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Severance Season 1 – Kafkaesque, Slightly Surreal Thriller About Vulnerability In The Workplace

SERIES REVIEW – Whether you’re sitting in a cubicle, standing behind a counter or hunched over a desk in your home office, you may be currently craving a much more work-life balance – a way to impose the boundary between your work hours and your free time, when you can do whatever you want. But what if you could create a complete dividing line between your work life and your home life with an implant that essentially completely bisects the connection between memories made in the office and thoughts while watching TV on the couch? In other words: you remember nothing and no one between the two kinds of “being” to the point that you are actually living your life as two separate people with different memories.

 

 

That’s the premise in a nutshell of AppleTV+’s Severance series, from author Dan Erickson, which follows the events surrounding the mysterious company Lumon Industries. Set in the not-too-distant world created by the Apple TV+ series, the brain surgery procedure known as “severance” is controversial, with many lobbying government officials to ban it outright – but for Mark Scout (Adam Scott), who is a former professor grieving the recent death of his wife, working for Lumon and agreeing to a Severance allows him to leave all his emotions behind every day when he goes to work. In the labyrinthine, smooth white corridors of his office, Mark can be the most efficient version of himself – but in return, when he steps out of the work elevator to head home, he no longer remembers anything that happened inside Lumon. The fresh band-aid on his forehead is explained away as a workplace accident with a free gift card attached, and the co-workers he could easily have recognised inside are complete strangers to him outside the building.

 

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Who are the “outies”?

 

We soon discover that Mark is not the only Lumon employee to have gone through a Severance. His closest colleagues are only ever aware of what is happening in the company when they are inside – and often philosophise about what kind of person the “outie” (a nickname given to their outsider half) really is, as they themselves have no access to these memories. Dylan G. (Zach Cherry) is quietly ambitious, setting several records for himself within the department and proudly boasting of the many perks he’s received in the process (most of which are shoddy corporate bullshit things). At the same time, Irving B. (John Turturro) is a rigid stickler for company rules and can quote much of the Lumon employee handbook verbatim. When the newest employee, Helly B. (Britt Lower), arrives at their office, her feisty instincts and tendency to question everything they are tasked with drastically clash with the atmosphere Lumon is trying to create – one rooted in complete and unquestioning complacency.

 

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The rebel

 

Helly’s entry will thus be the catalyst that disrupts the seemingly perfect status quo – and scatters the other employees from the core as they all try to unravel the many issues surrounding Lumon, both outside and inside the company. What is Lumon really doing? More specifically, what is it that they are responsible for in turn? What appears to be simple coding on a computer screen could be something far more sinister – although Dylan has his own increasingly bizarre theories about what is actually being done in Macrodata’s Refinery department, each time a piece of code is clicked on, it is separated from the rest and dragged into a sorting area until the file itself is considered complete. But while this group has always been trained not to ask too many questions, to keep their heads down and concentrate on their own work, Helly’s repeated attempts to bypass the existing system have the efficiency of a battering ram as she continually rams himself into Lumon’s towering structure, looking for any possible point that is weak enough to breakthrough.

Her rebellious efforts do not go unnoticed by the rebellious top brass, especially Lumon’s leader Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette), whose commitment to the company has degenerated into almost religious piety. Her faithful enforcer, Mr Milchick (Tramell Tillman), whose ability to go from cheerfully indifferent to quietly dirty menacing and surreally enthusiastic and friendly at other times, is one of the most unsettling and brilliant moments of the entire season. The frequent glimpses we get into the darker and more sinister edges of Lumon make the series riveting, but rather than plunging too deeply into irreversible darkness, and Severance also centres on emphasising the truth that human relationships can be found even for those who have deliberately chosen to ‘divide’ themselves in such astonishing ways. For Irving, who has always prided himself on following the rules, a new bond is formed in one of the utmost unlikely places – Lumon itself – when he strikes up a friendship with his co-worker Burt G. (Christopher Walken), creating an unexpectedly touching dynamic between the two excellent actors and becoming the source of some of the most touching and heartbreaking scenes of the season. Mark’s life outside of work isn’t entirely solitary either, but is rooted in his relationships with his family, including most notably his sister Devon (Jen Tullock) and husband Ricken (Michael Chernus), whose latest book at first seems like a pretentious lifestyle bestseller, but ends up having a more profound effect on the people who work at Lumon when a copy accidentally finds its way into the office.

 

 

Highly recommended for fans of David Lynch

 

Severance in itself would be a refreshingly unique concept in terms of story (though somewhat reminiscent of Black Mirror’s often disturbing approach to modern technology and its effects on humanity). Still, one aspect that contributes to the excellence of the series is the somewhat David Lynch-esque direction: episodes of the series were directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife Mcardle to bloody professional effect. Stiller, returning to direct for the small screen for the first time since 2018’s Escape From Dannemora, knows precisely what he’s making a series, with subtle yet effectively surreal Kafkaesque visuals, clever shifts in perspective and a distinct tonal Severance between the bright, almost too clean world inside Lum and the silent world outside its walls.

With all of this in mind, the most arresting element of Severance is the many mysteries it wraps up in quiet, overarching questions of philosophy, morality and free will versus choice. As the series shows, some of these questions are not so easily solved, but some of the questions are not as black and white as they are initially presented. As we see throughout the season, even the most complacent individual has the power to break free from the most oppressive circumstances, and perhaps a divided psyche is always unconsciously yearning to reconnect – to become the fullest version of itself once again.

Severance is an incredibly well-timed, eerie and astonishingly stylish series about the workplace’s vulnerability, the arrogant bullshit of big business, and power structures that resemble cults or authoritarian governments. The direction, the performances, the storytelling of parts of the series and the visual world are all impeccable. For anyone who is not just looking for simple entertainment but a Kafkaesque or Orwellian portrayal of the more severe issues mentioned, this series is a must.

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SERIES REVIEW - Whether you’re sitting in a cubicle, standing behind a counter or hunched over a desk in your home office, you may be currently craving a much more work-life balance - a way to impose the boundary between your work hours and your free time, when you can do whatever you want. But what if you could create a complete dividing line between your work life and your home life with an implant that essentially completely bisects the connection between memories made in the office and thoughts while watching TV on the couch? In other words: you remember…
Severance is an incredibly well-timed, eerie and astonishingly stylish series about the workplace’s vulnerability, the arrogant bullshit of big business, and power structures that resemble cults or authoritarian governments. The direction, the performances, the storytelling of parts of the series and the visual world are all impeccable. For anyone who is not just looking for simple entertainment but a Kafkaesque or Orwellian portrayal of the more severe issues mentioned, this series is a must.

Severance Season 1

Direction - 9.6
Actors - 9.4
Story - 9.2
Visuals - 9.4
Ambience - 9.5

9.4

AWESOME

Severance is an incredibly well-timed, eerie and astonishingly stylish series about the workplace’s vulnerability, the arrogant bullshit of big business, and power structures that resemble cults or authoritarian governments. The direction, the performances, the storytelling of parts of the series and the visual world are all impeccable. For anyone who is not just looking for simple entertainment but a Kafkaesque or Orwellian portrayal of the more severe issues mentioned, this series is a must.

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