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Severance S1E2: “Half Loop” Flips Over and Flies Upside Down

Mark walks down a hall with his jacket over his shoulder
Courtesy of Apple TV+

The following contains spoilers for Severance S1E2, “Half Loop” (written by Dan Erickson and directed by Ben Stiller)

Severance S1E2 leans into the show’s premise by devoting a lot of its time to the versions of our characters while they are at work—or the “innies” as Lumon would have us call them—and it really serves the series well, as the second episode opens a number of questions (both banal and existential) that will surely drive the narrative as it progresses. But it mostly does this by going over the same ground as Episode 1 did, simply inverting our perspective.

I have to admit that the innie/outie terminology is the one thing I kind of don’t like about Severance so far, as it just strikes me as a bit juvenile, but it works if we think about it as the corporate-speak of the company. Irv’s wellness session with Ms. Casey (Dichen Lachman) helps in this regard, as she lists to him a number of facts about his outie that are all supposed to please him equally, but also remain fairly abstract. It really brings home the separation that the severance procedure causes, and the extent to which the innies and outies are different persons, as does the fact that Irv (John Turturro) is more pleased at some facts than others (incurring a couple of hilarious ten-point penalties). It’s more about how he would like to think of himself than anything, since he has no real connection to the Irv that wanders about in the world.

Irv (John Turturro) stands with his hands behind his back as he talks with Burt (Christopher Walken) about a painting on the wall
Courtesy of Apple TV+

Severance clearly needed an easy way of referring to these separate selves, so even if “innie” and “outie” makes me think of belly buttons, the language is useful. And other aspects of Lumon’s corporate culture help us swallow the ridiculousness, like the fact that Mark’s morning duty sheet has an item for acknowledging the portrait of Kier Eagan.

It is worth noting that beyond the fact that they don’t experience life outside of work now, the innies clearly have no memory of themselves prior to enlisting at Lumon either. This is one of a few wrinkles in the logic of Severance I’m not quite sure what to do with as of yet. That is, why would this be justified in terms of the idea of severance to protect company secrets, etc.?

But over the course of S1E2, there are other indications that the severance procedure isn’t just about that. For example, it would seem that the job of the Macrodata Refinement team is to sort data into different bins, but they don’t know what they are looking at. Dylan (Zach Cherry) has a theory about the planet being disastrously polluted, and that they are helping to rid the sea of dangerous eels or something, and he tells Helly (Britt Lower) that Irv thinks they are removing swear words from movies, but none of them really know. So the notion of being severed as a kind of super foolproof NDA is a bit undermined. These workers don’t even know anything to disclose.

Milchick stands talking to Dylan, Irv, Helly and Mark, in the office
Courtesy of Apple TV+

It’s an intriguing mystery for Severance to throw in the mix here in its second episode, along with the idea that the numbers on their computer screens elicit emotional responses. How does that work, exactly? I suppose I don’t expect an explanation that dives into technobabble, but it’s striking that by the end of “Half Loop” Helly gets it. The numbers are scary now. So I’m also wondering about the time it takes for this to set in.

The easy answer is that the microchip we see implanted in Helly’s brain at the beginning of the hour does more than simply sever her mind. Does this also relate to Irv’s daydream of black goo? And perhaps to Petey’s episode at the close of S1E2?

Also is Petey (Yul Vazquez) dead? His promise that going to the address on the back of the greeting card would set Mark (Adam Scott) down a long path doesn’t exactly feel like it’s one he’s paid off. In fact, he doesn’t seem to know much of anything, either, though he somehow has a tape of Mark repeatedly offering a statement of atonement in the break room. How did he get this? Regardless, I suppose he may well have set Mark on the path he mentioned, as now outie-Mark is getting worried about what’s going on for innie-Mark.

Irv and Dylan lean over Helly as she sits at her desk looking at a computer
Courtesy of Apple TV+

By spending so much time with the innies, “Half Loop” also ramps up the ethical question at the heart of Severance. Those who’ve undergone the procedure clearly consented to it. We again see Helly doing so at the beginning of S1E2, in greater detail even than the video gave us in S1E1, and I’m tempted to say that this moment, in and of itself, meets the standards for a fairly robust notion of informed consent. Helly has been given all of the relevant information about what she’s signing up for, she understands it, and affirms her will to undergo the procedure in light of this knowledge.

