*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
Maybe you think Severance is a mind-blowing romp through the “existential dread” of modern corporate life. Maybe you think it’s high-concept schlock that can’t deliver on its own premise. Either way, there’s no denying that the Adam-Scott-helmed, Ben-Stiller-directed 9-episode show (now streaming on Apple TV+) is thoroughly addictive, starting with the premise itself: Employees at the mysterious Lumon undergo a medical procedure to “sever” their brains, such that their outside-of-work-selves (outies) can’t remember anything about their inside-of-work-selves (innies) and vice versa.
But while the internet is awash in theories about WTF is going on at Lumon, or who is doing what over in O&D, after watching the six episodes currently available, I can’t stop thinking about why we haven’t seen Helly’s outie…and what on earth she’s trying to achieve by sending her innie back to work each day. Here are my six theories, ranging from sort of plausible to totally bonkers.
1. Helly is a Lumon Corporate Exec
We know that employees up and down the ladder drink the damn Kool-Aid (from Harmony’s creepy prayer shrine to Irving’s oddly poetic recitations of the employee handbook), so maybe Helly is somebody so bought in on both the company and the severance procedure on the outside, that’s she’s determined to teach her innie to learn compliance on the inside. Maybe she’s a high-ranking executive. (Or descendant of Kier Egan?) Maybe she, like the senator’s wife at the birthing center, is a political proponent of severance as a way to shield your “real” self from pain. Either way, as she tells her innie in her video message, “you are not a real person.” This sure seems like the sentiment of a person bought in on the message––a great metaphor, in the Bezos-era, of slowly realizing you’re a complicit member of an evil organization.
2. Helly is Kier Egan
Others have posited that the chip Harmony was so dead-set on extracting from Petey’s brain was, in fact, his entire being or memories––that the severance procedure essentially downloads your work self to a drive, which is then owned by the company, with the ability to be reimplanted into any host later. What if this has been going on for a long time, and the Keir chip is still alive and well…and inside Helly’s innie. That would certainly be incentive to keep her alive and inside Lumon’s convoluted, fluorescent-lit walls.
3. She’s an anti-Lumon activist
The resistance is coming, whether in the form of punk rock teens or covert parking lot meet-ups, as was teased in the last episode. Could Helly be a guerrilla-style activist, dead-set on infiltrating from the inside? Maybe she’s trying to goad her innie into dismantling the system? Still, this seems like a lot to risk if she doesn’t have more skin in the game, which brings me to…
4. She’s trying to break somebody else out
What if Helly is an emissary from the outside world, trying to either avenge or save somebody in it? Others have noted her resemblance to Petey’s daughter, June, prompting theories that’s she’s trying to seek justice for Petey, or save her biological daughter (?) from his fate. (There are hints of cloning and genetic modification, both with the birthing center and the goat room…) Or maybe she somehow knows or once knew Mark on the outside, and is trying to save him? Which brings me to…
5. Helly is Mark’s (not dead!) wife
Ok this theory is pretty batshit, but I like it too much not to include it. What if Mark’s wife didn’t die in the car crash, but was instead victim to a faked death by the Lumon overlords in order to test the limits of how much the severance procedure can block memory and emotion? During Mark’s wellness visit, we saw Ms. Casey burn one of his wife’s (Gemma’s) candles, perhaps trying to prompt a visceral response. Additionally, we’ve seen no photos of Gemma, odd for a show so attuned to detail and so specific about work “team” photos. Of course this invites questions about what the heck the non-dead Gemma is doing on the outside, but come on…how fun would this be if I’m right?!
6. Helly has been double-severed, and her “middle-y” is keeping her at Lumon
Piggy-backing off another Reddit theory here, but what if people can be severed more than once, such that there are more than two versions of themselves? (The Redditer posits that the town is a simulacrum, with a store called “Midday”—essentially a place for middle selves to live.) What if Helly’s middle self, having no knowledge of her “real” life, is bought in on Lumon, prompting the innie to go back every day? OR, prompting her to try to break her self(ves) free? Crazy? Or just crazy enough to work…