When the Innies broke out for the season finale of “Severance,” all hell broke loose with them.
Chaos reigned narratively, emotionally, and highly stylistically for Apple TV+’s dystopian workplace drama. The biased but highly controlled presentation of life in the previous eight episodes on Lumon Industries’ Severed Floor required rethinking to evoke the disorientation of Mark (Adam Scott), Helly (Britt Lower), and Irving (John Turturro) when their minds at work – who were surgically disconnected from their unprofessional conscience – jumped into the bodies of their Outies.
“This episode had to break the rules because they’re going through something they’ve never experienced before,” says Ben Stiller, executive producer of “Severance” and director of the episode “The Way We Are.” “So we were thinking about point of view and trying to be subjective. Until then, the frames of the show were quite rigid and we only tried to move the camera when necessary.
Stiller and cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné ditched the show’s CCTV vantage points for nearly every Steadicam shot, despite (but also because of) how uncomfortable it made them.
“We wanted to make it feel like you’re moving with the characters in space, feeling their energy and stress,” says Gagné, who prefers lighting control and editing options derived from multicamera shots. “There was no better way to do it than Steadicam if you didn’t want it to look fancy. Even if we don’t like something, if it’s good for the episode, we will do.
As the outgoing Innies must quickly orient themselves and then try to deliver warnings about the horrors of the job in Lumon, editor Geoffrey Richman has built up an urgent, cadenced beat. Switching to fourth co-worker Dylan (Zach Cherry) — who stayed in a Lumon control room, flipping the switches that allow his friends to escape — made some transitions easier.
Then there were the efforts of overbearing bosses Cobel (Patricia Arquette) and Milchick (Tramel Tillman) to end the disruption. And other stuff (missing baby, anyone?). It all converged into simultaneous storyline crescendos in the breathless second half of the 40-minute show.
“The strategy was to make it look like one continuous action,” Richman says. “We focused on keeping the camera moving and making the scenes blend together. In the intercutting of the scenes, we were looking for exit points and entry points where they would blend as graphically as possible.
Theodore Shapiro’s continuous, heart-pounding score was key to how the episode flowed.
“It’s completely made up,” Shapiro notes. “At the top of the show, the music is largely driven by the underlying percussion that sounds like heartbeats, but by the time we get to the end, we’re one full-voiced declaration away from our main theme. If what whatever, we build adrenaline and momentum into the most emotive elements of music.
The music was only a sound element. Milchick’s pounding footsteps as he tore through the long, steep corridors of Lumon were literally the sound of walking. The loop groups contributed to the 360-degree mix of conversations surrounding Helly at a corporate gala – shot inside the Eero Saarinen-designed New Jersey Bell Works building which also provides the exterior of Helly’s corporate headquarters. Lumon – where she discovers her Outie is a corporate heir who must speak out in favor of the controversial redundancy proceedings.
“Ben wanted the sound to have an anxious, rollercoaster, stomach-knotting feel,” recalls supervising editor/sound designer Jacob Ribicoff. “It was a haunting, low, almost soulful growl. Some of them came from underwater recordings of waves. We incorporated that motif into the music, which did similar things.
Such noise adds to Mark’s confusion when he wakes up in his sister’s previously seen house, not knowing the floor plan or who the people are there. Sound effects intertwine with Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” as Irv tries to navigate his townhouse full of clues.
Helly is further thrown off balance when she sees footage of herself riding a bicycle on giant cubes in the Lumon Ballroom.
“It was an idea of our visual consultant, Jeff Mann,” Stiller explains. “He found a company that makes them. We blew up all those photos; it was one of my favorite script rewards when you see Milchick taking shots all the time. It wasn’t just a photo display, it gave us a kind of trippy quality.
The giant images practically place Lower inside Helly’s head, a sublime visual representation of what his character is going through. Stiller also praised Turturro’s portrayal of how Innie Irv, determined to find her work crush Burt (Christopher Walken), applies her Outie’s muscle memory to the unfamiliar task of driving. And putting Cherry in a tense physical position throughout the show was an act of Lumon-esque absurdity.
“We spent a lot of time measuring exactly how far he could stretch,” Stiller notes. “I always watch how his glasses go down the bridge of his nose. We were shooting until Zach was like, ‘I have to do this, I have to fix them!’ »
Although filmed at the same time as the other episodes over 10 months disrupted by COVID, “The Way We Are” is its own distinct beast, revealing a lot and culminating in multiple cliffhangers, which the recently green-lit second season resolves, let’s hope so.
“We took a risk on this one; it is structurally different from all the other episodes, it takes place almost in real time,” concludes series creator Dan Erickson. “‘Severance’ is such a meticulous, sometimes slow-paced show that we wanted to reward people’s patience with a really cool spin on a final episode. It was this much more visceral, fast-paced version of the show.