SEVERANCE S1E4: The You You Are

S1E1 * S1E2 * S1E3 * S1E4 * S1E5

In Which: The outie world invades, and Helly gets a definitive answer.

(Note: This episode opens with a self-harm content warning. There’s nothing bloody, but they mean it.)

Helly, looking like forty miles of bad road, is still reading the compunction statement. The wound on her wrist that Milchick had dressed has bled through the bandage. This time when Milchick tells her she doesn’t mean it, she just blinks, exhausted. Milchick glances up at the clock on the wall: it ticks over to 17:15. End of the day.

He escorts her to the elevator. “See you tomorrow, Helly,” he says, as the doors close.

Moments later they open again. She’s in clean clothes, her hair and makeup repaired. Milchick is waiting for her.

“Fuck me,” she says quietly.

They go back to the break room, and start again. She hears a muffled voice on the other side of the wall, but when she asks Milchick what it is, he doesn’t answer. She starts to cry, and says “I really am sorry, okay?”

“No paraphrasing,” says Milchick. “Again.”

Roll credits.

Above. Petey’s phone keeps ringing under the couch in Mark’s basement. Mark retrieves it and checks the missed call log: a full screen of calls from a blocked number. Mark opens an old box of junk, and buries the phone at the bottom.

Later, at Lumon, Mark is in the bathroom, Petey’s map in his hand, staring at the ceiling. When he emerges, Irving suggests he ask after Helly, who has been in the break room since yesterday. Mark surreptitiously tucks Petey’s map into his desk drawer as Dylan points out Mark doesn’t have the power to help Helly. Irving and Dylan argue, and Burt comes in, a stack of canvas tote bags in his hand.

Dylan picks up a stapler and aims it at Burt. Burt apologizes for interrupting; Irving greets him cheerfully, as if Dylan isn’t brandishing a pseudo-weapon at him. Dylan places humself between between Burt and the others, demanding to know how Burt knew how to find them. Burt says he got directions from his predecessor, and Dylan demands he recite them in reverse. Mark intervenes, and asks Burt what they can do for him. Burt has brought them a set of pre-release handbook totes. Irving is delighted; Dylan tells him to leave the totes and go back to O&D. Burt drops the totes on a desk, offering to give them a tour of O&D any time they want; he’s left them a map. Irving thanks him, and he and Burt part reluctantly.

Irving immediately grabs his coat, and heads out for a lunch hour visit to O&D. “He’s gonna die,” Dylan says after he’s left, and when Mark hears a step in the doorway, he turns, expecting Irving to have changed his mind.

It’s Helly, looking shellshocked.

Mark looks at her, something between relief and grim commiseration on his face. “How many times?” he asks her.

“One thousand seventy-two,” she tells him.

Helly and Dylan talk in the break area. “What about the voice behind the door?” she asks. “Crying baby, you mean?” he says. Mark interrupts the conversation, telling them they’re not supposed to talk about the break room. He says the important thing is Helly apologized correctly, and now she’s out. Helly and Dylan exchange a look. Dylan tells her she needs to trick the machine by thinking about something she’s genuinely sorry about. Mark tries the friendly approach. He acknowledges that the break room “sucks,” but that’s why they have rules. “You’ll learn, I promise,” he tells Helly. He walks off, and she and Dylan exchange a look again.

Irving arrives at O&D, a room full of nondescript dark blue filing cabinets sized for paintings. Burt gives him a tour, explaining how O&D decides which pictures are placed where. Irving and Burt share a passion for the artwork, and Kier’s philosophy in general. Burt shows Irving a painting they both admire: The Youthful Convalescence of Kier. They stand before the painting, and Burt puts his fingers over Irving’s. After a moment, Irving bolts in a panic. He meanders on his way back to MDR, and ends up passing a conference room…that turns out to be the same room where Milchick abandoned Ricken’s book the day before. Irving stares down at the book.

Back at MDR, Helly has found Mark’s map. She tells Dylan it’s a map of the hallways; Mark denies it. Dylan says they’re not supposed to make maps, and Mark says he thinks Petey made it. Dylan expresses surprise Mark didn’t turn the map in. Helly snaps at Mark for being a hypocrite for lecturing her about rules; defensive, he says he was just trying to keep her out of the break room. Helly asks why they’re not supposed to map the office, and Mark says it’s an Eagan rule: “Render not my creation in miniature.” She asks why, and he has no answer. Dylan points out a cluster of what looks like houses on the map; Mark says they’re random, bored doodles. Helly takes him to task, accusing him of being more loyal to Lumon than Petey. Mark unloads on her, telling her things were better before she arrived because things didn’t blow up and they could get their work done.

