Apple TV’s ‘Severance’ is crazy, fun and utterly unsettling

by | Feb 15, 2022 | All, Reviews

Apple’s new drama follows Mark Scout (Adam Scott), a man who has undergone a new procedure known as Severance. It’s a unique procedure offered to workers of the somewhat shadowy Lumon Corporation. Essentially, the procedure alters the brain and divides memories between real life and work, essentially creating two personas- the worker, and the real person on the outside. The worker, referred to as an “innie”, only has memories of their job. The other persona, an “outie”, remembers nothing that goes on in the workplace and doesn’t even know what they do for a living.

It’s a concept that feels very relatable. We can all relate to the banal, insufferable air of a workplace and to the malpractice of bigwigs and corporate heads. The show strikes a near-perfect balance of believability and complexity that keeps you engaged throughout the nine episodes sent to critics.

Creator Dan Erickson knows exactly where the lines of believability and complexity are, and expertly manages to stay inside them. Director Ben Stiller creates scenes full of tension and creepy moments where you feel your pulse quicken and your chest tighten. A stellar example of this is demonstrated in a scene later in the season, where Helly (Britt Lower), another Severence employee, earns an office dance party for her hard work. In another show, moments like this would have a comedic twist, a fun moment, but the entire scene works to set you on edge as there is something that doesn’t feel right. It’s a feeling that ramps up throughout the scene. From the lighting to the movements of the characters, to the shots of the cameras that spy on the employees, the tension ramps until the pressure peaks and it finally explodes, rewarding us for enduring the immense tension that they kept piling on.

Even though all four of the main Lumon workers in Severance have two versions of themselves, the innie and the outie, It’s Adam Scott’s Mark Scout who is the main focus. Scott does a fantastic job of playing two characters who are essentially the same person. Mark at work in Lumon,  is a worker who has never much questioned his work. His recent promotion to the boss of his department has forced him into thinking about the state of his life. In his personal life, he is troubled. He lost everything two years ago and is struggling to pick up the pieces. One of the perks of Severence is that the eight hours at work where he doesn’t remember who he is gives him a brief reprieve from his daily life. Mark is regularly ruled by grief and loneliness. Although both Marks have similar mannerisms, personalities and ideals, they have completely different memories, knowledge and life experiences. Despite coming from the same base, they are shaped in completely different ways, and Scott manages to accurately and wonderfully portray this in subtle but compelling ways.

The idea of the Severance program is to completely sever the participants from their work and personal lives. It looks at whether you are a better worker if you don’t have personal baggage weighing you down. It asks if you’re the best you can be. Fully refreshed and ready for the day, with nothing to worry you, are you the most efficient worker? Likewise, are you better off not knowing what’s going on at your workplace? Not knowing what it is you do if your job is morally right or wrong. This idea is explored from the beginning. Mark’s innie persona suffers an injury in the office when workplace orientation goes wrong, leaving a visible mark on his head. When he leaves work, outie Mark finds a note in his pocket, informing him that he slipped and banged his head during the workday, and gives him a free gift card as compensation.

This control over information and Mark’s bodily autonomy sets an insidious precedence over Mark’s freedom, emotions, and happiness. As a corporation, Lumon is free to control whatever they want, when they want, because Mark’s outie has no way of knowing this and innie Mark has no way of fighting back. Lumon has full control over its workers, with their freedom uncontestedly given away, showcasing a reality not too different from the big corporations we all recognise, and the morals they egregiously lack. This control Lumon has, however, is given to them by the very people they hold it over.

This extends to each main character in Severance: Helly (Britt Lower), Dylan (Zach Cherry), Irving (John Turturro), and Burt (Christopher Walken) who are all also victims under the same umbrella as Mark. Unlike Mark, however, we don’t get to see their outie personalities until the climax of the show. This serves as a masterful way to build up preconceived notions of them and who they are, all before shattering it away by revealing the truth behind them and their reasons for undergoing this life-changing surgery.

The chain of control itself, however, isn’t quite limited to just the underworkers of Lumon. Lumon’s higher management is purposefully kept vague and mysterious, their true identities and goals hidden. Whenever they appear, they speak through someone else, giving them an almost deific air of mystery. Ms Cobel (Patricia Arquette) acts as Mark’s boss and serves directly under the board. Cobel is slowly built up throughout the season and Arquette fantastically plays the role of a deceitful higher up displaying an air of quiet menace whenever she appears- especially when we see her outside of the workplace.

Severance sets itself up perfectly and easily The work/life balance asks us to examine how easily this balance becomes when we can forget about the trials the other has. In an effort to create this, an imbalance forms in its place. This can also cause entirely new, unforeseen problems we’d never know how to counter and the ways they can be used against us.

The good news is, hell is just the product of a morbid human imagination. The bad news is, whatever humans can imagine, they can usually create.”

As told to us from the beginning, hell is of our own human creation, and the characters in this show serve as a testament to that time and time again.

Severance airs weekly on AppleTV+ starting February 18th.

Tyler Murray

Tyler Murray

15/02/2022

A lover of stories in any format, TV included. Dramas, comedies and thrillers find themselves in my top 3 genres to watch, but I am known to be a not so secret sap for romance too.

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