The best pieces of science fiction writing often add a simple element to our world and explore how that one thing changes everything else.
“Severance” on Apple TV+ does just this. The element being the “Severance” procedure, a brain chip that splits one’s work life and personal life, effectively creating two different people inhabiting one body depending on location.
The series follows Mark Scout, played by Adam Scott, who for the past few years has worked at a mysterious job for Lumon Industries that required the “Severance” procedure. When a friend from work greets him while he’s at home, warning him his job is not what he thinks it is, his world is turned upside down.
The workplace satire, using Lumon Industries as a stand-in for any terrible cubicle day job, is stark and pointed. The employees have no idea what they actually do, but they do it anyway, all for the inconsequential rewards of erasers and finger traps.
But this all leads to the great critique of conglomerates and how little they care for the employees that work for them.
Sure, the idea of not having to actually experience your job may sound appealing at first, but once you realize this procedure is just creating an alternate personality within yourself designed to suffer, that raises a multitude of ethical and moral questions that make the series as a whole fascinating to watch.
First off, Scott gives his best dramatic performance yet. He essentially gets to play two roles, Mark at home (his “outie”) and Mark at work (his “innie”) are two different people. He brings equal skill to the awkward confidence of Innie Mark and the sarcastic, lonely Outie Mark.
Patricia Arquette plays a great antagonist as Harmony Cobel, a boss for Lumon. Her cold stare and insincere appeals to her employees’ empathy are unnerving, and the moments where she lashes out are striking.
The rest of the ensemble is great, too.
John Turturro shines as the warm yet stern Irving, the eldest of the Macrodata Refinement team at Lumon. Zach Cherry amuses as Dylan, beginning as the stereotypical “annoyingly devout employee” but evolving far beyond that stereotype by the end of the season. Britt Lower excels as the wild card Helly, whose first day at the company is depicted in the first episode.
The most chilling performance comes from Tramell Tillman, who plays Seth Milchick, the supervisor of the severed floor where the main characters work. The coldness of his smile and faux warmness of his words is unflinching and adds a whole lot of character to Lumon Industries.
Ben Stiller impresses in the director’s chair, creating a distinct visual style with cinematographers Jessica Lee Gagné and Matt Mitchell. The use of lighting and the placement of the camera makes for a striking image and greatly aids the suspense of the series.
Showrunner and head writer Dan Erickson has some excellent, distinct material here for his first screenwriting credit. His frustration with dull day jobs lends serious authenticity to this series and gives the critique much more weight.
The best thing about this show, though, is its mystery. From the first frame of the pilot, “Severance” is designed to keep you guessing about pretty much everything. And for some, that will be frustrating, as the show leaves many of these large questions unanswered by the end of the season. But for those who love guessing what it all means, this show is a treasure trove of potential.
The series starts a bit slow in its first few episodes, reveling in the soul-crushing nature of this mundane job with the spice of Helly’s questioning of the status quo added in.
But by the end of the season, the plot advances so quickly and with such fervor, it’s nearly impossible to look away or stop thinking about the brilliant narrative developments. The final episode, *”The We We Are,” in particular, is one of the most pulse-pounding and suspenseful hours of television I’ve seen in quite some time.
“Severance” strikes at the heart of the cubicle day job, much like “Office Space” and “The Office” did before, but with mystery and thriller elements, this show is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and may just become your new TV obsession.