The following contains spoilers for Severance S1E6, “Hide and Seek” (written by Amanda Overton and directed by Aoife McArdle)
It took until the sixth episode, but Severance has finally shown us the outie version of someone on the MDR team besides Mark, as S1E6 finds Milchick visiting Dylan at home. It’s true that we don’t learn a lot about his life other than the fact he has a kid, but the more striking thing in relation to the overarching questions in the show is the simple fact that such activation of his innie outside of work is possible. We were given to understand that the severance procedure was confined to the office, but now we see the power extends far beyond it. And of course it does.
I’ve wondered since the beginning whether something like this may be at play to explain the differences between Ms. Cobel and Mrs. Selvig, since they are very different in demeanor despite both being played by Patricia Arquette and having a physical body in common. But at the same time that “Hide and Seek” provides a technological basis for the possibility that Cobel is severed and being activated at opportune moments, it also undermines this possibility by showing us Selvig infiltrating Devon and Ricken’s home for some reason, posed as a nursemaid. And it’s clear Cobel is fully aware of this when she’s visited by Graner.
It is maybe worth dwelling on all of this for a moment, as the way in which Cobel is keeping an eye on Mark outside of work is particular to Mark and not something that can be explained simply with reference to recent events regarding Petey. Why in the world, though, would she be going so far as spying on Mark’s sister et al.? Recall how when she handed Ricken’s book to Milchick she asked him to check it for hidden messages. None of this quite makes sense yet, but I expect it may well tie into where Severance is going.
There is also some new weirdness with regard to Harmony in S1E6, if that is her real name. The episode begins with her in a stark space that resembles a cell, sewing dolls and bowing at an altar to Kier, but the little detail that caught my eye on this altar was a piece of paper that seems to have Charlotte Cobel written on it. Maybe Harmony is so deep down the rabbit hole Lumon provides through the severance procedure that she’s lost her old self entirely, or maybe she has some kind of family legacy that runs parallel to that of the Eagans. Regardless, I’m not entirely sure what we’re looking at here, so perhaps one of you can tell me.
It remains striking to me that, beyond not knowing the details of what our innie friends do while working at Lumon, Severance has given us little idea as to what the company does in general. I don’t mean the secret plot the series is on the track of laying out, but even on the surface. What do people out in the world like Ricken and Devon think that Lumon does?
The company is well known enough for June’s band to sing a diatribe of a song against it, but even that song seems focused on the severance procedure, which surely must be viewed by the world (or at least sold to the world) as a method and not the goal of the enterprise.
The pseudo-religious worship of Kier ramps up a notch in S1E6, primarily through Cobel (who even sings a song at one point), but are those on the outside even aware of this zealous fervor? Does outie Mark know about it? What about Irving, who is much more in the bag to the company line? I’m guessing they don’t.
Devon runs into Gabby (the woman she met last week at the birthing retreat) out in the world, who doesn’t seem to recognize her in this new context. Worse, her baby is named Bradley when she had told Devon it would be William. And some internet research provides links between her husband Angelo and something to do with severance and the Senate, but if there is more to glean from what appeared onscreen there, I’m afraid I’m missing it (though I do recall a mention of a political debate along these lines during the “dinner party” back in the premiere).
It seems eminently possible that these new acquaintances of Devon’s are being severed remotely, given that we now know this is a thing, but I can barely begin to speculate as to why this might be the case, for lack of information about them. All I can say is that if they are, it wouldn’t make much sense for it to have just been a temporary severance related to giving birth. Rather, I’d have to speculate that because they’d run afoul of Lumon, some switch was flipped that altered them permanently.
Speaking of which, maintenance crews replace the sensors on the elevator at the Lumon office towards the end of S1E6, which I can’t help but feed into my theory that there are (or have been) any number of innie Marks, as opposed to just the one. Maybe recent events have led the powers that be to initiate something like a full reset. It’s interesting that I hope this isn’t the case primarily because I feel like it would involve killing off all of the characters we’ve come to know and love to this point—even Mark, insofar as the innie version of him truly does feel like a person of his own. But for the same reason, this would probably be a bigger risk than Severance will take, though it leaves me wondering what exactly the purpose of the maintenance might be.
Regardless, my hypothesis at this point is that Lumon’s purpose relates directly to how they are treating their employees. There is no secret behind what MDR is doing, or rather, there is but it will relate to the workers themselves and perhaps to other workers at Lumon. They’re told that the work is important, but what we learn about O&D in S1E6 just adds to the feeling that it’s absurd. This week they have watering cans. Previously it was hatchets, and they have no idea what is going on. Perhaps in some way, MDR is sorting their emotional responses and that’s why Milchick and Cobel are working so hard to keep them from communicating with each other.
Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe the goats are the numbers, as I still lack any concrete idea about what baby goats could have to do with all of this. I suppose it could just be another ridiculous job function Lumon has set people to in order to see how they respond.
If everything is an experiment of sorts, it might also explain the actions of outie Helly. Perhaps she knows the real purpose of what Lumon is doing and is invested in their ideas about making the world a better place. The corporate culture isn’t wallpaper but goes directly to the company’s raison d’être, and if this traces back to the 19th century perhaps we should be thinking more about The Great Awakening than about industry.
At the same time, though, we have Milchick activating Dylan at home, and it doesn’t really seem like he wants to. This would imply that the idiographic card that Dylan pilfered at work was of actual importance. It could be, however, that this is how the information Lumon actually wants is encoded, though I don’t really see how from looking at the pictures.
I’ve seen some frustrated with the lack of answers in Severance to this point, and while I’m not really one of them insofar as the characters and world of the show are what make me invested more than the plot, it does feel like we’ll have to get some answers soon, with only three episodes left in the season.
Thankfully, Mark finally answers Petey’s ringing phone in S1E6, and the rendezvous with which the episode ends seems sure to be an opening to an exposition dump next week. I just hope that the answers don’t spoil all of the fun.