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|The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design|
|Directed By||Aoife McArdle|
|Written By||Anna Ouyang Moench|
|Premiered||March 11, 2022|
|Previous Episode||The You You Are|
|Next Episode||Hide and Seek|
The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design is the fifth episode of the first season of Severance.
Bullies are nothing but Bull and Lies.
— Ricken [voiceover], excerpt from The You You Are, (7:12)
Upon request, I can also perform a hug.
— Ms. Casey, (21:27)
'The surest way to tame a prisoner is to let him believe he's free.'
— Cobel [quoting Kier Eagan], (41:07)
Helly hangs by her neck in the elevator, choking and eyes bulging. Her legs scramble for some purchase on the elevator walls.
Mark has left Wellness Center and is walking back towards MDR.
A frame on the security camera feed shows the elevator reaching the un-Severed security lobby. The doors open, with Helly still struggling unnoticed inside it. Judd is not at his post at the security desk. The elevator doors close.
Mark makes it back to MDR. He asks Dylan, who is surreptitiously reading Ricken's book, if Helly left. Checking his watch, Mark suggests that Dylan leave as well. Dylan claims to “love the work” and stays behind. Mark heads for the elevator.
He inserts his badge to call the elevator. Elsewhere on the floor, Graner sprints through the hallways. After a moment, the doors of the elevator open. Mark finds Helly hanging there limply. Panicked, he lifts her body with all of his strength and shouts for help. Graner arrives; he removes the noose from Helly's neck and lays her on the floor of the elevator lobby. Graner cleans up the scene and orders Mark into the elevator. Mark is extremely shaken by the disturbing episode. Helly's eyes open weakly.
The doors close and the elevator rises. The expression on Mark's face changes from shock to neutral as the implant is de-activated. He bids goodnight to Judd, who is just then returning to the security lobby.
It's now the next day. Mark arrives at reception and is given the go-ahead to continue down to the locker room. In the elevator down to the Severed floor, his expression flips from office-bored to alarmed worry. Waiting for him in the elevator lobby are Ms. Cobel and Milchick. Mark immediately asks if Helly is alive. Cobel instructs him to take a seat. She waits until Mark is perched on the edge of the green leather lobby chair to tell him that Helly is in the hospital, and that there is no permanent damage.
Mark shakily asks if that means they will let Helly go. Cobel asserts that Helly's Outie doesn't intend to resign. Mark reminds Cobel that Helly almost died, and she did this because she doesn't want to be there anymore. Cobel insists Helly will be back in a few days. Cobel lays the blame on Mark for what happened.
In MDR Mark fishes The You You Are out of his file drawer and takes it to the restroom. He sits in a stall reading it. The day ends. He is back in MDR the following day, this time concealing himself in the Storage Closet to devour Ricken's words about personal failure and the dreariness of work. Mark leaves Lumon again, returning the next day to continue studying the bromides from the book.
Graner presents Ms. Cobel with Petey's chip. He tells her that diagnostics showed “full synaptic coupling,” proving that Peter Kilmer was reintegrated. He thinks this is a cause for celebration. He susses out that Cobel hasn't told the Board yet about the incident with Helly.
Cobel slides the chip back to Graner and orders him to look for source signatures on the implant. Graner says all the data from the chip has been saved and offers the physical chip to Cobel as a souvenir. Cobel demands to know who performed the reintegration. Her plan is to present all of her information to the Board at once.
Mark, in the locker room at the end of the day, sees many missed calls from Ricken on his phone. He plays the messages. With increasing urgency, Ricken's messages update Mark on Devon's labor progress, imploring Mark to come to the birthing retreat as soon as he can.
Mark arrives at the birthing cabin just as Alexa is leaving. Mark appears surprised to see her there. He apologizes to her for how their date ended. Alexa gives Mark an update on Devon. Mark enters the cabin as Ricken is crying over Devon's pregnant belly. In contrast to Ricken's panicked updates to Mark, Devon claims it's been “pretty boring so far.”
Devon powers through another contraction while Ricken encourages Mark to say a secret out loud, claiming doing so will create a “soul void” that will speed up the labor. Devon feels it is unnecessary. Regardless, Ricken takes the opportunity to tell Mark that he's hurt that Mark hasn't acknowledged the copy of the book Ricken gave him. Mark is mystified, as he's never seen the book. Ricken now seems more concerned about the loss of the advanced copy of the book than about his laboring wife beside him.
Devon's contraction ends. She puts her coat on to get some coffee and exits the cabin, leaving Mark and Ricken behind. Ricken suggests they finish setting up the room by hanging some kelp.
Devon walks outside. She sees a man retreating from the largest of the birthing cabins and tries to get his attention. He walks away without taking notice of her. Devon sees a woman inside the large cabin dressed in a white silk bathrobe. From the porch of the house, Devon begs her for some coffee. The woman agrees to give her some.
Devon enters the richly appointed house and the two women introduce themselves; the robed woman is Gabby. Devon apologetically explains that her husband is driving her crazy and her brother is making her depressed.
