Severance is quite possibly the most interesting, intriguing and downright innovative new TV show in years, comparable only to Twin Peaks. Yes, it’s that good.
But brilliant though this Apple TV Plus series is, last week’s finale left us with dozens of unanswered questions about what’s really going on within the shadowy Lumon Industries, and what fate will befall the unfortunate 'Innies' trapped within it.
We now know for sure that there’ll be a Severance season 2, but unless it’s the first of multiple sequels, it’ll have to work hard to tie up all those loose threads. Such as: What is macrodata refinement? What's up with Ms. Casey? And what’s the deal with those baby goats?
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We definitely don’t know the answers to all these questions, but we do know they need answering — so read on and see whether you have any theories. Particularly about the baby goats.
Warning: Spoilers for all nine episodes of Severance season 1 follow. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and watch the show instead (then return here).
1. When and where is Severance set?
Severance does a wonderful job of building an eerie, unsettling world and that’s just as true outside of Lumon Industries as it is within those creepy white corridors.
It’s set in the fictional town of Kier, and we assume that’s in the U.S., but otherwise there are very few clues to ground it in reality. There’s no real sense of Kier existing within the modern day United States, no glimpses of TV or radio to place it. Kier feels like it exists in isolation, in much the same way as the severed employees do when at work.
We do know that it’s set in or around the present day, as 'Outie' Mark (Adam Scott) is revealed to have been born in 1978 and has a drivers’ license that expires in 2020. But there are also clues that suggest it might not be the world as we know it.
For instance, in the first episode, Outie Mark attends a dinner party with his sister Devon (Jen Tullock), her husband Ricken (Michael Chernus) and several incredibly pretentious friends — except they aren’t dining, as this is non-eating dinner party. The worst of the guests, Patton, remarks at one point that "a friend in Lima hasn’t had a food-based dinner event in months."
Has society outside of Kier collapsed? Are the perma-snowy conditions a reference to climate disaster? Or is it just set in the north somewhere? It’s not clear, but we’d like to know more.
2. Why is the Severed Floor seemingly in a different era?
Even if the world outside it is in the present day, the Severed Floor clearly isn’t. The computers are hulking great things, VCRs are still in use and the decor is straight out of my 1970s childhood.
What reason could Lumon have for keeping severed employees several decades in the past? Well, clearly it doesn’t matter to Mark, Helly, Dylan and Irv as they don’t know what year it is outside either. But equally, why would it matter if their workplace was all early 21st century stylings and Mac Pros (albeit without an internet connection)?
One thing we can say is that from a directorial perspective, the shift in eras and tones works wonderfully well, making a clear distinction between the starkly cold outie world and the comfortingly warm (albeit weird) Innie existence.
3. What is macrodata refinement?
Mark, Helly, Dylan and Irv spend their work days sorting numbers into digital buckets, but they have no idea why and nor do we.
Dylan (Zach Cherry) speculates in the second episode that they live in a post-apocalyptic world and they’re cleaning the sea of eels in order to make it habitable, which is monumentally ridiculous but probably no less stupid than Irv (John Turturro)’s theory that they’re clipping swear words from films.
So, is there any point to the work they do or is Lumon merely keeping them occupied? One brain-bending theory doing the rounds on Reddit (opens in new tab) is that the entire world is a computer and that the employees are processors carrying our calculations.
Another is that the work is connected to Lumon founder Kier Eagan's view that humans are defined by "four tempers": woe, frolic, dread, and malice. Weight was given to this theory when a Reddit user spotted (opens in new tab) that after the data is sorted, four progress bars pop out, labeled WO, FC, DR and MA — which would tie in with the four tempers. So, are they in some way refining emotions? And if so, whose?
It’s certainly no more outlandish than eel hunting.
4. What else does Lumon do?
Lumon is a big company and the macrodata refinement team is just a small fraction of it. We know from the final episode that it has money — the glittering gala, with senator in attendance, makes that clear. We also know that it has plans to give the whole world a severance chip. So what other pies does it have its fingers in?
Back to that non-eating dinner party in episode 1, and some of the theories shared around the table are that Lumon makes cosmetics, or is in the tech business. But nobody seems sure.
And then there are the clues (in the loosest sense) from the O&D team. When Mark and his colleagues visit in episode 6, you see some of what that department produces: watering cans and hatchets. Is Lumon involved in agriculture? Is it some kind of Amazon-style sell-anything company? It’s all a mystery, but we're guessing it's up to no good either way.
5. What’s the deal with the goats?
In episode 5, Mark and Helly (Britt Lower) stumble upon a room that could only have been more Twin Peaks-esque if it had contained a backwards-speaking cherry pie with an owl sitting on it. Instead, it contained a man in a suit bottle-feeding 10 baby goats.
To add to the weirdness, the man shouts at Mark and Helly that "They're not ready. You can't take them yet. They're not ready. It isn't time. Get the hell out of here. Go!" But what are they being readied for? How — if at all — does this tie in with macrodata refinement? Are writer Dan Erickson and director Ben Stiller just screwing with us?
6. What the heck is going on with Ms. Casey?
We learn in episode 1 that Mark signed up for severed life due to the death of his wife, Gemma, but in one of the series’ best cliffhanger endings it’s revealed that Gemma is none other than Ms. Casey (Dichen Lachman), the severed floor’s wellness counsellor. Of course, Innie Mark doesn’t know that’s who she is, until he sees a photo of her in the final episode. So how did she get there and why isn’t she dead?
We know that Gemma was supposedly killed in a car crash, but is it possible that he consciousness was somehow saved through the severance process? Or was Gemma already severed and therefore when her Outie died her Innie was somehow able to live on? How would that even work?
Plus, does Outie Mark know that she’s still alive, albeit beyond his reach? Did he sign up to be severed so he could be near to her still, even if his Innie didn't know who she was?
Whatever the answer, it’s clear that Ms. Casey has a hellish existence: in episode 8, she tells Mark that her entire lifespan has been 108 hours and she’s spent almost all of it in counselling sessions with severed employees. And now she’s been fired and is headed down the black corridor from Outie Irv’s nightmares and for the ‘testing floor,’ whatever the hell that is.
7. Why did Helly/Helena sign up to be severed?
One of the big episode 9 reveals is that Helly R is actually Helena Eagan, daughter of CEO James Eagan and granddaughter of Kier. At the Lumon gala, Helly, now in Innie form, watches a video of her Outie explaining that she signed up to be severed so that she could show the world that it’s a safe procedure.
That all makes sense — but is there more to it? All the evidence points to Helly/Helena being a headstrong and rebellious personality; Helena must have known that her Innie would be unlikely to accept severed life as Mark and the others have. Presumably she also had at least some insight into what life is like on the severed floor. So could Helena have signed up in order to infiltrate the Innie world and bring Lumon’s plans crashing down?
Presumably — hopefully — we’ll find out when Severance Season 2 arrives in the next year or two. In the meantime, we’ll have to content ourselves with some of the other best Apple TV Plus shows or some of the best shows to stream while you wait for the next season of Severance.