“The work is bullshit,” she declares.

He’s angry now. “The work is mysterious and important. And we deal with the uncertainty it brings us in the way Kier would have wanted. Together, as a family.”

Helly looks at him with pity and contempt. “I could not, with a razor to my throat, be less interested in being your family.”

And that’s enough for Mark. He snatches the map back from Helly and runs it through the paper shredder. “Thank you, Helly,” he says, glaring at her, “now we can get back to work.”

He and Helly are still squaring off when Irving arrives, declaring an emergency.

In the conference room, Mark, Dylan, and Irving stand over the chair containing Ricken’s book. Irving says he would have gone to Milchick, but thought it was best not to break the chain of command. He asks if any of them have seen anything like it before; Irving points out the handbook says no outside writings are permitted. Mark picks up the book. Irving is alarmed, and Dylan says Mark’s ego’s bruised because Helly told him he was too obedient. Mark denies this, and opens the book…to find Ricken’s inscription to Mark by name. Mark’s eyes scan the ceiling for cameras, and says he’ll turn the book in to Milchick.

Back at MDR, Helly’s on her own, brooding. She gets up and heads for the office equipment, opening a cabinet to reveal a paper cutter. When the others arrive back at MDR, Helly is gone.

Helly barges into Cobel’s office, grasping the paper cutter, the blade suspended above her fingers. She demands a video camera to tape a resignation to her outie, declaring she’ll chop off her fingers if she doesn’t get one. Cobel tells Milchick to set up the camera, and Helly makes a recording.

The whole group, including Cobel and Milchick, escort Helly out to the elevator. She bids Mark goodbye with a barb that would probably land better if he really thought this would be the last time they saw each other. She gets into the elevator. “I was never sorry,” she says, as the doors close.

And then they open again. The others are still waiting for her, and she’s holding a different disk in her hand. Frustrated, she plays the video, the others looking on. Her outie explains, in no uncertain terms, that she’s going to be staying right where she is. “Eventually we all have to accept reality, so here it is: I am a person. You are not. I make the decisions. You do not. And if you ever do anything to my fingers, know that I will keep you alive long enough to horribly regret that.”

Helly stares at the darkened screen, the others behind her. They all look grim, but unsurprised.

Above, later. Mark is talking to Devon on the phone, who’s telling him about the high-end birthing cabin in which she’s planning to have her baby. He teases her, implying the whole thing was Ricken’s idea, and she tells him to get all of his snark out now.

His phone pings a notification: a news story in The Kier Chronicle about Petey’s death. He looks over at the basement door, hearing Petey’s phone vibrating from the depths of the box where he’s hidden it.

The next day at Lumon, Graner enters Cobel’s office, asking if she’s heard from the board yet. “No,” she tells him. He tells her Petey’s death wasn’t the fault of either of them, and the Board will understand. “If you want a hug,” she says, “go to Hell and find your mother.” She tells Graner they need to get Petey’s chip, and Graner tells her Petey is scheduled to be cremated after his funeral. She just stares at him, and eventually he retreats, annoyed and frustrated.

Cobel keeps staring out into space, unmoving, and then recites the Nine Core Principles to herself: “Vision. Verve. Wit. Cheer. Humility. Benevolence. Nimbleness. Probity. Wiles.” She picks up a small framed photograph from her desk: an old-fashioned picture of a dark-haired man with a mustache. “Wiles,” she repeats, looking at the picture.

Petey’s funeral. Mark is there, looking almost Innie-like in his dark, respectful suit. Mrs. Selvig/Cobel finds him there, and expresses surprise that he knew Petey. She says Petey used to come by her shop all the time. He’s surprised, but buys her explanation. She heads into the viewing room, where a young woman is standing over the coffin. Mark heads for the bar. He sees a photograph of Petey, much younger, and a young teenaged girl, presumably June.

Mrs. Selvig/Cobel approaches the woman at the coffin. It’s June, older than in the picture. Mrs. Selvig/Cobel expresses her condolences, asking if they were close. June gives her an incredulous look.

