A depressing dance party and a murder round out the crazy goings on in this week’s episode of Severance, the Apple TV+ show about a workplace plagued by secrets and underhanded, science fiction-style practices.
Once Mark (played by Adam Scott) sees the truth of his situation, there’s no turning back. But he can’t fix the problems at Lumon Industries alone. Wouldn’t it be helpful if something traumatic happened to everyone on his team, aligning them against their employer?
This week’s episode of Ben Stiller and Dan Erickson’s trippy workplace thriller brings a cavalcade of violent upsets — and each new incident stings intensely. It’s all a hair convenient, but it’s compelling enough to clear the hurdle anyway.
Severance recap: ‘Defiant Jazz’
In the episode, titled “Defiant Jazz,” Mark is meeting with a doctor (Karen Aldridge), the one who helped Petey (Yul Vasquez) reintegrate. She’s describing her mission when a member of Lumon’s security team shows up — and the doctor beats him to death with a bat.
Mark freaks out and wants to flee. She calms him down long enough to give him the guy’s security clearance card and tell him to start snooping around at Lumon to see what he can find. She leaves him with these words: “It’s gonna be OK, we’re gonna finish what Petey started.”
Meanwhile, Mark’s supervisor Milchick (Tramell Tillman) has installed new security measures due to all the suspicious behavior at Lumon. He also sent Burt (Christopher Walken) to the punishments room for giving Mark and his people a tour of their department.
The final straw turns out to be when he “woke up” Dylan (Zach Cherry) at home to ask him where he hid a piece of contraband he stole from Burt’s office during their forbidden field trip. It’s a card showing some kind of fighting technique. Dylan is awake long enough to realize he has a son at home. Now the thought haunts him. What else doesn’t he know about his other life? How many other kids does he have? What’s the boy’s name? Is Dylan married?
A pivotal dance party
This comes to a head during a dance party they throw for the office to distract them from their recent fits of pique. After a few minutes of enthusiastic gyrations, Dylan attacks Milchick. Amid the resulting confusion, Mark looks in his pocket and finds the key card from the dead security guard. He and Helly (Britt Lower) investigate the security rooms, expecting to find a team of people watching them, but finding an empty room. Maybe they can wake themselves up at home, too. Would anyone know?
Irving (John Turturro) goes to check on Burt when they break out of their office, and finds out Burt is being retired. Irving, usually a company man, suddenly realizes how little control of his life he’s always had.
When Lumon retires Burt, the version of him who fell in love with Irving will be gone forever. He’ll never get to spend time with the man who loves him again. And neither of them is getting any younger. That’s enough motivation for every member of Mark’s team.
Now the question is, how do they bring Lumon down?
The dance party scene doesn’t work, despite actor Tramell Tillman’s best efforts. (Indeed the idea of both Irving and Dylan getting their motivation for the espionage plot in the same half-hour is just way too convenient and conventional. Severance’s writer’s room should have known to space them out.)
Tillman absolutely nails this scene, however, throwing himself into it with such amazing un-self-consciousness. I love his performance in general, but his commitment here is special. The scene itself is much less assured, a too-obvious David Lynch homage in a show that had been doing so well merely hinting at things like Twin Peaks and Lost Highway.
The tone of Severance can’t support an intrusion this madcap and silly. The show simply hasn’t built that into its identity. Indeed Severance, while not perfect, has done such an exquisite job navigating its own terse features that it’s largely possible to watch and not think about the things it reminds you of.
Hats off to Tramell Tillman and Adam Scott
I don’t need to tell you how rare that is. It’s a shame, because Tillman is such a quietly brilliant part of the show and giving him a solo like that was a wise choice, to let him really shine in this capable ensemble. Also, hell of a dancer!
Adam Scott also gets probably his best scene in the show so far, when he tries to prove to Alexa (Nikki M. James), Mark’s girlfriend on the outside, that he can handle their relationship. He gets drunk when she comes over, and tears up a picture of his wife to prove that he’s over her. But Alexa leaves in quiet horror anyway.
Then Mark slowly tapes the picture together and, in a voiceover monologue, lists all the things he loved about his wife, Gemma. (We recognize Gemma as somebody else on the show, in one of those twists that shouldn’t surprise you but does all the same — well-played, writers.) What’s going to happen when Mark wakes up and discovers that?
Watch Severance on Apple TV+
New episodes of Severance arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.