Gabby asks Devon if this is her first baby, and Devon answers yes. Gabby tells Devon that this is her third baby and he'll be named William. Devon asks how she manages three. Gabby shrugs and says, “Lotta help, I guess!” Gabby compliments the “cabin” and asks if Gabby is rich.
While Ricken and Mark hang the kelp around the perimeter of Devon's birthing cabin, Ricken theorizes that the thief who stole the book might benefit from reading it, perhaps even be influenced by the book's message to turn himself in. Ricken brings up that the last time Mark was in a “medical facility” was after Gemma's accident, and regrets that Mark wouldn't allow Devon and Ricken to honor her by giving their baby his late wife's name as a middle name. Mark thinks the baby deserves a name without baggage attached to it.
Devon returns. Mark is the only one awake. They chat together on the bed. She tells Mark she made friends with “the richest lady in baby camp.” Devon hints that Mark should ask Alexa out again, though Mark is skeptical she would accept.
Another contraction comes and Mark offers to fetch Alexa. Devon declines. Mark helps her through the pain and asks if she wants to hear a secret. He thinks Lumon is “up to something.” Devon asks who he has been talking to. Mark starts to bring up the businessman he saw outside her house, when Devon is suddenly wracked by a huge contraction. Her exclamation wakes Ricken. Mark runs to get Alexa.
Mark waits outside on the shore of a lake as the sun rises. Inside, the birthing moans of Devon echo out. At home, Petey's phone rings. Mark thinks of Petey collapsing and dying outside the convenience store. A final groan comes from the cabin and the baby makes its first cry as Ricken shouts with relief.
In the Kitchenette, Melchick is telling Mark that Helly was in Outie form when she woke up, so when she arrives down the elevator that day it will be her first experience since she tried hanging herself. He stresses that it's important that Mark's eyes be kind when she sees him. Milchick asks Mark if he knows how to make his eyes kind. Mark struggles to project kindness from his eyes, but misses the mark widely.
Melchick and Mark wait by the elevator. Melchick gives Mark a nod and walks away. The elevator dings and opens. Helly is cowering in the corner of the elevator, gasping and coughing. Mark kneels down and tells Helly that she's okay. He tries to follow Milchick's instruction to show Helly kind eyes; instead his nostrils flare and he looks vaguely maniacal.
Sitting in the Kitchenette, Mark informs Helly that the extension cords and other dangerous items have been locked away for her safety. He also suggests that she can focus on looking for happy numbers. In a whisper, Mark asks Helly if she wants to talk about “it.” She walks away.
Irving and Dylan discuss what might raise Helly's spirits. Irving proposes hiding inspirational handbook quotes around the office for her to find. Dylan counters that she would feel better if she started earning perks. At his cubicle, Mark retrieves The You You Are from its hiding place in the drawer. He doesn't notice Ms. Casey walking up behind him. She explains that she is there to observe Helly R. and watch her for signs of sadness and prevent additional suicide attempts. “Upon request, I can also perform a hug,” she finishes.
Sitting in an office chair a few feet away, Ms. Casey observes Helly as she shirks work morosely. Ms. Casey makes a note in her pad.
Irving works at his terminal. A small blob of black goo plops onto his hand from above. He looks above him as it begins to rain black goo from the ceiling. He jumps up from his chair with a start. He looks up again; the ceiling is completely clean. Mark asks if they “lost” him again. Irving excuses himself to O&D to see Burt for some counsel. Mark approves it, but tells Irving to make a copy of Burt's map in case they have to find him.
Irving puts the map on the platen of the copier and hits the button. Out of the copier comes not an image of the map, but two horrifying color prints of a painting. It depicts people being maimed, disemboweled and slaughtered. The victims in the image wear blue badges, while the perpetrators wear green ones.
Irving is shaken by it. He turns around from the copier and Milchick is standing there. Milchick apologizes. He explains Irving wasn't meant to see it, that it was sent to MDR's copier by mistake and that it's a joke for Ms. Cobel. Irving asks if it is a painting of the O&D coup. Mr. Milchick insists nothing like that could ever happen at Lumon.
Irving shows the picture to Dylan in the storage closet. Dylan strenuously maintains his belief that the coup was an actual event. Irving is not so convinced. Dylan mentions that Burt lied about the size of his department; he could be lying about other things too.
Melchick arrives back at his desk to see Cobel standing at his workstation. Cobel asks Melchick if he ran a 266 on Irving B. Melchick immediately admits it, and reasons that it might discourage Irving from spending so much time with Burt G. Cobel praises him for his initiative.
Melchick mentions seeing Ms. Casey in MDR. He asks why she's watching Helly. Cobel rattles off a Kier quote, and adds that she's trying something new with Ms. Casey. She asks him to be discreet about it.
In the restroom, Helly rubs cold water on the bruise that circles her neck. She emerges and Ms. Casey tenderly asks her to tell her what she was doing in there. Before Helly can answer, Mark “accidentally” spills his coffee all over Ms. Casey's notepad. He apologizes profusely. Ms. Casey says that Helly will have to accompany her to distribution supply to get another notepad. Mark says he'll watch Helly. Ms. Casey reluctantly heads off on her own. Mark asks Helly if he's ever shown her where the extra pen caps are kept. Helly isn't interested. He convinces her to come anyway.
