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The Ending Of Severance Season 1 Explained

"Severance" brings two very different genres together, as a science fiction thriller mixed with a splash of office comedy. This unique series revolves around the mysterious Lumon Industries, a company that utilizes a controversial surgery known as the "severance procedure." Although the premise is pretty straightforward and the series does an excellent job keeping the audience informed of how this world works, the explosive ending of "Severance" Season 1 still leaves viewers with many unanswered questions.

What happens in this complex ending, exactly? Quite a few things, which have their twisted roots dug deeply into prior episodes. Instead of simply recapping every Season 1 episode, we're going to examine the show's core elements, to illustrate how they work together in this powerful finale. Whether you're a committed fan who wants to relive Season 1's final moments or a curious newcomer looking to understand exactly how this series works before diving in (and aren't afraid of spoilers), the following breakdown should clarify everything. This is the ending of "Severance" Season 1, explained.

The severance procedure

The controversial severance procedure implants a chip in the brain, which activates when someone arrives at work and shuts off when they leave. This essentially splits their consciousness in two. Outside of work, the affected person is the same individual they have always been — this personality is referred to as an "outie." Inside work, however, they are someone totally new, with no memories of the outside world or who they were before they arrived at the office. This personality is referred to as an "innie. "

This means employees can work a full day and leave with none of the mental baggage that comes with office life. That sounds nice in theory, but "Severance" explores the moral implications in horrific detail. For the innies, there is no sleep: Their lives are one long, continuous workday, conducted in a wholly manufactured world of fluorescent lights, mindless office chit-chat, and company politics. It only ends with retirement, when the person in question essentially murders their innie. Furthermore, the severance procedure is permanent: A severed innie cannot be reintegrated with their outie self. Or at least, that's what everyone says is true. When someone named Petey does get reintegrated, this fact threatens to destroy the public's perception of severance completely.

The long reach of Lumon Industries

Lumon Industries is a mystery to everyone but the people at the very top of the corporate food chain. Neither the severed employees working for it nor the wider populace seem to have any idea what the company actually does. Some say they manufacture pharmaceuticals, while others are pretty sure they're a tech company. Lumon's individual departments are separated by long, labyrinthine halls, and employees are discouraged from fraternizing, which keeps them from sharing details of their work.

We do know that the company was started by the Eagan family in the 1800s. Since severed employees have no contact with the outside world, Lumon is the only community they have. This has resulted in an outright deification of the family: Biographies of the Eagans and employee handbooks serve as something akin to scripture. Even non-severed employees view the Eagan family as quasi-deities, rather than CEOs of a business. The halls are sporadically decorated with art depicting mythologized aspects of the company's past, and an entire wing is devoted to honoring every Eagan CEO. There's even an exact replica of the founder's home. This devotion extends beyond the office, as many outies live in Lumon subsidized housing. The town itself even seems to have been built by the company. 

Macrodata Refinement

Macrodata Refinement is where viewers spend most of their time. This is a department within Lumon consisting of four employees, whose job is to scan encrypted files (shown as a series of numbers) and filter out (or refine) certain kinds of data. The only way they can tell which numbers need to be filtered out is by experiencing emotional reactions caused by said numbers.

At the start of the series, we learn that there's a bit of a departmental shake-up going on. Petey (Yul Vazquez), the department chief, has left the company, and no one knows what's happened to him. Losing one of their own throws this tightly-knit group's entire ecosystem out of whack. Information beyond this is thin on the ground, but it's said that several years before the events of the show, a battle between Macrodata Refinement and the Optics and Design division, a department that handles the artwork on display as well as the designs of handbooks, tote bags, and more, took place. Apparently, Optics and Design lost their minds and slaughtered several Macrodata Refinement employees. However, Optics and Design is told that Macrodata Refinement has sacks of larva that devour their hosts and replace them. Both stories are absurd, while the truth behind the interdepartmental conflict is much stranger.

Harmony, Milchick, and the board

Devout Lumon employee Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette) supervises Macrodata Refinement. Despite not seeming to have gotten the severance procedure, Harmony lives under an assumed name and personality outside of work. In fact, she lives right next door to her employee Mark. His outie has no idea how involved she is in his life, only knowing her as the quirkily absent-minded Mrs. Selvig. She also appears to have unrequited feelings for Mark that manifest in dangerous ways.

Harmony's right-hand man is Seth Milchick (Tramell Tillman). At first, Milchick appears to be a bright, friendly guy who just wants what's best for everyone. But his caring and gentle nature conceals some serious anger issues. He has not been severed, which implies his dedication to his job springs from genuine belief in the Eagans and a desire to see Lumon thrive, no matter the cost.

The mysterious board looms above Harmony. We never see the board's members, and only hear their voices in haunting whispers. Harmony is forced to communicate with them via an eerily polite woman named Natalie (Sydney Cole Alexander). Natalie is never without her headset, and appears to exist entirely to serve the board. Every decision Harmony and Milchick make is to appease the board, so when they end up firing Harmony because of an employee's suicide attempt, she becomes unhinged. This makes sense: She has, essentially, been rejected by her gods.

