Lit’s song from 1999 should be the theme song for Severance. Everyone seems powerless to control their lives. Whether it be the impotent rage of Mrs. Cobel’s middle manager or the helpless futility of Helly and Mark, if you work for Lumon, you have ceded control. Severance Episode 3 showed everything that is wrong with giving up control.
Another episode and another unsettling character are introduced. Natalie, the media gal, is chipper and polished and Lumon’s Stepford Wife liaison to the outside world. She is designed to be the perky face of what looks to be a very shady company. But, unfortunately, she’s just one of many pitfalls Mark and his fellow workmates must avoid.
Anyone who has ever worked in corporate America knows the dull rhythms of boredom and the buzzing annoyance of anxious energy. In Lumon, mostly, it’s just placid calmness followed by beats of unending dread and anxiety. It’s a terrible place to work, and only the most desperate unplug from their real lives on the outside to forget about their worries and emotions for eight hours a day. That they are dooming their innie to a lifetime of constant monotony and hellish fluorescent lightning is irrelevant, Right?
Try as he might, Mark is being sucked deeper into Petey’s drama. Petey is staying in the basement and talks in riddles about what they are actually doing on the severed floors. Whether Petey can’t articulate what is going on because he doesn’t fully know, is worried Mark can’t handle it yet, or is convinced Big Brother is listening, all his secretive puzzle-talking has Mark intrigued.
After Petey’s reintegration sickness leads him dazed and confused into a gas station minimart, Mark watches on in shock and fear. Petey has done everything he needs to though to send Mark on this journey of discovery. He planted breadcrumbs in the way of maps both at work and at home for Mark’s innie and outie. Most importantly, he left him a flip phone which will undoubtedly connect Mark with the Severance rebellion. But, for now, Mark is just curious. He is more interested in what he thinks of as survival. Severance for him is about avoidance. He is disconnected from his pain at work and goes about eight hours of his day without a care. He drinks away the hours at home until he falls asleep or can go back to work. It’s no way to live, and Petey tells him as much.
Mark isn’t ready to listen to Petey’s words, but he is complicit enough to keep all the maps and the phone. On the inside, he keeps the map hidden, Petey planted in the picture frame. On some level, both sides of Mark must be communicating. Petey’s mysterious departure from the company combined with Helly’s rebellious activities is enough to convince him to keep his mouth shut and keep investigating.
In addition to his growing concern outside of work, Mrs. Cobel’s erratic behavior is nudging Mark closer to mutiny. When he fails to fill out the prerequisite TPS reports for a simple trip down to the Perpetuity Wing, she flings her coffee mug at his head. She is frustrated she isn’t finding anything at his home besides an old candle of his wife and his idiot brother-in-law’s self-help book. Mrs. Cobel is definitely not severed, and the strain of whatever Lumon is doing is getting to her. She gaslights Mark grotesquely and essentially tells him it hurts her more than anything would ever hurt him. It’s a classic abusers playbook, and it is obvious why she was chosen for her current position.
Bucking the system, Mark takes everyone down to the Perpetuity Wing, and along the way, they meet the curiously odd O and D workers who are on their way back from an egg drop challenge. The encounter is deliciously laden with subtext, with everyone having visceral reactions to the pair. Dylan is absurdly angry, Helly and Mark are confused, and Irv is overtly interested. Burt means more to Irv than anyone realizes yet.
Once at the Perpetuity Wing, the museum to the Egans is just as you would imagine it to be. Lumon believes, really believes, they have been saving lives(probably by controlling them) since 1866. Just look at the uber-creepy Wall of Smiles if you aren’t sure. Melodramatic quotes emblazon every wall, and the full-size replica of Kier Egan’s home is ridiculous. Helly makes one last-ditch effort to communicate with her outie when she sees her chance to run. She tries to break the glass in the door between the severed and unsevered space and lean out just enough for her outtie to read the message her innie wrote on the back of her bingo card. It doesn’t work, but A for effort.
Her reward in Severance Episode 3 is a trip to the Break Room for some first-class white-collar torture. It’s a combination of brainwashing via lowkey shock therapy and endless apology recitation. Mr. Milcheck’s icy no-nonsense prodding indicates there is only one safe way out. Do what he says or pay a steep price. Severance Episode 3 took no prisoners unless you count Helly.
Find all our Severance coverage here while we wait for the elevator back up.
Corporate Culture- All the details that don’t fit anywhere else
Mark’s locker is in a bank with nine others. Are there similar locker rooms elsewhere, or are there only nine severed workers?
There are four tempers in Lumon. They are Woe, Frolic, Dread, and Malice. Only four refiners work on the floor at a time. Each worker is meant as one of the personality groups. Mark is Woe, Irving could be Dread, Dylan is Frolic, and Helly is Malice. Irving’s black goo dreams indicate a colossal level of anxiety, while Dylan seems to be the only one genuinely excited about his work incentives. Helly is the one hellbent on undermining the company. She is the enemy combatant Lumon needs to force behaviors out of the others. This furthers the theory that they are the experiment and they aren’t actually doing any billable work.
The four abbreviations or file names on the computer screen are WO, FR, DR, MA. These correlate to the four tempers.
