Apple TV+ Severance Is a Thrilling Workplace Nightmare

‘Severance’ is a gripping TV series starring Adam Scott, Christopher Walken, John Turturro, Patricia Arquette. It follows the employees of the “severed” floor of the Lumon Industries building who have undergone the fictional “severance” procedure which separates their work-life and its memories from the employees’ personal life.

In the first episode, we see Adam Scott (‘Parks & Recreation’, ‘Big Little Lies’) as Mark Scout weeping in his car in the parking lot of Lumon Industries. He enters the locker room, places his personal belongings in his locker, and heads to the severed floor using the elevator to begin his first day as the department chief.

Mark is a refiner who belongs to the Macro Data Refinement department. The department consists of the quartet – Irving (John Turturro, ‘The Batman’), who is an organized member of the team and has memorized the employee handbook as though it is a sacred book, Dylan (Zach Cherry, ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings’, ‘You’), who values his multiple workplace rewards (a bunch of finger trap toys, and sheets of caricatures of himself), Helly (Britt Lower, ‘Man Seeking Woman’) is the newest “severed’ member of the team, a trainee who is a replacement for Petey (Yul Vazquez, ‘The Outsider’, ‘Russian Doll’), and Mark, a widower who has been a “severed” worker at Lumon for two years.

The above-mentioned quartet’s workday includes sitting by their computers all day dumping numbers into folders. They don’t know what these numbers are or what it is that they actually do at work, which is a mysterious question that lingers on all our minds.

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Due to the “severance” procedure, the employees who are “severed” have no recollection of their day at work. It sounds a bit tempting to imagine how you can forget all the burdens, worries, and anxieties from work as there are many corporations that expect a lot from their employees. But it is way more complicated than that. These corporations also offer very little in return.

The “severed” employees “transition” from their work selves (“innies” – a term referred to the “work” versions of the “severed” employees) to themselves (“outies” – the versions of the “severed” employees outside of work and in their personal lives) when they take the elevator down to the lobby from the severed floor of the building. Therefore, they have no idea what they do at work. They do not recognize their co-workers, or superiors outside of work.

The severed employees do not “forget” their work pressure, they remember all of it as soon as they step into the elevator and begin their day at work. They can’t escape it.

A still from ‘Severance’ via Meaww

After Helly is “severed”, she wishes to resign and quit her job at Lumon. But all her attempts to do so are thwarted by the “system” at Lumon as well as their superiors – Harmony (Patricia Arquette, ‘Medium’, ‘The Act’, ‘Boyhood’), who, along with Tramell Tillman, delivers an astounding performance. This helps us discover the horrors that take place at Lumon and how the severed employees become slaves to their job (at least the “innies”).

There are questions thrown about whether they have a family or not, what kind of house or apartment they reside in by the severed employees, which makes us think a lot. Due to the procedure, the severed employees have no idea about their hobbies, their personalities, family, friends outside of work. An employee, shocked, exclaims: “Whoa, is that my kid?” in a chilling scene.

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Although Patricia’s portrayal of Harmony is the kind of boss one hates from the very first interaction, Tillman’s performance is a highlight of the show. He seems like the kind, smiley person at work at the start but eventually sends chills down the spine. They both seem to worship Lumon like a religion, and Harmony even has a shrine dedicated to it.

In the beginning, it seems like this procedure might not be that spoken of outside of Lumon but it seems to be a subject of conversation at dinner, with Mark’s sister – Devon (Jen Tullock) and her husband (Michael Chernus) seeming to disapprove of the procedure as well. It seems to have caused a rift in society and politics too. However, Mark, who clearly elected to be “severed” and erase his memories, did it so he wouldn’t actively grieve the death of his wife for at least eight hours a day defending it. Mark’s sister even says that is not the way to heal.

Patricia Arquette and Tramell Tillman in ‘Severance’ via IndieWire (Courtesy to Apple TV+)

Scout begins to realize that a procedure like this can’t be benign when Petey, his best friend, and ex-coworker, who has now “reintegrated” (apparently the severance procedure is permanent) turns up saying Lumon is doing terrible things. He has laid out some clues that might lead Mark to some answers but it won’t be that simple. Harmony is stalking Mark by posing as his lonely neighbor and keeps an eye on him at work through the cameras.

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As the first season progresses, we see how horribly the employees at Lumon are treated. Behind the modern architecture and pristine white hallways lies dark secrets that have caused them to subject these humans to such terror. In the latest (sixth) episode, the MDR department is even forbidden from entering the hallways.

Throughout the season so far, we see that Lumon does not let employees of different departments meet or hang out with each other, at least the four employees at MDR do not see employees from other departments a lot except for Irving and Burt. The employees at MDR are isolated and lack privacy due to being under surveillance. They are even punished for breaking protocols and doing something Lumon deems “wrong”.

A still from ‘Severance’ via Collider

In another scene, an employee’s “outie” tells its “innie” they do get to make any decisions. It’s almost as if the “severed” employees are now machines who carry out the mysterious and unknown task assigned to them by their superiors without ever questioning it. Do they have free will? Severed or not, they are humans sitting in that office seeing no sight of sunlight or the outside world. Is it worth it to be “severed” to erase some memories that bring you pain instead of dealing with and healing from it?

The viewers can still relate to ‘Severance’ as they begin to transition from working from home to physically going back to work due to the awkwardness of office parties, group photos, and activities to bond with your teammates. This ability of the writers of the show to make us feel relatable to the dystopian workplace horror is impressive, and the cast only uplifts it.

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Adam Scott delivers a great performance of the everyday man but a beautiful bond we see at Lumon is between Turturro’s ‘Irving’ from “MDR” (Madro Data Refinement) and Christopher Walken’s (‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘Batman Returns’) ‘Burt’ from another department whose exchanges melt the hearts of the audience whether they look at the paintings, hold hands or interact with each other.

The eerily white and joyless hallways set the creepy tone right at the beginning of the series. ‘Severance’ doesn’t waste time by explaining things but rather showing it to you as it is way more believable both for its cast and the viewers than the former. As the episodes progress, the story builds up and so does the interest of the viewers watching it.

Image via TV Series Finale (Apple TV+)

Created by Dan Erickson, although it is a tad slow, ‘Severance’ eventually picks up its pace. The thought-provoking TV series is beautiful to look at, incredibly well shot and the technique (especially when seeing the “severed” employees transition from “outie” to “innie” and vice versa) is commendable thanks to its director Ben Stiller (‘Zoolander’, ‘Night at the Museum’) and Aoife McArdle.

There is a scene which is shot with Mark simply walking down the hallway and it really makes you wonder how people survive there with the lack of people in sight, just white boring hallways in the large space.

In the last episode, we saw Mark is onto something and so is Lumon. ‘Severance’ is clearly on the way to revealing some things that the viewers and the employees were kept in the dark about. The next and seventh episode airs on March 25! Until then, let us know of your theories of what’s actually happening at Lumon.

Watch ‘Severance’ on Apple TV+: HERE

 

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