There’s a fine alchemy to a perfect season finale. When it comes to a twisty dramas like Yellowjackets or Westworld, the finale has to reveal the answers to at least a few of the mysteries the show’s writers have been dangling in front of us all season, or risk royally pissing off fans. Give away too much, however, and a show risks destroying its momentum and leaves us without a compelling reason to tune in next time. It’s a tricky balance, but Severance more than nailed it with its season finale, which debuted Friday on Apple TV+. The year’s not even halfway over, but I’m willing to bet that this will go down as the best episode of TV.
Severance tells the story of four employees of a shadowy mega-corporation called Lumon Industries. They’re part of a highly-secretive division that requires workers to undergo a proprietary procedure called “severance,” which, as the name suggests, severs their workplace selves from their real-life identities. While at work, they remember nothing of the outside world—not their families, hobbies, or even their last names. Their workplace personas, called “innies” in Lumon corporate speak, know nothing of their existence outside of their little cubical farm. Their “outties,” or non-work selves, continue to live normal lives complete with friends and families, while having no memory at all of what they do between nine and five each weekday.
The series gets off to a relatively slow and world building-heavy start, as we’re first introduced to Adam Scott’s character, Mark, who decided to be severed in the wake of his wife’s death. Scott’s nimble performance as innie and outtie Mark—cheerful and can-do while at work, deep in mourning the rest of the time—gives the show a rock-solid anchor. Still, it’s hard not to become deeply invested in Mark’s coworkers as the season rolls on, from the rebellious newcomer Britt Lower’s Helly, who wants desperately to quit the job, though her “outtie” won’t allow it, to John Turturro’s Irv. Irv is a company man through and through, until he falls in love with Christopher Walken’s Burt, a severed employee from another division. The quiet romance that develops between these two men of a certain age plays out in furtive glances and barely-touching fingertips. It’s the sweetest, most heart-rending thing I’ve seen in ages.
As the season progressed (fair warning: there are spoilers from here on out), the story really picked up. After an encounter with a former colleague who’d had the procedure reversed, Mark slowly becomes a supporter of the anti-severance resistance, while his colleagues join the mission for reasons of their own—Dylan (Zach Cherry) learns that he has kids in the real world, Irv wants to pursue his love for Burt, and Helly just wants out. After learning about a secret Lumon “overtime contingency,” which, when triggered, can force an employee to revert to their “innie” self outside of work hours, they team up to take the company down.
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In an episode rife with tension from start to finish, the season finale finds Dylan triggering the overtime mechanism for Mark, Helly, and Irv, whose “innies” are all awake in the outside work for the first time ever. Their mission is to find someone they can trust and spill all of Lumon’s dirty secrets—especially the fact that “innies” are essentially slaves. Along the way, each of the “innies” get a peek at their outside lives. Irv learns he’s a single dude with a cute dog and passion for researching dirt on Lumon. He immediately sets about finding Burt. Mark is at a party at his sister’s house, and amid the chaos, has to find a way to tell her the truth about his severed experience. Helly’s identity is the biggest shocker of the three—it turns out that she’s a member of the creepy Eagan family who owns Lumon, and only underwent severance in order to be better able to promote the controversial procedure. Though the audience was tipped off in an earlier episode, Mark also learns that his wife isn’t actually dead, and is in fact another severed Lumon employee (or, if she is dead, there’s a clone/robot of his wife working at Lumon).
Despite these major revelations, there are still plenty of questions to answer in season two—which, Apple TV+ confirmed earlier this week, is in the works. We still don’t know what it is that the severed employees do at Lumon. (My guess is that they’re not performing any actually meaningful work, but are rather serving as lab monkeys before a broader roll-out of the severance technology.) We still don’t know what the fallout of the innies’ jailbreak will be. And we still don’t know what exactly is going on with Mark’s wife, though watching Scott scream, “She’s alive!” before the screen turned black was one of the most satisfying TV experiences I’ve had in recent months.
Overall, it was a perfectly executed season of television. Now, it’s time for the hard part: waiting at least another year for season two. Sure, Lumon is evil, but if you told me that I could be severed right now and wake up again when the new season debuts, I’d honestly be pretty tempted.