I am even more convinced now the refiners are eliminating memories or behaviors from their brains when they delete the scary numbers.
The name of one of the CEOs is Phillip “Pip.” I’m assuming Pip’s bar and grill is named after him.
Two of the quotes in the Perpetuity Wing are very interesting. “The remembered man does not decay” and “History lives in us all whether we learn it or not” could be clues that Lumon’s true purpose is immortality and history-shaping. It is Paternalism at its best. Lumon will shape what history is and what is learned by having the insight of living in perpetuity.
There appear to be only two people that live in the Lumon subsidized housing. Mark and Mrs. Cobel/Mrs. Selvig who lives next door. There are no other cars in the surrounding driveways. Shouldn’t that concern Mark?
Petey tells him your innie feels the same pain you do as an outie. You just don’t register it. That is a major red flag. Does all that emotion come bubbling up in the form of black goo sometimes?
June is Petey’s daughter that he mentions to Mark in Severance Episode 3.
Who blowdries their front porch? Mrs. Cobel really needs to step up her game, or Mark will be on to her pretty quickly.
What is the “bad soap” that Mr. Milcheck uses? Considering he is also extracting messages from various places in the body, according to Mark, how do they not have more refiner turnover?
Mark is in unit 34 of the Lumon housing neighborhood.
Don’t put Post-Its on your face?
It’s worth mentioning the outside of Egan’s house reminds me of the house Mal and Cobb get lost in for years in Inception, another little story about perception and memory.
Mark’s license plate has no state listed, and the Latin phrase remedium hominibus which translates into cure for men.
The Employee Handbook- The crazy theorycast
I’ve got a theory that Helly and June are the same person. At the very least, Helly has to be a rebel plant. She seems to have all of the qualities that would make her unattractive to the program. Helly should have been denied outright. She is unafraid, resourceful, questioning, and an independent thinker. I find it hard to believe her outtie signed up for Severance willfully. Either she is there as a spy, or this is the next level of conditioning done to regular people who never signed up for the procedure.
There is no way that resignation requests are approved or denied by the outtie. Multiple requests would raise major red flags to the outtie and the quickness of the answer leads me to believe management denies all requests immediately.
Mark’s cool indifference to Helly’s panic is concerning. He seems like a reasonably kind guy. How can he work for a place that extracts messages from workers? What if the outtie’s life isn’t just separated from their innie on the severed floor but their emotions too? Almost as if their compassionate sides are tamped down.
According to Dylan, Optics and Design only have two members because they staged a coup against the other divisions long ago. Severance Episode 3 tells us they are also cruelty-based. Is this the division that Petey says never gets to leave? Did they willingly choose not to leave or is this something that happened over time until they were broken into being permanent workers? Are they cruelty-based because they have never been shown kindness? Meaning O and D got the stick where the refiners get the carrot more often than not.
Both members of O and D are older and have a look about them that says they have seen and done it all. Lumon must be working on a version of Severance that provides them an endless workforce of human automatons. Irving seems overly interested in them. Was he once a member of O and D or is he just a fanboy?
O and D and Macrodata Refiners are two distinct personality groups. One is cruelty-based, and the other is clever and true. This has to be part of the human experiment that is Lumon’s severed floors.
Petey asks Mark, what if you found out you were killing people eight hours a day? It’s too obvious to be as straightforward as actual murders, but they could be choosing which people live or die.
Mrs. Cobel took the candle from Mark’s house probably for two reasons. First, she seems to have a weird attraction to him beyond her professional curiosity. Scent and memory are strongly linked in the brain so she may be trying to condition him to love her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t burn the candle to try to sway Mark to her side, either as Mrs. Selvig or as Mrs. Cobel. It could also be a way to determine if his severance procedure was still effective.
Mrs. Cobel is an enemy right now, but she could become an ally later in the series. She clearly is struggling with her work/life balance. Additionally, she seems more at home in Mrs. Selvig’s shoes than Mrs. Cobel’s, where Lumon’s board silently condemns her every move. She spends countless hours trying to make the perfect cookies and feels more natural in her braids than her severe suits. In a show where workers literally separate their work and home lives, the genuine struggle of doing so for people is highlighted.
Carol has to be the pregnant severed worker Natalie, and the angry journalist is arguing about in Severance Episode 3 on the program Mark watches at home. It is the only explanation for her leaving the company since the severed policy seems ironclad. Who is the father of her baby? What happened to Carol and her child? Could Petey have had an affair, which triggered him to investigate what Lumon really does?
Petey’s entwined memories of his fifth birthday and the first day at Lumon could indicate he worked for the company for five years. We also know Irving has worked for Severance for three years. Do things start bleeding through around year three and break down all together at five?
There are apparent Marxist nods everywhere in Lumon. They are a company that doesn’t do anything yet is wildly successful. Their value is in their workforce or the potential that force has. This means Lumon is trying to create the perfect worker who is tireless, emotionless, and won’t ever complain. Severance is the first step in that process. Just ask the world of 1984. A workforce that is beholden to the state with no independent thought of their own is the jewel of this type of leader.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.