Felicia, Burt’s employee, says they were doing an egg drop challenge in the team building space. She wants to know what MDR is doing out there. Burt tells her to back off, but Mark explains they’re headed for the Perpetuity Wing. He introduces Helly, and Burt welcomes her. Burt and Felicia head off, with Burt giving Irving one last look. Irving watches them walk away, letting Mark and the others get ahead of him.
Cobel finds Natalie, the same Lumon PR official OutieMark had seen interviewed on television, sitting in her office, Milchick setting up a speakerphone. Natalie is all artificial smiles and friendliness; Cobel is thrown, but manage sto regroup with similar, if cooler, behavior. She asks if this is “about Helena,” and Natalie says no, it’s about Peter Kilmer–Petey–and the Board is joining them. Milchick retreats as fast as he can, not looking at Cobel at all.
Cobel waits; Natalie smiles; the speaker phone coughs up some static. Eventually Natalie says the Board would like Cobel to speak first. Cobel regroups, and says “Salutations,” then waits again. Natalie keeps looking at her, and eventually Cobel says they’re still looking for Petey. She adds that he showed signs of reintegration before he left. Natalie lifts her hand to interrupt, listening intently to the earpiece in her ear; eventually she says the Board quite emphatically says severance is irreversible, and a manager of a severed floor should know that, while also getting MDR to their projected numbers by quarter’s end in three weeks. Cobel backs off completely, agreeing with all of it. She tells them the addition of Helly has helped, but before she can say more, Natalie lets her know the call is over. Natalie breezily leaves Cobel behind.
In the hallway, Helly expresses astonishment at a two-prson department, and how lonely that must be. Dylan says it’s perverse; Mark says they’re nice. Dylan says they’re not, that Kier sorted the department by virtues: MDR are “clever and true”; O&D is cruel. Helly asks how many departments there are. Dylan says 30; Mark says 5; Irving says “No one’s quite sure.” Dylan says O&D tried a violent coup decades back, which is why there are only two of them, and that’s why everyone is so isolated now. Irving insists that’s fiction. Helly asks if they ever killed anyone, and Mark says nobody has ever been killed.
“Then why don’t we ever hang out?”
Mark takes a few steps. “I’m 99% sure there was no coup.”
Helly looks over her shoulder. “If they come back and attack us, I think we should kill Mark.”
Mark keeps walking, not looking over at her. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. So they think we’re crazy with nothing to lose.”
“Smart,” says Dylan.
“I’m imagining them rounding a corner and we’re all blood-soaed, and I’m wearing your face, and they’re like, ‘Whose face is that?’ And I’m like, ‘The last person who fucked with us.’ And that’s feeling like a really powerful image to me.”
Mark points out they’d probably recognize his face, and suggests she wear it inside out. He glances at her, amused; she gives him a brief smile.
The long corridor ends, and they open a door into the Perpetuity Wing. They’re greeted by a figure of a white-haired man in a suit: Jame Eagan, the current CEO of Lumon. Irving is clearly in awe. They all give the figure a look as they pass, Helly included; she looks vaguely curious, struck by his appearance. The group passes a plaque with a quote: “HISTORY LIVES IN US, WHETHER WE LEARN IT OR NOT.”
They move into another room containing figures of all the past Eagan CEOs. The back of the exhibit, Irving tells them, is all Kier.
Above, Petey walks along the side of the road in the snow. His nose has been bleeding. He looks up and down the road, then down at his map again.
In the Perpetuity Wing, the others listen to a recording of Kier Eagan (1841 – 1939; CEO 1865 – 1939) tell them he’s identified four “tempers,” the balance of which make up each person’s soul: Woe, Frolic, Dread, and Malice. Kier tells them if they can tame the four tempers, the world will become their “appendage.”
Helly listens to Myrtle Eagan (1886 – 1960 ; CEO 1941 – 1959), and checks off a box on Eagan Bingo (“Lumon will save the world.”) Mark catches her, and they share a grin; Irving interrupts to tell them Myrtle was Eagan’s first female CEO, and that she had told her father she was going to get the job when she was just seven. Helly says it makes her wish she remembered her own childhood.
Irving takes Helly aside, and with some kindness acknowledges that it’s unnatural for a person to live without a past. He tells her Lumon’s mission has given him purpose. He leads her into a room where monitors display row after row of smiles. He tells her each smile is from a real person Lumon has helped. She asks if they’re a dental company, and he laughs. No, he tells her. But she’s part of a history now.
Dylan comes in, asking if they’re ready to go. Irving, annoyed, says they just arrived, and Helly hasn’t even seen the Kier section.
