The ‘Severance’ Season Finale Is A Television Masterpiece

The season one finale of Severance ends abruptly, just as pivotal moments for its main characters are about to unfold. It’s a rude way to end a season, but it is so well choreographed between the writing, performing, and Ben Stiller’s excellent directing that it works. The best season finales in television history confidently strike a balance between satisfaction and the unknown. They wrap up story arcs you spent so much time watching but when everything is fine, they leave you with something incomplete so you’re somewhere in between satisfied and desperate.

AMC’s Mad Men was one of the best at this. In particular, its season four finale “Tomorrowland” wrapped up major plotlines that unfolded throughout the season, only to end with Don Draper proposing to Megan Calvet, the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce receptionist who only had a few lines and accompanied his family on a trip to California. “Tomorrowland” ended at the precise moment: when you’re happy with what you saw but eager to see what comes next.

The season one finale of Severance, called “The We We Are” follows all the beats that make a great season finale but at the same time, it pushes against expectations by ending with a great deception. Despite its antics, the season and its finale are so well done that the painful cliffhanger works because it doesn’t feel cheap. Every moment is earned, making it a modern masterpiece.

Severance follows Mark (Adam Scott), a severed employee at the corporation Luman Industries. Severed employees undergo a procedure that gives them the ability to keep their work and personal lives completely separate: Mark is the same person, but he does not recall his personal life at work, and he does not recall his work life in his personal life. At the beginning of the season, one of Mark’s co-workers, Peter, leaves the company. His replacement, Helly (Britt Lower), is not adjusting well to working at Luman. Helly’s presence at the company jumpstarts Mark and their other colleagues Dylan (Zach Cherry) and Irving (John Turturro) to investigate Lumon’s practices and discover more about their lives outside of Lumon Industries.

In “The We We Are,” the group of misfit Lumon employees executes the impossible: Dylan activates the work personas of Mark, Helly, and Irving while they are outside of Lumon. Mark activates while he is at a party, Helly activates just before she is about to give a pro-severance speech, and Irving activates while he is at home. The filmmaking is intentionally tense, with the camera tightly following Mark, Helly, and Irving as they try to keep their cool throughout their strange, out-of-body experience. The narrative structure weaves in and out of their perspectives, leaving each character just as things are getting good, which sets a precedent for the episode’s sudden end. Rousing music is playing. Mark just discovered that his wife, who he thought was dead, is an employee at Lumon. Helly starts a speech about how miserable severed employees are. Irving approaches the home of Burt (Christopher Walken), a severed employee he connected with earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Dylan is at Lumon making this all happen, but he’s about to get caught, which will inactive their work personalities. The scenes bounce back and forth quickly with the music building tension that indicates there’s more. After Dylan is forced to flip the switch, all we get is a shot of Mark and an elevator ding before the screen goes black and the credits roll.

“The We We Are” gives its characters a victory, then switches off as abruptly as the memories of severed employees turn on and off in the Lumon Industries elevator. Like the best season finales in television history, the Severance finale will make you mad until you realize how good it was.