At the bar, a woman with dark curly hair introduces herself as Petey’s ex wife. She somehow realizes Mark is from Lumon. He confirms it, and she points out he didn’t know Petey at all. Before he can respond, June approaches, and Petey’s ex spirits her away with thinly veiled rudeness.

They all file into the chapel for the service. June sits behind Mark, and asks if he knew her dad. Mark says he knew him at work. June, angry, says, “Do you ever think that maybe the best way to deal with a fucked up situation in your life isn’t to just shut your brain off half the time?”

He answers her honestly: “I’m not exactly sure.”

June is still annoyed, but looks vaguely ashamed of herself.

A video starts playing: Petey and June singing and playing guitar, covering Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” June is a better guitarist than a singer, but she hits the notes; they’re laughing together, enjoying this shared pleasure. Petey’s ex weeps as she watches; June smiles fondly, nodding to the music.

While the others are watching, Mrs. Selvig/Cobel slips out of the chapel and into the viewing room. She moves the flowers off the casket and opens it up. From her voluminous purse, she pulls a power drill. The noise covered by the video, she begins drilling into the side of Petey’s head.

Mark watches the video, charmed, unsettled, bothered. He remembers his first glimpse of Petey in the woods by Devon’s house; Petey talking to him in his basement; Petey collapsing and dying in front of the convenience store.

Cobel removes something from Petey’s head with tweezers.

The song ends, and Mark stands up, bolting from the chapel. Hesitantly, he looks into the viewing room; the casket is closed, the flowers arranged neatly on top. Mrs. Selvig/Cobel finds him, and asks if he’s all right. He says he’s made a mistake and he has to go; she insists on accompanying him. As they leave, June watches from the pews.

In front of Mark’s house, Mrs. Selvig/Cobel says she’s there if he ever needs to talk. He thanks her, sincerely, for being his “funeral buddy.” He unlocks his house door, then locks it again without going in. He drives down a snowy road until he reaches a copse of tall, robust trees. He parks, leaves his headlights on, gets out of the car; he approaches the trees and stands before them, weeping.

Next day at Lumon, Cobel gives Petey’s chip to Milchick and tells him to take it to Diagnostics. Ms. Casey enters, and Cobel tells her to run a special wellness session with Mark S. When Milchick questions this, she says, “He just needs it.”

Irving finds Burt in the corridor, dusting a newly-hung painting of Kier, standing on a cliffside overlooking a wide vista. They discuss how they dislike the picture, because Kier looks like he is about to slip and fall. Burt apologizes for embarrassing himself, and Irving says he didn’t. Burt asks if Irving wants to join him for the rest of his rounds.

Burt comforts Irving over his napping problem, telling him it just means he’s a “party guy” on the outside. Irving says the handbook cares if he naps. Burt says Kier doesn’t just speak to them through the Handbook; he finds other ways.

Mark is reading a chapter of Ricken’s book called “The Quitting Bell.” The book is full of platitudes, but in the context of Lumon’s severed floor, the words take on more depth. “Your job needs you, not the other way around,” the book declares, and to Mark it seems critically important.

Helly tells Dylan she’s leaving for the day. He says he’s staying; he thinks he can finish his file tonight, and she says she hopes he does. She walks away, concealing from him the extension cord she holds in her hands.

Dylan, noticing no one else is around, rummages through Mark’s desk, and comes across the book. “I knew it,” he says.

Helly grabs a trash can on her way to the elevator.

Ms. Casey lights the red and green candle–Gemma’s candle–and asks Mark to sculpt how he feels out of clay. Cobel watches.

Irving, dreamy and distracted, turns around to head back toward O&D.

Helly calls the elevator, removing her badge and dropping it in the trash can.

Dylan reads a poem aloud from Ricken’s book.

At O&D, Irving finds a door.

Mark sculpts a tree, as Ms. Cobel and Ms. Casey watch.

Helly enters the elevator, and unravels her extension cord.

Irving peers through the door, and finds a busy room containing half a dozen people, including Burt and Felicia. He closes the door, not revealing himself.

Helly moves the vents from the elevator ceiling to find a strong metal crossbeam. She makes a noose of the extension cord, slips it around her neck, and kicks the trash can out from under her feet.

Now that, my friends, is a cliffhanger.