Mark Scout and Mark S

The leads of "Severance" are Mark Scout (outie) and Mark S (innie). Both are portrayed by Adam Scott. Mark Scout is a lonely, alcoholic man grieving the loss of his wife Gemma, who died in a car accident two years prior. His sister Devon (Jen Tullock) tries to keep him grounded, but her self-help guru husband Ricken (Michael Chernus) annoys him, so they don't spend much time together. Mark agrees to be severed to escape his grief for eight hours a day.

Mark S is promoted to the role of department chief after the sudden departure of his best friend, Petey. Though he's been happy at Lumon, he's unnerved by the new role. This is soon exacerbated by a number of strange events. A new hire starts asking questions he can't answer. He finds a map of the building left behind by Petey. A random office where a man is feeding goats crops up. The more Mark S learns about Lumon, the less comfortable he is working there.

On the outside, a reintegrated Petey tracks down Mark's outie and stays at his house as he struggles to keep his two identities straight. Hearing Petey's stories about what working at Lumon is actually like makes Mark question his employment there even further. When Petey dies as a result of being reintegrated, Mark decides to find out more about his employer.

Helly R

Helly R (Britt Lower) is the first "Severance" character we meet. She wakes up on a conference room table with no memory of how she got there. A disembodied voice (Mark S) asks her questions about herself, and she is shocked to discover she knows nothing about her identity. It turns out she's been brought in to take over Mark's job, now that he's handling Petey's duties. She hates everything about Lumon from the very start and sees her existence as forced labor. But even though she tries to leave, her outie keeps coming back. 

After threatening to cut off her fingers unless she's allowed to communicate with her outie, Helly learns her outie has no interest in letting her leave Lumon. The entire Macrodata Refinement department watches a video of her outie, who says, "I am a person. You are not. I make the decisions. You do not." Devastated by this, Helly attempts to kill herself in the elevator. Since traveling in this elevator triggers the split between personalities, her goal is to force her outie to watch herself die. Helly is rescued at the last minute, however, and has to return to work. Luckily, her other coworkers are also starting to wonder if leaving Lumon is a good idea, and an alliance is forged between them.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Dylan learns the truth

Lumon keeps its employees motivated by offering them incentives. These are boring prizes awarded to people who meet and exceed their quota. Be it finger traps or waffle parties, these incentives really aren't worth the hard work that goes into winning them. But Dylan (Zach Cherry), Macrodata Refinement's overachiever, has committed himself to accruing as many incentives as possible.

Dylan presents himself as a cocky know-it-all who is only interested in being awarded dumb trinkets, but in truth, he's a Lumon devotee. When his coworker Irving (John Turturro) begins meeting with an Optics and Design employee named Burt (Christopher Walken), Dylan loses it. First of all, departments are not meant to interact. Second (and most important), Dylan believes Optics and Design murdered several Macrodata Refinement employees and doesn't trust them one bit. When he finally gets a glimpse of his life as an outie, though, everything changes. Dylan no longer cares about incentives and rules: His only goal is to escape Lumon for good.

Irving and Burt

As Lumon is the only world Irving's ever known, he embraces it with all his heart. He is passionate about procedure, and often quotes Lumon texts like Bible verses. One of his favorite places to visit is the Perpetuity Wing, because it allows him to breathe in Eagan history.

Eventually, aspects of his outie's life begin to bleed into his innie's. When meeting with the bizarrely detached Lumon counselor Ms. Casey (Dichen Lachman), he learns facts about his outie that make him very happy. Moreover, he occasionally hallucinates massive amounts of black paint dripping from the walls and ceiling. This is because his outie is an artist who spends much of his time painting pictures of Lumon's dreaded break room, where employees are horrifically disciplined.

Irving's life changes further when he meets Optics and Design employee Burt. At first, Irving appears to be attracted to the work Burt does, but this soon blossoms into a forbidden romance. When Burt's outie retires, Irving is heartbroken: He can't bear the fact that this wonderful man is about to leave his life forever. He's also pretty sure this has something to do with Lumon finding out about their relationship, and so he decides he wants to burn Lumon to the ground.

The You You Are

A lot of what happens in the "Severance" Season 1 finale begins when Macrodata Refinement employees find a copy of "The You You Are," a book written by Mark Scout's brother-in-law Ricken. Originally, Ricken left it on Mark's front porch as a gift. It's stolen by his neighbor and brought into work for Milchick to read, in an attempt to see if there are any hidden messages in it. The Macrodata Refinement crew finds it in a conference room chair while walking the halls.

Although he knows he should turn it in, Mark S keeps it hidden in his desk. He reads it when he thinks no one is looking and in the bathroom. The writing is a little silly and self-indulgent, but to Mark S, it's a revelation. He's especially affected by several passages that declare people should be defined by their life experiences, rather than their work life. Dylan finds the book in Mark's drawer and is also profoundly moved by it.

