Severance Season 1 Episode 5 Review: The Grim Barbarity Of Optics and Design

Spoilers

Severance feels like it’s verging on something great, but it’s taking its time to get there,

On Severance Season 1 Episode 5. a brutal painting leads to many questions, with very few answers. Helly and Mark find more than they expected, but are they in control of their own destiny? How much are they being manipulated?

Then, of course, there are baby goats, just for something different.

So, Helly survived her suicide attempt, thanks to Mark and Mr. Graner.

It was a brutal way to end Severance Season 1 Episode 4, but the impact was lessened finding out that she hadn’t actually died.

It would have been quite a blow if our most relatable character died four episodes in, but probably not the message Severance is trying to convey (though it’s still hard to say what that message is). 

What kind of a monster is Outie Helly that she can inflict this kind of suffering on someone who is a part of her? It’s horrific — not to mention dangerous!

Helly has proven to be resourceful and determined when harming herself — she could still find a way, despite removing the hazardous materials. However, there is the new addition of Ms. Casey supervising her at all times.

I’m to watch her for signs of sadness and verbally encourage her to forego further suicide attempts. Upon request, I can also perform a hug.

Ms. Casey

We got a lot more time with part-time wellness counselor Ms. Casey this episode, but she’s still a mystery. Is she also severed?

Ms. Casey has that affected way of speaking that middle management has, but still answers to Ms. Cobel.

She covers the whole severed floor, though, as was evident when Burt had his wellness session, so surely it would be in Lumon’s best interest if she was severed.

Regardless, she’s a strange, robotic individual who wants to help people but is very good at following the rules.

A man in an isolated room, bottle-feeding baby goats! Because why not?

It’s somehow reminiscent of the polar bears on Lost. The whole scene was disturbing and baffling, but they sure were cute little things. Are we thinking cloning, organ harvesting, or ritual sacrifice? 

When Mark and Helly first heard the goat bleat, it sounded like a baby cry — could that be the sound Dylan heard when he was in the break room?

Speaking of babies, Devon gave birth! Mark got to see Alexa, the midwife, again and apologize for his behavior. Nikki M. James feels underused here, so hopefully, she’ll be re-occurring — Devon seemed to hint at the possibility.

Then, surprise, Ricken made the baby’s birth all about him and his process. The man is so insufferable it’s hard to know what Devon sees in him. He is attentive and caring, but there’s definitely an underlying reason why Devon keeps calling him “baby.”

It seems a bit strange to have your brother at your labor, but Devon and Mark’s relationship is clearly unique. She must have helped him through Gemma’s death, and he’s ready to be there to support her through labor, so good for them.

It was refreshing to see the tedious side of labor portrayed — so much of it is just waiting around. It was thematically fitting to have Mark present for the boring part and removed for the actual birth. 

The whole Gabby thing was odd. She barely tolerated Devon’s presence — her pretty smile was so forced. Either Devon didn’t notice or chose not to care. Something’s up with Gabby, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her.

Innie Mark can’t get enough of Ricken’s book and all the new philosophies it suggests to him.

If you are a soldier, do not fight for my freedom. Fight for the freedom of the soldier fighting next to you. This will make the war more inspiring for you both.

Ricken (“The You You Are”)

It sounds like the kind of generic self-help jargon we’ve all heard regurgitated and recycling in a thousand other books and talk shows, but then Innie Mark hasn’t. He is receiving these ideas for the first time.

The surest way to tame a prisoner is to let him believe he’s free.

Ms. Cobel (quoting Kier Eagan)

One must wonder if Severance’s approach to the philosophies presented here is entirely cynical. Is it showing how meaningless it is for people outside of the system to criticize the imprisoned ones?

Is this being presented as a joke, or will it actually give Mark the impetus he needs to break free from his Lumon jail? It’s a philosophical feast for him, and he’s starving for knowledge.

Ricken gave it to Outie Mark, hoping it would do some good, but little did he know how much it would mean to Innie Mark.

The Mark and Helly dynamic has shifted significantly — botching someone’s suicide attempt will do that.

Maybe she’s not quite his new Petey, but she does warm to him by the end when she sees that he genuinely cares about her. She’s still bent on Outie revenge, but she knows he’s not the enemy anymore.

I know you don’t want to be here, but I’m glad you are.

Mark

Burt and Irving continue to be sweet, awkward, and unexpected. I sincerely hope Burt’s intentions are above board because I couldn’t bear to see Irving’s heart get broken.

It’s great how Dylan only disapproves of their relationship because Burt is O&D and doesn’t trust him, rather than anything else.

Did Milchick print the painting specifically so Irving would see it? Milchick told Cobel he was trying to dissuade Irving from visiting O&D. Was that the “266,” or was that the hallucination? Can middle-management induce hallucinations via severance chips?

Severance is purposefully vague about these sorts of things, and it gets tiresome at times. We still have no sense of what Lumon does, only that there are A LOT more people on the severed floor that they are trying to keep separate.

The odds are that neither version of the painting is the “real” one — in all likelihood, Macrodata and O&D banded together and revolted against the system, which means it could happen again.

The painting is part of the propaganda (like the myth of the larval pouches) that keeps O&D and Macrodata apart. If they get together, they might figure things out.

It does beg the question — what is the point of severance as a tool for confidentiality if the workers don’t know what they are doing anyway?

Severance is made for (and clearly by) those who love the craft of film itself. The shots themselves are so artfully composed to support the themes being conveyed. Helly and Mark (and their reflections) appear in one small square of light, stepping into unforgiving darkness.

Then, there’s the use of blank space taking up so much of the screen while a face is pushed off to the side — the space representing the rest of their identity, of course. Then there’s the conversations between Cobel and Graner, Milchick and Mark, Mark and Helly, all in side profile, allowing us only to see half of their faces.

If you hadn’t noticed it before, you won’t be able to unsee it. Severance excels at using the visual medium to evoke the mood and tell the story, sometimes more than the script does. 

Do you know how to make your eyes kind?

Mr. Milchick

Severance prods at the icky feeling that there’s something deeply wrong with the world.

We devote our lives to gigantic, soulless companies that give us relatively comfortable lives, but those lives are ultimately indentured to them.

Big corporations are great at taking people’s alienation about the system and how the world works and then commodifying that alienation into a product for us to consume — like Severance.

Will Severance give us the tools to break free of the system we see ourselves trapped in, or will watching the Macrodata team do it be enough to satiate us?

How meta is Severance intended to be? What are your thoughts? Hit the comments.

Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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