Why Severance’s ‘Defiant Jazz’ Dance Is One Of The Best TV Scenes This Year
Created by Dan Erickson, Breakup joins the ranks of the dystopian workplace series that gets audiences thinking about what it means to create work-life balance. The stars of the series nominated for the Emmy Awards Adam Scott as Mark Scout, a Lumon Industries employee who agrees to separate his work memories from his non-work memories. During the first season, he and his colleagues, played by Zach Cherry, John Turturroand Lower Brittfind out that things aren’t all they seem with this decision they made.
As the series stands out from its production design to its performance to its realization by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle, it’s rare to be able to squeeze an entire premise and season of television into a single scene. Still Breakup does so through the Music Dance Experience stage in Episode 7’s “Defiant Jazz”. As a constructed stage, it creates tension through the music that leads to an explosive climax that changes the course for the rest of the season ; also, it embodies the themes explored in the series.
The flaws in this deeply troubling solution to work-life balance have been slowly exposed over six episodes – the ethics, the limits, and more. the elevator at the end of Episode 4’s “The You You Are”. Mark’s innie is inspired by the words of his brother-in-law, Ricken Hale (Michael Chernus). The macro data refinement department is introduced into the optics and design department through the burgeoning relationship between Irving Bailiff and Burt Goodman (Christopher Walken); Mark attempts to work with O&D to understand exactly what they do with their work. The more MDR continues to explore beyond his office space, the more complicated and confusing he finds his job at Lumon.
However, the employee who really picks up the momentum is Dylan George. While his outie is at home during Episode 6’s “Hide and Seek”, Seth Milchick (Tramell Tillman) contacts Dylan’s innie through overtime contingency, a fail-safe that allows Lumon’s senior management to contact its employees during their off-hours. Milchick reaches out to Dylan because Dylan took an infographic card from O&D. As Dylan informs Milchick of the map’s location, his son enters the closet where Dylan and Milchick are talking. Apparently his outie was playing hide and seek with his son (Blaze James Gorman), who kisses him when he sees him. It is an explosive revelation that the MDR wise man is a family man outside of Lumon.
Now that Dylan’s innie knows it, there’s no turning back. Milchick greets Dylan the next day as Dylan enters the office and escorts him to his office. Milchick explains to her the possibility of overtime but asks her not to reveal it to her colleagues or her boss, Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette). Dylan’s innie keeps trying to find out more about his son, just wanting to know his name. Milchick coldly denies him the answers he seeks, and something in Dylan’s innie begins to snap.
To cool things down with the macro data refinement department, Milchick rewards Helly, and by extension his co-workers, with a musical dance experience. In the past, this award was given to an employee who achieved 75% refinement. Helly chooses a maraca and the “provocative jazz” genre from which the episode takes its title; Milchick turns on colorful strobe lights and begins to fully immerse himself in the experience. Milchick’s demeanor is deeply unsettling, able to remain calm and cut off from events that have altered the dynamics of the office. Leave it to someone in a middle management position to try to resolve a situation with business activity and a smile on their face.
To the tune of “Shakey Jake” by Joe McPhee from the Lumon record player, Milchick begins to go wild and dance around each of the MDR employees. Only Dylan remains at his desk, trying to polish. The more the music plays, the more Dylan becomes restless until finally, as Milchick dances behind him at his desk, Dylan snaps and shoves him into the player for a real scratch record, demanding to know his son’s name. . He even bites Milchick to the point of drawing blood. Milchick loses his temper and tells Dylan to report it to Cobel; in turn, Dylan threatens to go with him and expose Milchick for using the overtime contingency without his permission. Milchick backs down, tells the employees that the MDE is officially cancelled, then leaves the room.
The genius of this dance scene is that it shifts the trajectory of the series. The Music Dance Experience takes place in the middle of Episode 7; in the end, Dylan and his colleagues band together to come up with a plan to connect their innies to the lives of their outies. They do so in the season finale, “The We We Are”. This leads to Mark’s revelation about his wife, Gemma (Dichen Lachman), being alive, as well as the truth about Helly’s identity. On another level, the dance scene acts as a microcosm of what the show has always been, working on multiple layers. Take music for example. Jazz as a musical genre is an act of rebellion. Musically, jazz is chaotic, as the polyrhythms of different instruments merge and combine to make sense of harmony. As a result, it leaves room for improvisation, a major characteristic of the genre. Jazz music is difficult to define because it incorporates different genres and has the freedom to live outside the parameters of structure. That and given Jazz’s own revolutionary history for the black communities that created the genre, it’s inherently provocative.
The strobe light effect in the office space also speaks to the nature of the series. On the one hand, MDR had no idea that the lights had the ability to change like that, each of them being genuinely surprised to see the red and blue lights descending from the ceiling. Next, the strobe effect is disorienting, changing the way a person sees movement around them. With each episode of Season 1, Mark, his crew, and the audience are given more information about Lumon that continues to baffle everyone. With the combination of music and lighting, the scene itself creates a tension that only builds the longer parts of “Shakey Jake”. Dylan’s innie cannot ignore his son, and no attempt by Milchick and Lumon can calm his anger. The frustration with the lack of transparency from the upper echelons cannot be ignored. In Dylan’s case, now that he knows he has a family outside of the office, his innie can’t separate that knowledge from his job.
While the point of the separation is to create the perfect separation between work and life outside of it, the dance scene proves that can’t be done. Normal life will find its place in the office. Dylan’s rebellion begins when he refrains from making his usual jokes, continues as he chooses not to dance alongside his co-workers, and ends when he bites Milchick. The violent manner in which Dylan attacks Milchick sparks a new revolution. Rhythmed by the music and atmosphere of the Music Dance Experience, this stage in Breakup is equally entertaining and revealing in its themes, making it one of the best scenes on TV this year.