Ms. Casey is returning from distribution supply carrying a stack of notepads in her arms. She passes Burt pacing around in the conference room.
Mark and Helly walk down the hall. He asks Helly how she is, and she responds that she's doing really badly. They go into an empty office, desks draped in plastic. Mark shows her a re-creation of Petey's map that he's been working on during his lunch breaks. He proposes working on it together with her. Helly says she's not Mark's new Petey. Helly stalks off while Mark chases after her.
Ms. Casey gets back to MDR and is disturbed that Helly is gone. Dylan and Irving send her away to look for Helly. As she leaves, she turns to tell Irving that Burt G. is in the conference room. Irving sets off immediately.
At the conference room Irving and Burt meet. Burt tells Irving he was looking for him. Dylan arrives and ties the handles of the conference room doors shut, locking Burt in. Irving freaks out and calls for a manager.
Mark is still following Helly. They walk, disoriented and lost, down halls that aren't fully lit. Helly is still reeling from her Outie telling her that she isn't a person. Mark asks her not to focus on that and instead focus on what she wants “in here.” Helly expresses that her only desire is to have her Outie wake up while dying from an injury that Innie Helly has inflicted.
Their conversation is interrupted by a strange sound - a cry of some kind.
Burt tries to explain to Dylan what he's doing in the conference room. Irving returns from looking for a manager, saying Mark and Helly were nowhere to be found in the Storage Wing. Dylan hypothesizes that O&D has already killed them. Irving asks Burt if he knows where Helly and Mark are. Burt protests that he is only there to see Irving. Irving asks what he's doing in the conference room. Burt says he was afraid to scare or embarrass Irving, and was practicing a joke. Dylan demands proof of the joke.
Irving asks Burt why he misled him about the number of people in O&D. With dead seriousness, Burt tells them it's because they don't trust MDR. He tells them the other departments believe the people working in MDR have pouches, and a larval offspring that will attack people who get too close.
The conversation gets silly and flirty between Burt and Irving. Dylan pulls Irving away and asks if Irving is interested in Burt. Irving detects Dylan's disapproval. Dylan clarifies that it's because O&D are “duplicitous snakes” and it's not safe.
Helly and Mark follow the crying sound through the semi-dark hallways. Lit by the light coming through a doorway, they see the silhouette of a goat. They get closer and see that there is a little white baby goat standing in the hall. It walks into the room and they follow it.
Inside the room, a man wearing a suit is sitting on a box and feeding a baby goat milk from a bottle. He is surrounded by more baby goats. He looks up from his work and tells Mark and Helly, “They're not ready. You can't take them yet, they're not ready, it isn't time.” He shoos them away.
Dylan follows Irving and Burt from a safe distance back to O&D. Irving and Burt discuss the horrible image Burt saw coming out of the copier. The title of the painting, according to Irving, was The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design, but Burt claims no such painting with that name exists.
At the entrance to O&D, Irving unties Burt's wrists and quotes Kier to “be ever merry.” Burt invites them to come in, slyly offering to show Irving something in the storeroom. He invites Dylan too.
Burt displays The Courtship of Kier and Imogene for them both to admire. Burt notes that Kier and Imogene fell in love as colleagues. Dylan wanders around the shelves of O&D, opening the occasional cabinet. He finds a painting. He takes it to Burt, accusing him of lying about not knowing about the painting Irving saw in the copier. Irving examines it and says it is not the same. In the painting Dylan found in O&D's cabinet, the raiders are the ones wearing blue badges, while their victims have green badges. It is otherwise the same picture from the copier version. Burt says the title of the painting is The Macrodata Refinement Calamity. Dylan wonders aloud why there would be two versions of the same painting.
Walking back to MDR, Helly and Mark debate the meaning of the goats. Helly offers to work on the map. Ms. Casey comes upon them, happy to see they are unhurt. Cobel watches the three of them walk together down the hall. Graner sticks his head into Cobel's office to ask if she sees what MDR is doing. Cobel does, quoting Kier: “The surest way to tame a prisoner is to let him believe he's free.” Graner cautions about MDR finding more departments, saying “upstairs” won't like it. Cobel reminds him he still has not discovered who hacked Petey's chip.
Burt brings Irving and Dylan to the mysterious back room at O&D. He gets the attention of the people working in the room. He introduces them to MDR as their friends.
Purging secrets can create a soul void that speeds the labor.
— Ricken, (11:32)
Do you know how to make your eyes kind?
— Milchick, (18:52)
Please describe for me your time in the bathroom.
— Ms. Casey, (27:42)
What I want is for her to wake up while the life drains out of her and to know it was me who did it.
— Helly, (33:01)
People are weird.
— Burt, (34:47)
Rat-fuck the handbook.
— Dylan, (35:32)
There's a Kier quote for everything.
— Graner, (41:12)