‘Severance’ got its Cliffhanger finish

Can’t wait to see you all at an unspecified time in the future!
Photo Illustration: Grib; Photos by Aplle TV +

The first season finale of Resignation pushed his audience to the farthest edges of their seats, leaving them there, out of balance and out of fresh oxygen. After three members of Lumon Industries’ macro data refinement team reintegrated their identities into the workplace and home long enough to sound the alarm about their insidious employer, the episode ended abruptly. Three prayers for help shouted in different contexts by Helly, Irv and Mark – “We are prisoners!” “Away!” “She’s alive!” – still dangling in the air as the credits roll, leaving us to wonder what will happen when season two arrives at an unspecified time in the future.

How cliffhangers work. They overload our nervous system, leave us a little breathless, and yes, make us frustrated. The really big ones – and the end of this season off Resignation qualifies as a major – should feel like the narrative equivalent of a near-sneeze or coitus interruptus, except just in a good way. The pleasure comes from being almost satisfied, but not quite, enjoying the opportunities that the (hopefully) inevitable satisfaction will bring.

But cliffhangers are a delicate thing. Push the suspense too high and reduce the revelations too much, and what should be fun frustration can quickly turn into anger at the filmmakers for pulling a Lucille Bluth. Dan Erickson, the creator of Resignation and the author of this finale, “The We We Are”, seems to be very aware of the high thread in an interview with Weekly entertainment, where he notes that it was director Ben Stiller who pushed to interrupt the season at the end of the “overtime contingency”, the short period in which Helly (Britt Lower), Irv (John Turturro) and Mark (Adam Scott) are uninterrupted and learn about their outie worlds. “I thought, ‘Okay, people get mad!’ But I think that’s by far the most effective point where we could have completed this part of the story, both historically and for the characters, “Erickson said. all these new issues and all these new issues that they now have to deal with in order to move forward. “

That Resignation cliffhanger is effective from a narrative point of view for all the reasons that Erickson mentions. But it goes further than that by also working on a thematic level. There really is no more appropriate way, the season one could have ended.

I will explain what I mean by that for a moment, but first it must be said that it is understandable if some people became angry at this finale for reasons that have nothing to do with Resignation. The TV landscape has made the cliffhanger experience more thorny and more potentially outrageous. Thanks to the overall model for rolling out series, many shows take the approach of finishing each episode in a nail-biting moment, knowing that the more suspense generated, the more likely you are to be up at 3 in the morning and constantly loading episodes to feed your insatiable urge for resolution. (Not that I have ever done this.) Some very good comedies and dramas do this in ways that still seem organic to the kind of stories they tell; Russian doll and Dead for me both immediately come to mind. Others are not quite as adept at their use of twists and gasp-inducing moments, and this can cause a bit of cliffhanger fatigue. When our collective chains are jerked so often, a show that pulls them back is even as wise as Resignation can provoke the instinctive reaction to shouting on the television.

The Cliffhanger has also become a bit more risky because the usual structures around the TV are so much looser than they used to be. This season of Resignation finished his ninth episode, which is not unheard of – The gilded age‘s first season ran in nine episodes, and so did the only season of Guards – but it is also not necessarily the number of episodes that most viewers are conditioned to expect. I watched Resignation screeners beforehand so I knew episode nine was the last and I still had to check to make sure there were no more after feeling the sting of the finale. Cliffhangers are all the more challenging in a television landscape where there is much less consistency about how long the seasons are, and often confusion about what is a limited series versus a sequel. We can no longer be sure when something will end, so when a story makes it abrupt, it hits extra hard.

The TV calendar as we once knew it has imploded in the last decade or so, meaning no one knows exactly how much time goes by between seasons of a given program. All the way back in May 2005, some Lost fans (ahem, erroneously) got annoyed when the season 1 finale revealed the existence of the hatch without explaining it. But at least they knew they’d find out more in September, the month most major screenwriters’ TV shows resumed their shows. Now, because all the television is coming out all the time all year round, we have no idea how long we’ll have to wait to learn what’s going on next to our interrupted friends. It can be annoying when we are already carrying around so many ongoing narratives in our heads.

The sheer amount of new television that regularly floods digital streams, combined with pandemic delays that have extended the breaks on shows such as Barry, Russian dolland Rather call Saul, makes the weight all the heavier. Consciously or unconsciously, people are perhaps seeking more urgent closure right now because it has certainly eluded us, in our television, but also in the real world, where the pandemic is still not irrevocably ended and a war in Ukraine continues without any obvious path towards a conclusion in sight. That is one of the reasons why the limited series has such a great appeal. You know in advance that if you invest in eight – or nine, possibly ten – episodes, you can check the box that says you’ve done with that particular TV experience. A cliffhanger, especially as it is exercised by Resignationdo the opposite of it.

So yes, it’s more challenging than ever to make a cliffhanger ending that gives more appreciation than anger. But Resignation manages to do so because its implementation is not a pure gimmick. The conclusion of “The We We Are” is completely in line with what the series is about at its core: the stifling nature of the contemporary workplace (or at least a strange version of it) and the inability to fully integrate its life and personality, as illustrated by the act of being cut off. Central to both of these themes is the denial of information. If Mark, Helly, Irv, or our arm-stretching hero Dylan (Zach Cherry), the fourth macro data refinery at Lumon, had a better understanding of their jobs, what the company does, or what their colleagues’ roles are, an important obstacle would be eliminated, for them and for us. This may not solve all their problems, but they would at least have useful knowledge.

The same is true of their own identities, which are medically divided between work and home, thereby achieving the most extreme version of work-life balance, where the two are completely separate. During this season – when Helly rebels, Mark connects with Petey, Irv really seeks to know Burt, and Dylan finds out he has a son beyond the walls of Lumon – the protagonists long more and more to understand who they are like both inies and outies, despite their cut-off status. Again, at a basic level, this is what they need information for.

In the real business world – you know, the one without weird waffle parties and mysterious numbers to be traced on computers apparently made in 1982 – employees also want to know where they fit into the bigger picture. IN Resignation, and in actual offices, perhaps even your own, rules are often introduced which are never explained. Workers are locked into their respective departments and encouraged to fix their own goals without seeking cooperation, a common problem in the workplace that may have become more pronounced in the time of working from home that the pandemic has brought. Even the design of the Lumon office speaks to endless quests that remain unfulfilled. The long, long times in the Lumon basement – all the movement down there is sideways – evokes the classic bad dream where you keep walking and walking but never reach your destination.

What everyone wants from their bosses is assurance that everything will be okay. More often than not, such security is impossible to obtain. In Great Resignation America, many opt out instead of continuing to see the general sense of unrest that comes from working for companies that oppose unions or organizations that may close unexpectedly.

A cliffhanger offers the opposite of security. It freezes viewers in a state of limbo by withholding information, which is exactly what bureaucracies often do: pull things out and prolong the discomfort. Resignation is, in fact, making us feel a version of what it feels like to be a Lumon employee who shares some things in common with what it feels like to hold down a job of any kind in 2022 America.

The season finale puts us in the same position as Mark, Helly, Irv and Dylan: closer to understanding everything, but also prevented from really getting the answers we seek. How is it better to end the first chapter in a series about an organization that shields the truth than by shielding the truth from those of us who watch?

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