Irving leads them into a cavernous concrete-walled room containing a full-sized replica of Kier’s house. They file inside. It’s an old 19-th century mansion, full of dark wood, and signs like “DO NOT LIE ON KIER EAGAN’S BED.” The four mill around. Dylan volunteers he hates this place, but Irving scolds him, then catches Mark trying to sit on the bed. Mark denies it, and Irving notices the copy of Eagan Bingo in his pocket. He scolds Mark for spoiling the experience for Helly…and then they all notice Helly is gone.
Helly is running down the white corridors. Mark, who knows where she’s going, runs after her, but she has too much of a head start.
In a conference room, Milchick is reading Ricken’s book, eyebrows up, shaking his head.
Helly makes it to the stairwell exit, but the door is locked. She runs back to grab the fire extinguisher. Mark shouts after her, but she uses the extinguisher to break the small window in the door. The lights dim to orange, and an alarm sounds.
Milchick puts the book down on the conference room chair, and runs out into the hall.
Helly reaches through the window, trying to drop a note that says “DON’T COME BACK HERE.” Mark grabs her, and pulls her bodily away from the door; broken glass catches her arm and tears her shirt.
Graner is at the end of the corridor. He turns off the alarm and instructs Helly to accompany him. She exchanges a look with Mark; he’s angry, and she’s defiant. He can’t help her this time.
Graner leads her to the break room. She heads down the long, narrow corridor, holding a cloth over the cut on her arm. She opens the door at the end and finds Milchick in a dimly-lit room. He dresses her wound, expressing menacing regret at seeing her there. She tries to talk to him reasonably, and he tells her now is not the time. He has her sit before a large screen with her hands on the table. He starts a tape recorder, and says he’s bringing up the “compunction statement.” A paragraph is projected on the screen, and he tells her to read it. She says she doesn’t want to, and he says “No, do.” She reads it, and it’s the same words OutieMark heard on Petey’s tape recorder. She seems puzzled when Milchick asks her to read it again, but she does. He prompts her to read it yet again. “Really?” she asks, and this time she’s distressed.
Back at MDR, Dylan is leaving, telling Mark he’ll see him tomorrow. Dylan turns out the lights, and Mark sits in the dark, pensive. He pulls out the new photographs, and retrieves the old photos from their hiding place in the storeroom. Methodically he replaces Petey with Helly…and on the back of one old photo, he finds the map Petey has drawn of the severed floor. Mark tucks Petey’s map behind his new picture with Helly, and leaves.
On the outside, Petey has made it to a convenience store. He’s staggering against the coolers. Petey shouts that he needs tokens so he can eat. He collapses, and the store clerk finds him, alarmed.
OutieMark emerges from the office into a rainy evening and heads to his car, now nearly alone in the parking lot. When he gets home, he looks for Petey, but finds the basement empty. Getting back into his car, he drives around, looking up and down the road, only to have an ambulance drive by on a cross street. He follows it to the convenience store, where there is already a police car. He gets out of his car to watch from a distance, and sees two paramedics gently escorting Petey from the store. Petey looks up and meets his eyes, then drops to his knees and falls forward. The paramedics swarm him.
Mark gets back into his car and drives away.
Back home, Mark rushes down to his basement, and proceeds to hide all evidence that Petey had been staying there. He heads back up the stairs, turning out the lights, only to hear the telltale buzz of Petey’s cell phone, which had fallen under the couch.
That, my friends, was a lot.
On my zillionth watch of this episode, here’s what’s sticking with me:
1) There appears to be no one else living on Mark’s street besides him and Mrs. Selvig/Cobel. Maybe they’re all early risers, but as Mark drives to work, every single driveway in his neighborhood is empty. Shoveled out, with bins neatly arranged in front, but empty.
2) When the MDR team heads for the Perpetuity Wing, Irving brings a handbook in a little blue tote. He was hoping to run into Burt, wasn’t he?
3) Mrs. Selvig/Cobel has a peculiar interest in Mark. She seems genuinely concerned for OutieMark. InnieMark she treats with thinly–and sometimes not-so-thinly–veiled contempt. She needs something from him, but beyond MDR’s mysterious quarterly numbers, it’s not clear what. What is clear is that she’s thinking about things a whole lot more than the Board is comfortable with.
4) It’s not clear if Helly’s thought through the implications of resignation. Is she really that miserable there? Does she view her existence on the outside as sufficient, and this experience as some sort of nightmare she’ll comfortingly forget when she wakes? Mark clearly sees resignation as suicide, but nothing in Helly’s reaction to the idea suggests she agrees with him. For her it’s more a matter of freedom of choice: whether or not her existence there is miserable, she resents being forced into it. She seems much more full of anger than despair.
