Have you ever thought about what it would feel like to forget about work? Imagine you could shut out all of the struggles and hardships that come with commuting, date input, and awkward water cooler conversations as soon as you leave the building. If you could separate your work persona from your personal life, would you? After watching the (fictional) show, Severance, splitting up one’s memories is not as appealing as it sounds.
Severance follows Mark S (Adam Scott), an employee who works for Lumin Industries in the Macrodata Refinement division. Mark and his coworkers – Dylan (Zach Cherry), Helly R (Britt Lower), and Irving (John Turturro) – are all in the severance program, meaning work memories are completely separate from personal ones. Thanks to a computer chip implanted in their brains, severed employees have two different personas – innies (inside Lumin) and outies (outside Lumin). As soon as employees get into the elevator to enter or leave the office, the computer chip activates one’s innie or outie.
After watching last night’s brilliant season finale, this drama from Apple TV+ is now one of the best television shows in 2022. The show is equal parts sci-fi mystery and workplace comedy. It’s a true slow burn, but not one that wastes entire episodes on explaining exposition with little character development. Every episode peels back a layer of the show’s onion as the employees (and audience) try to figure out the underlying question of the season. What does Lumin do?
The four severed employees start as coworkers, but as the season progresses, they slowly become a family as they band together to figure out their purpose at Lumin. Unlike a lot of workplace dramas and comedies, Severance smartly focuses on the thoughts and feelings of its employees rather than those in charge. That doesn’t mean the higher-ups like Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette) and Mr. Milchick (Tramell Tillman), who both give terrific performances (“Defiant Jazz” is an Emmy worthy submission for Tillman), are neglected along the way. They’re just as clueless about Lumin’s powers and capabilities as the Macrodata Refinement division.
Somehow, the show made cubicles and long hallways visually appealing, and that’s a credit to the show’s creator, Dan Erickson, and primary director* and producer, Ben Stiller. When the employees begin to venture outside of their department and walk the halls that resemble a labyrinth, the music becomes more ominous, and the lighting incorporates more colors to symbolize curiosity and rebellion. Severance takes uneventful tasks such as inputting numbers into a computer and spits out a thrilling adventure about human interaction and responsibility.
*Of the nine episodes, Ben Still directed six while Aoife McArdle directed three.
At the core of the ensemble is Mark, who became a severed employee after the death of his wife. Instead of grieving, he chooses to forget about her for eight hours a day. Mark’s journey from a depressed outie and conservative innie to a curious outie and rebellious innie is the heart of the show. Mark and the rest of the employees want to combine their two halves and become whole again. It’s this idea that the show successfully develops sympathy and understanding as to how people deal with loss and grief.
This brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post, the season finale. It’s one of the tensest and most thrilling 40+ minutes of television I’ve witnessed in the last ten years. Without spoling the plot, every stylistic decision made by Erickson and Stiller is perfect. The fluid camerawork from each character’s innie and outie felt like one continuous movement. The eerie music increasing as the suspense picks up made me want to take a Xanax. Each character’s climactic moment brought me off the couch like I just witnessed a buzzer-beater at Madison Square Garden. (Let’s fix the Knicks, Ben.) The finale is a triumphant victory in how to build suspense and pay it off while still leaving enough on the table to explain in subsequent episodes.
So please, go watch Severance. Season 2 hopefully arrives in 2023. Join this weird world with me and the rest of Lumin Industries.
If you have seen the show, leave your thoughts on the finale in the comments below or tweet me, @Danny_giro.