While most people in the outside world likely consider this book to be half-baked nonsense, to the sheltered and deprived innies, it's life-changing. It's also definitely more revealing than the phony wellness visits they have with dull Ms. Casey. Motivated by Ricken's prose, they're able to orchestrate a plan that will allow them to get the truth out about Lumon.

The overtime contingency

While Macrodata Refinement meets with Optics and Design to patch things up and discuss what Lumon is actually doing, Dylan finds and pockets a card. Knowing he stole something, Milchick does the unthinkable: He visits the home of Dylan's outie and wakes up his innie. Innie Dylan wakes up in a closet he doesn't recognize with Milchick in his face.

As Milchick grills him on the whereabouts of the card, Dylan realizes he's in his outie's closet. A child rushes in and hugs Dylan, calling him Daddy. Dylan asks if this boy is his son. Milchick, furious, says the boy was supposed to wait outside. He then makes a phone call, and innie Dylan falls back to sleep.

Upon returning to work, Dylan learn that Milchick was able to wake him up due to something called the overtime contingency. Dylan is supposed to keep this a secret, but he's so shaken by the experience that he can't help but tell his coworkers. Until now, he's had grandiose theories about his outie, but learning he has a son whose name he doesn't even know breaks his heart. Thus, he decides to do whatever he can to take Lumon down.

The security key

Before he dies, Petey leaves an old cell phone at Mark's house. Mark sees that someone has been calling it continuously. He decides to answer it, and is directed to meet a woman named Regabhi (Karen Aldridge). A Lumon employee, she's the person who implants the chips in everyone's heads. She's also the person who reintegrated Petey, and maintains that if he followed her instructions, he'd still be alive.

Mr. Graner (Michael Cumpsty), head of Lumon security, arrives to apprehend Regabhi. She murders him, steals his security card, and tells Mark to take it to work with him, as his innie will know what to do with it. Said innie discovers the key during a short dance party held in Helly's honor. He brings it up to his coworkers, and they use it to access the security office.

While in there, Helly steals the instructions for activating the overtime contingency. Their plan is simple: They will work hard to meet their quota so that the brass will allow one of them to get a special reward. Dylan, the chosen employee, is rewarded with a glass cube carved with the image of his Macrodata Refinement coworkers and a strange cabaret performance conducted in a replica of the founder's home. Halfway through, he sneaks away to the security office, locks the door, and activates the overtime contingency, which requires he hold down two switches without letting go.

The innies get out

Dylan successfully activates the overtime contingency, waking the innies up in the outside world. Irving is in his home, working on a new painting. Helly is at a mysterious and clearly major event. Mark is at a party celebrating the release of Ricken's new book. Harmony is also attending this party, having weaseled her way further into Mark's private life by becoming Devon's nanny. She was fired from Lumon earlier that day, and is experiencing a lot of emotions when outie Mark tells her he's thinking of quitting. Overjoyed by this, she gives him a hug — just as innie Mark wakes up. She senses the change and becomes suspicious.

Irving discovers his outie has been thinking about Burt, which proves that love transcends severance. He finds a map to Burt's house and decides to visit him. Helly sees that Natalie is at the big event too, with the board, as ever, in her ear. The wife of a pro-severance politician (and the politician himself) is also present, and everyone is excited to hear her speak. Thanks to a video presentation, Helly learns her outie is Helena Eagan, daughter of the current Lumon CEO. She is part of the family she despises, and was severed as an experiment intended to prove the procedure is safe and severed employees are happy.

The truth about Gemma

As he excuses himself to speak with Devon, Mark S accidentally calls Harmony Ms. Cobel, rather than Ms. Selvig. Realizing the overtime contingency has been activated, Harmony perceives a chance to impress the board by stopping Helly from speaking out. She calls Milchick, who springs into action. Meanwhile, Irving arrives at Burt's house and sees that Burt is living with someone else. Still, he has to speak to him.

Mark tells Devon everything and mentions that Selvig is his boss. Devon freaks out, thinking Harmony/Selvig's left with her baby. They search the house and find the child safe and sound in one of the bedrooms. Elsewhere, Milchick makes it to security, but finds that Dylan has tied the door shut with bungee cables. Sawing the cables with a pocket knife, Milchick tries to entice Dylan with new incentives and information about his kids, but Dylan will not give up.

Just before Helly goes on stage, Harmony arrives and begs her not to. She even says she'll make sure that Mark S (whom Helly has developed feelings for) suffers. Meanwhile, Mark S finds a photo of Mark's allegedly deceased wife, Gemma — and realizes she's Ms. Casey, the counselor from work. As Helly tells the audience the truth about Lumon, Irving pounds on Burt's door, Milchick breaks into the office and tackles Dylan, and Mark S shouts, "She's alive!" But then, the overtime contingency ends, restoring them to their outie personalites.