The problem is that after this point, she is cut off from the experience of her innie, who herself rebels against this fact. Lumon apparently has code detectors that prevent the innies from passing notes to their outies, and though this does indeed sound made up, it seems to be confirmed when Helly tries to test it. Further, she is told that if she wants to quit she can submit a resignation request to her outie, but these are usually rejected. And we may not know for sure that the requests are actually delivered—there is no way for the innies to know, at least—but what should be even more distressing is how much the refusal rate would make sense even if they are. The work version of me is unhappy? So what, I’m making money, and I’ve certainly experienced unhappiness from every job I have worked at times. The benefit of the severance procedure is that you don’t remember it.

In this regard, it really does fit the bill of forced labor, as the Whole Mind Collective claims. Mark rails against the young man distributing fliers, taking the ethical argument against severance personally since he himself agreed to it of his own free will. But the problem is that the Mark who agreed is not the Mark who works the job, and the Mark who works the job is virtually trapped there, without any consciousness of himself outside of the confines of the office. He tells Helly how he tries to focus on the benefits of having slept since he doesn’t get to experience the sleep, but he’d also have no idea why he felt so run down if his outie were burning the candle at both ends.

We have to ask to what extent the expressed intent of the outies carries through to the innies, which is at the same time to ask to what extent the two are one and the same person. Certainly they share a physical body, but that’s about it.

And then there is the case of Peggy Cobel/Mrs. Selvig. Perhaps the fact that both are played by Patricia Arquette isn’t quite enough to make certain that they are the same person physically—they could be twins, I suppose—but I think they are, and going off that presumption, S1E2 just raises further questions about what is going on with this woman.

Visiting Mark, she tells him to visit her shop, where she sells bath products. That would be in tension with her spending her days as a severed worker at Lumon, but beyond that there is the fact that Mark knows full well about his innie, whereas Mrs. Selvig does not seem to. This might lead us to conclude that she is actually Ms. Cobel in disguise and fully aware of who she is at all times. But the disjunction between the personalities of the two is stark. We just don’t know what the relation between these two is yet.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Of all of the mysteries and questions Severance has presented us with through its first two episodes, I find myself most intrigued about the lives of the others in the office. Is Milchick (Tramell Tillman) a “whole mind” or is he also severed? He seems like the former, but the latter would be more consistent with the modus operandi of the company.

Perhaps due to his wellness session, or perhaps because it’s John Turturro, I particularly want to know about Irv’s life on the outside. Are the things Ms. Casey lists actual facts? But even if so, I find myself really wanting to know what kind of music Irv’s outie likes, etc.

And I want to know more about Helly and Dylan as well, or about their outies I mean. I wonder if Severance will explore these narrative possibilities or leave them to our imaginations. There would be benefits to both options, so I’m led to expect a mixed bag.

Half Loop

The files the Macrodata Refinement team work on only last so long, thus explaining why sometimes you might only get an eraser as a prize for your completion percentage. Certainly Dylan’s hypothesis about zapping eels in the sea is preposterous. I wonder instead if the numbers relate to the severance procedure itself in some way. It could explain why some numbers are scary if they represent aspects of self that threaten the separation. Of course, it would only raise a further question about Lumon’s ultimate purpose if it turns out that the team is refining their own minds.

Dylan sits in front of a sign that says "Hello, Helly!" with his hands crossed in front of his lap
Courtesy of Apple TV+

This would be a possible interpretation of S1E2’s title, however. Half Loop is the name of the road Petey directs Mark to on the outside, and we might well think of the innies as caught in half of a loop as they repeat their workdays without ever experiencing time off—or for that matter think of the outies in the same way—but could it also be that as they work at their computer screens we are seeing half of a loop, where the other half circles around to enact the ongoing severance itself?

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos


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  1. I’m hoping when the box-set comes out it includes a menu-selection with “Irv’s Record Collection” filled with deep-cuts as surprising and wonderful as hearing Jimmy Smith (jazz organist) during the “Melon Party”.

    • You’re saying her name is Harmony Cobel? As I recall IMDb just says Peggy. They get things wrong sometimes but that tracked with my memory. If they call her Harmony that’s interesting though. Will have to check on that.

      I didn’t write the Black Goo piece fwiw, that’s David Titterington. We do have lots of X-Files stuff on the site, hope you poke around. Thanks for reading!

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