SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Good News About Hell” and “Half Loop,” the first two episodes of “Severance,” which premiered Friday on Apple TV Plus.
The Ben Stiller-directed “Severance” debuted its first two episodes Friday, revealing a fictional world where people, like Adam Scott’s Mark Scout, are able to undergo a procedure that allows them to mentally separate their work and home lives. Why a person would choose to do this and why Lumon, the company that created the process, would require it of some of its employees is just the start of the questions posed by the initial pair of “Severance” episodes.
“What we know of them is that they are a med-tech company. So they created the severance chip,” “Severance” creator and showrunner Dan Erickson told Variety. “But we talk about them sort of like Johnson & Johnson, or one of those companies, where they make Band-Aids but then if you research, it turns out they make artificial limbs, too.
“Then the question of what they’re doing down on that severed floor, that’s something that we still don’t know. I mean, I know.”
But Erickson has no plans to tell viewers what that is just yet, however he promises it’s in service of Lumon’s mysterious founder, the late Kier Eagan, whose descendants still run the company.
“It’s all comes back to Kier Eagan, who is the founder of the company, and basically this idea that everything they’re doing is to fulfill this vision that he had, that he wanted to enact,” Erickson said. “And so it all comes back to this weird quasi-religious, quasi-cult like reverence that everyone has for the late founder of the company.”
The end of the first episode reveals that one big Eagan fan/Lumon exec Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette) is so serious about her work that she lives next door to Mark’s “Outtie” as a woman named Mrs. Selvig. This Mark, of course, has no idea how strange this is, because only his “Innie” has met her as Cobel.
“To me, that just that had me hooked. I was like, ‘Well, what is this about?’ And Patricia is such an interesting actor,” Stiller told Variety. Stiller compared Arquette’s dual roles of Cobel and Mrs. Selvig — who are one in the same — to those of Scott’s two Marks, though “not necessarily in the way way.”
“We don’t really know the status of Cobel’s character and how that relates to Mrs. Selvig; I think you learn more during the course of the season,” Stiller said, adding he enjoyed watching Arquette “play this other aspect of her character and figure out why she’s up to it.”
“Patricia has so much going on when you can just look at her and her thought process is so fascinating, and she’s kind of beguiling and kind of witchy,” Still said. “It’s really fun to let her have that stuff to play with.”
Again, Erickson isn’t giving any “Severance” spoilers away yet, especially because “a lot of it is reveals that we don’t even get into in Season 1 and some of that, hopefully, will come out in a Season 2,” which he is hopeful for, though Apple hasn’t renewed it yet. So no word on why Cobel is posing as Mrs. Selvig to Outtie Mark: “But there’s definitely something special, going back to the Allentown file, there’s something special about Mark that causes her to feel she has to keep special tabs on him.”
What Erickson is referring to here might require a bit more explanation, even for the most eagle-eyed “Severance” premiere viewers who know that, yes, Mark has a glass “Mark’s Allentown” tchotchke on his desk. As Dylan (Zach Cherry) tells Helly (Britt Lower) in Episode 2, that’s not one of Lumon’s standard prizes for its Macro-Data Refiners team, it’s something Mark was awarded specifically. Later on, while Irving (John Turturro) is dozing, Dylan can be heard telling Helly about Mark’s “freshman fluke” that caused Lumon to overhaul the way it’s Macro-Data Refinement team operated.
“There’s a whole backstory there that is just kind of alluded to,” Erickson said. “But it’s basically, the idea is that Mark came in and he was inexplicably better at refining the files than others were, at least for that first file that he worked on, which was called Allentown. Each of the files has a different name and we generally went with place names, city names for the files. And so Mark came in and was able to really quickly refine this file and then they were able to reverse engineer a better procedure from what he did. We don’t get into it super far, but the idea is that he is kind of Cobel’s golden boy in that way because he came in and sort of had this great success, right when he was first there. But then it sort of tapered off since then, and people have almost forgotten about that big success that he had.”
As for what’s going on with Outtie Mark, and why he chose to undergo the severance procedure, Scott says there’s more to it than Mark not wanting to dwell on the death of his wife Gemma for at least eight hours each day.
“If you think about the potential applications for severance, I mean, this guy doesn’t want to feel the pain that goes along with his wife’s death,” Scott said. “And not only that, but by doing this and just being absent all day, every day and his life consisting of waking up, driving to work and then getting home and going to sleep, that is his life, other than weekends, of course — he’s not feeling all the pain that goes along with grieving his wife, but he’s also kind of committing himself to staying put in life and not moving on whatsoever, not giving himself, literally, the time to move on.
“He doesn’t want to. And then kind of the photo negative of that of Mark on the inside, there’s some stasis there as well. He doesn’t want to question his place on the floor and what’s going on. He’s comfortable where he is. And they both get those apple carts overturned throughout the season.”
New episodes of “Severance” launch Fridays on Apple TV Plus.
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