Not since Season 1 of Lost has a show so perfectly weaved mystery, anxiety, and tension into a tightly-wound narrative that audiences would pick apart for clues every episode. Welcome to the world of Severance.
The mysterious psychological thriller by Ben Stiller & Dan Erikson explores a world in which employees of the company Lumon voluntarily have a chip implanted in their brain that separates their work life from their “regular life”. Our protagonist is mild-mannered Mark (Adam Scott). While being under the heavy thumb of his boss, Ms. Cobel (Patricia Arquette), we observe his journey towards becoming the Lead Manager of his team. The show stays away from the typical office antics and offers a weird yet meditative look at what it really means to separate yourself from yourself.
The show’s mystery of what Lumon and its employees do is pivotal, but the interpersonal connections between these employees are just as important to understand the mystery. The writers are aware of the social connections we need to survive, and the workplace is no different. The twist is that the Lumon employees are only aware of their coworkers while they’re inside the Lumon building. Outside of work, they have no memory of each other. This enhances the meaning of what we see and how these characters act within the building due to their natural instinct to be social. After a while, two coworkers who would never end up talking to each other might become allies under the question of “what do we actually do here?”
The show also works as a heightened metaphor for the workplace and how we, in effect, sever our real selves from our work selves. How companies indoctrinate employees to feel like ‘family’ and how they use that as a manipulation tactic to trick employees into doing things they usually wouldn’t. The world of Severance, more particularly Lumon, is very sterile, minimalist, and unsettling. Each department on this show–from the writing and production design to the music–is working hand in hand to create an experience that feels true to form.
At its core, the show is asking several questions. 1- What does it mean to separate your life from your work life? 2- Why would anybody do it? And 3- What are the consequences/benefits of someone doing this? The show is a brilliant commentary on the work-life balance and what that means to different people. It’s not just one type of person working for Lumon, it’s all kinds and it’s within that variety that we discover the purpose of each individual. The gnawing concept of identity begins to plague the workers and sparks an existential crisis.
Mark’s Data Refinement Team consists of the foul-mouthed hard worker Dylan (Zack Cherry), Irving (John Turturro), who always follows the rules, and the new team member adjusting to the job, Helly (Britt Lower). The mystery is heightened when the characters begin questioning what their ‘real life’ is like outside of work. The main cast is a powerhouse. Adam Scott is far removed from his Parks and Recs persona and delivers his most subtle and intriguing work as Mark (and Mark S. respectively), a man struggling to keep his job and sanity afloat. Zack Cherry, known for his comedic cameos in Marvel films, plays the obnoxious yet lovable loudmouth, Dylan. John Turturro in possibly his tenderest role as the quiet kiss up, Irving. Britt Lower is explosive and engaging as the new hire at Lumon who’s doing her best to stick it out. Topping off this cast is Patricia Arquette as the wonderfully malevolent, Ms. Cobel, and her by-the-book right-hand man, Milchick, played perfectly by Tramell Tillman. Each actor brings a depth to their character that is just wonderful to watch.
Season 1 of Severance is one of the best season premiers of 2022 with a tight plot and expanding mystery that will keep audiences watching every episode again to make sure they caught all the clues. It’s a refreshing take on the idea of what work-life balance means and how it affects those who use work as an escape. The show is a huge puzzle with each episode introducing new rules on how the game is played. Every actor played their role perfectly, and Ben Stiller is flawless as the show’s director. It’s incredibly refreshing and exciting to see a new mystery that sticks the landing in terms of quality and impact.
Season 1 is currently available only on AppleTV+