Although this was, like so many episodes, a showcase for Mark, the focus here was Helly, and the progression of her rebellion. I had said in the previous recap that she didn’t seem suicidal. That, of course, was before she learned the kind of person she was on the outside. Not only did she discover she is genuinely trapped where she is; she learned her other self is actually a bad human being.

It’s hard to write about this without providing spoilers, but one thing this show does extraordinarily well is build consistent characters. Mark is a different person inside and outside, but he’s also the same; it’s just in one place he’s been battered by the realities of life he can’t escape. In one way, InnieMark has more to lose: if his outie decides to leave Lumon, he loses his entire existence. And yet his limited understanding of how things work makes him brave and protective in ways OutieMark no longer has the energy to be. His character works. So does Helly’s. Trust the writers. They know what they’re doing.

Some of my favorite lines in this show are from Ricken’s writings. They’re simple truths, platitudes wrapped up in poetry and pseudo-meaning; and yet to people who have never had autonomy, they’re not platitudes at all. InnieMark, bothered that he couldn’t protect Helly from the break room (or herself), still mourning–and wondering about–the loss of Petey, needs to hear “You are not your job.” Even though, in a very real sense, he is.

It’s interesting, too, how the thing that pushes Mark over the edge is Helly’s disdain–in particular, her blunt declaration that she has no desire to mean anything to him at all. There’s anger and disbelief in his face when she says it, and also real hurt. He doesn’t know what to do with this, but on some level he knows she’s trying to push his buttons. So he fights back in the only way he can: by telling her this mockup she’s made of him in her head is real, even though they both know it isn’t. And it works: she’s shocked, and knocked off track.

And then proceeds to blackmail herself, only to find she’s not the most stubborn persona sharing that body.

OutieHelly’s video was just awful to watch. Before, it was clear she hadn’t believed her outie really understood what was going on. This video erased all doubt. As far as OutieHelly is concerned, InnieHelly isn’t real at all, and that’s a hell of a thing to absorb. And at the end of this episode, we’re led to believe InnieHelly has absorbed it completely.

But there’s another possible explanation, which is this: InnieHelly knows if she dies, OutieHelly dies too. And by hanging herself in the elevator, there’s a decent chance OutieHelly will “wake up” in time to know what she’s done. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Poor Irving. He’s so infatuated, and he and Burt are getting along so well, and then he discovers Burt’s assertion that O&D is just two people is a total lie. What’s he supposed to think about that, especially in the face of Dylan’s massacre rumors? Surely departments haven’t massacred each other. Surely not. And if they have, Burt had nothing to do with it. Obviously. Right? Right?? Let Irving be happy, Show.

One thing we get confirmation of in this episode: Mrs. Selvig/Cobel is absolutely, 100% fucking with Mark. Stealing that candle and having Ms. Casey use it? And isn’t it fascinating that InnieMark sculpts that tree. There’s bleed-through between Innies and Outies, and Mrs. Selvig/Cobel seems to want to push on that. She’s also willing to drill into a dead guy’s head to get hard evidence that reintegration is possible. But why is she doing this? She’s clearly not against the Board, but she’s also not much pushing back on their absolute shutdown of the idea. She’s nurturing OutieMark, and basically daring InnieMark to get himself sent to the break room.

Patricia Arquette is amazing. I have no idea what this woman is up to, but I’m certain she does.

Lastly, I want to mention Petey’s funeral. This makes it pretty clear polite society is decidedly cool toward severance, at least in the large. June is flat-out rude to Mark, as if she expects him to defend the procedure with some simplistic propaganda. But here Mark shows how much he’s been thinking about it–or maybe just that he reacts better to questions when he’s sober. He tells her he’s not sure that severance is the right thing to do, which is an answer she clearly doesn’t expect. June, having lost her father to severance, had been thinking of it as a black and white issue. Mark makes her wonder if perhaps it’s not.

And that duet between June and Petey. Such an adorable father-daughter moment. Such a creepy little tune, chosen deliberately. It’s Petey’s line in the song I always come back to: Hush little baby, don’t say a word / and never mind that noise you heard. Mark wants to remain ignorant, but he’s finding he really can’t anymore.


Next week: Helly’s fate is revealed, Mark becomes an uncle, and everyone learns more about O&D.

4 thoughts on “SEVERANCE S1E4: The You You Are

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