5) The break room is sort of an EST recruitment thing. (I’m dating myself again, aren’t I?) There’s no physical restraint that we see, no reason not to push past Milchick, or at least try to. But they’re all trained to obey, the Innies, and this endless repetition without reward is slow erosion of will. It’s torture.
6) I am endlessly impressed by how well this show balances humor and drama/horror. Irving and Dylan arguing about muscle shows? Eagan Bingo? Helly’s elaborate scheme to murder Mark for effect? Apart from the imprisonment and coercion, it feels like a real office.
7) This is the first episode where we see Dylan’s pit-bull reactive defensiveness of the team. He clearly hates O&D, but rather than being frightened by a group he believes attempted violence years ago, he’s confrontative, ready to fight for his teammates. Dylan is an odd one: he’s all about the work, while taking things like the Perpetuity Wing and his perks with exactly the level of seriousness they deserve. He’s a cynic who’s happy to be tooling away. He doesn’t know what his outie is getting from all this, but he’s found his own meaning in the work.
8) The religious aspect of the whole Kier Eagan thing gets pretty explicit this week. Irving is clearly a zealot of some kind: he believes in the absolute truth of the handbook, and treats Lumon’s history with unquestioned reverence. It’s no wonder Dylan annoys him; Dylan is a good worker, the best of all of them, and yet he treats everything Irving values as less than a joke.
9) Which brings us to Irving and Burt. They are so utterly transparent in their infatuation, and so formal with each other. They are charming. Their behavior is tangibly human, in a place where so much is inexplicably restricted and regimented. It’s cute that they think they’re somehow being furtive. It’s also worrisome.
10) Helly seems better there for a bit, cracking jokes in the hallway with Mark; but then she takes her first opportunity to run. She’s trying to communicate the same message to her outie, which suggests she doesn’t think her resignation request was presented properly, if it was delivered at all. And then the break room, which honestly didn’t sound all that menacing on Petey’s tape. At first she’s apprehensive, but mostly just puzzled. Then she begins to realize this small loop of activity is her life until Milchick says it’s not. It’s a microcosm of severance, in a way: all she gets to live is that one short phrase, over and over again.
11) Bye, Petey! Yes, he’s dead. Not before he spotted Mrs. Selvig/Cobel, but before he could tell anybody. And herein lies my first real nitpick with the show: that robe Petey was wearing, the one Mark got from Ricken: if it was really some hand-made weird something-or-other, it would have been traceable back to Ricken, if not to Mark. Perhaps nobody cared to check? Perhaps they assumed it was trash, and Petey was homeless? I can fanwank it, but given Ricken and his little cult following, it bugs me a little.
12) Speaking of Ricken: Once again, I’m left wondering how Ricken and Devon managed to become a couple. Ricken exists entirely within a bubble of his own ego. Devon has to remind him of simple things, like the fact that pregnant people often need to use the bathroom, and Mark is at work in the middle of the day. He seems kind-hearted enough, and she’s endlessly patient with him, but it’s hard to imagine what they can discuss at a deep level. It’s telling, I think, that she’s chosen this partner. It’s hard to know without having a picture of Mark before Gemma’s death, but between Ricken and Mark’s alcoholism, one does wonder about their parents.
13) The differences between InnieMark and OutieMark are becoming stark. InnieMark pushes Cobel about Petey’s absence. He argues with Helly, and risks himself trying to stop her getting in trouble. OutieMark extends Petey his hospitality, but when Petey dies, his first instinct is to retreat and hide. OutieMark seems less like a man grappling with grief than a man trying his best to keep his life at some kind of status quo, even if that status quo is gray and miserable. It’s like he’s trying to avoid all feeling, not just sorrow.
14) One of my favorite little moments is Milchick slinking out of Cobel’s office after setting up the meeting for Natalie. When Cobel arrives, Natalie is perched on an office chair, neat and regal, and he’s fiddling with wires to get the speaker phone connected. Cobel tries more than once to catch his eye, but he goes out of his way to ignore her and GTFO as fast as he can. Cobel may be his boss, but I get the sense Milchick understands the lay of the land a whole lot better than she does.
All in all, an excellent The Plot Thickens episode. Adam Scott is still at the top of my Emmy list, but the others are right up there with him.
Next episode: Reality begins to sink in for Helly, and her defiance becomes more pronounced; Irving finds some new reading material.
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