Friday, February 18, 2022

REVIEW: 'Severance' - Helly Questions the Rules of the Job While Mark Reaches Out to an Apparent Friend in 'Half Loop'

AppleTV+'s Severance - Episode 1.02 "Half Loop"

The team train new hire Helly on macrodata refinement. Mark takes a day off to meet with a mysterious former colleague.

"Half Loop" was written by Dan Erickson and directed by Ben Stiller

Mark has to believe in the Severance program. He consented to the procedure. He did so knowing that it was irreversible. Petey is the first person trying to cope with the side effects of no longer going along with the demands of the process. It's absolutely horrifying. Helly is unnerved by the fact that the data entry job is all about detecting which numbers cause a disconcerting feeling within them. It's insane. She questions the rules of this office space. It doesn't seem possible that the elevator can detect anything with letters on it. And yet, that too is a reality in this place. It leads to punishment for whomever gets caught. That torture is only briefly heard though. Time isn't spent with Mark in the actual break room. Instead, it's simply up to his outie self to be unsure of what is now being presented to him. He doesn't have to be a jerk about this work-life balance though. He feels like he has to defend it against those who are protesting the companies that are making this a requirement for their employees. Sure, they use hysteria to drive outrage. It's a forced procedure in their mind. Mark makes fun over the idea that he has no control over any of his actions. He doesn't want to know what his innie self is doing all day. It doesn't matter to him. He doesn't question it. And yet, the narrative requires him to be intrigued by Petey. This person suddenly appears who claims that Lumon Industries is nothing like what was promised to its workers. That is inconsistent with what Mark tells people about his job. He is a historical archivist. His work is so top secret that it was necessary for him not to know the full extent of it. Meanwhile, the innie workers are just as much in the dark. Dylan suggests that it's all about making the sea habitable for humanity. He concocts a world of destruction in order to rationalize why his outie self would alter his mind this way. The people in the office have to believe that the people in control are desperate. It buys into the noble idea of this job. But it's also just a corporate culture that takes itself too seriously to the detriment of its workers. That's not a novel concept. Plenty of massive corporations treat their workers unfairly. They rely on the public not being aware of the abuses. The Severance procedure creates a way for no one to know the truth about what's going on.

All of this is mystifying. The audience could easily be frustrated because the show is setting up mysteries without any sense of providing meaningful clarity whatsoever. That's an aspect of the show. However, it's much more visceral to see the responses amongst the people. Their stories drive the narrative forward. Yes, they are carefully being monitored. The executives wonder if Mark truly is sick when he calls in to take the day off. It's a lie. They are analyzing it in the wake of punishing him for Helly breaking the rules. They will do whatever it takes to keep their workers happy and motivated to continue doing a good job. It doesn't matter if what Ms. Casey tells Irving about his outie life is true. It's meant to provide him comfort when he is hallucinating about being swallowed by black, destructive ooze. That's a startling moment too. The workplace set is meant to be devoid of personality. It's just suppose to be a menial job. People on the outside believe they are doing incredible work that is revolutionizing the company. Everyone buys into that idea. It's probably not true. The greatness is likely exaggerated. But that leaves these people forever stuck to this decision they made hoping for the best. Even if an innie wants to quit this job, they can't. Nothing they do can be trusted. Helly questions the structure of this workplace. It's a necessary perspective. One that helps the audience understand the scale of all of this as well. She is used to having agency as a person. That is taken away from her. She has the benefits and harms of living a life. She never actually gets to experience anything beyond this work. Little rewards have to be enough motivation for her to keep going. If it isn't, then her leaving will be the end of this personality entirely. Data entry has literally become a life or death enterprise for these people. The choice could be aimed to better reward the life the people live in the outside. Even that too is carefully monitored. Mrs. Cobel looms over Mark's house. It's unlikely that he is able to escape that surveillance. He doesn't know the extent of it either. That too isn't an original idea. It's simply effective seeing it placed in this particular context. People are in the dark. The desire to help others in need can also be corroded by actions widely out of their control. This can be depressing in the grand scheme of things. But the pacing keeps everything moving while still mostly just getting into the basics of this overall concept.