Ben Stiller wouldn’t be the first name you’d run to when you’re thinking of a workplace thriller with this premise: Severance, an elective surgical procedure at Lumon Industries to split your work memories and keep them contained away separately from your personal ones once you clock out. Adam Scott leads as Mark Scout, a depressed, alcoholic widow who elects to take on the surgery to help numb the pain from the recent loss of his wife Gemma. By the time we join Mark, he’s been severed a while judging by his daily routine and physical awards on his desk for accomplishments as a Data Refiner. I found myself enthralled over three days and did nothing but absorb this entire show in one go.
What is a Data Refiner? That’s a great question, we will get to that. I watched all nine episodes as soon as they were available to me. The show discussions on the subreddit have been incredible and as of this writing, Variety has confirmed that it will be renewed for a second season.
With that out of the way, here are my thoughts (and some spoilers) on Severance.
In any job, you have coworkers, and Mark’s coworkers are a cut above the rest in terms of casting. Marvel fans will recognize Zach Cherry (the impromptu Martial Arts bus commentator in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, or the “Do a flip!” guy from Spider-Man: Homecoming) but will be blown away by his talent. His character Dylan may at first annoy you but as the show progresses you’ll find yourself sympathizing with him in and outside the walls of Lumon Industries.
Currently in the spotlight for his portrayal of Carmine Falcone in The Batman is John Turturro as Irving, the longest-tenured “innie” as they refer to themselves, the 8-hour split that works within the walls. Britt Lower and Tramell Tillman round out the rest of the main cast that spend their time on the Data Refinement floor as Helly, a newly severed employee who constantly contemplates on the morality of severance, and Seth Milchick a handler of sorts who reports to Mark’s supervisor and maintains many behind the scenes aspects at Lumon Industries. Finally, Patricia Arquette is Mark’s extremely cold supervisor Harmony Cobel who clearly runs her own agenda outside of company policy.
Now, that’s JUST the data refinement team, we meet Christopher Walken’s Burt as Head of the Optics and Design department. AppleTV has shown they have no problem with price tags when it comes to talent and Severance is certainly a good indication of that.
Each one of these characters is given incredible scenes to operate in whether they are severed or not. In the non-severed case, we have Mark’s sister and her husband, Jen Tullock as Devon who is currently pregnant, and Michael Chernus as her husband Ricken Hale who is a self-help author with rather odd traditions. These are some of the very few people encountered with no ties to Lumon Industries as we progress through the series. The procedure itself is quite controversial as more than once Mark finds himself discussing the intimate decision with strangers in public which become sour.
The reach Lumon has is incredible, reminiscent of the mining and lumber company towns that have come and gone in American history. They have their own township, Kier (named after the founder of Lumon) with stores and housing all managed by the company as well. It becomes increasingly worrying seeing how much Lumon has infiltrated the day-to-day lives of these employees. Even during a gathering, someone asks exactly what do they do/create? Another person jokingly says, “what don’t they make” suggesting they’re a conglomerate with hands in medical, technological, agricultural, biological, and manufacturing sectors.
So back to Data Refiners. In the MDR (Macro data refinement) wing, the team gathers clusters of numbers on a screen and categorizes them into certain digital buckets based on their interpretation and emotional connection to what they are seeing on the screen. It is conceivably one of the most boring assignments that could be given to a human, but the suspense captured with the camera work and sounds make it as tense as a rookie operating the robot on the bomb squad.
Numbers shouldn’t be scary right? But what do they mean? We still don’t know. The lack of answers in this show is what kept me coming back for more. It was indeed a tiny bit frustrating to be left on a cliffhanger, it was inevitable to me around the 6th or 7th episode that this season would wrap with multiple things left open.
The use of camera zooms to show the difference between the “innie” and “outie” is a trip, you go from Mark at his worst to a cheerful leader who is taking on his sudden new role to his dismay. As the work and the season progress, the uncoverings of Lumon are horrifying – aversion therapy that hammers away at their apologies until they actually “mean it” as Milchick urges them on for the 1,287th time. The ponderings of Dylan, Irving, and Helly as they sometimes wonder what their “outie” gets up to leads to a series of realizations and curiosities that make up some of the most engaging conversations in the show.
The hallways, offices, and even the break room were instrumental in adding to the bleak and tediousness of the corporate life structure – checking off quarterly milestones, mandatory team exercises and a drab vending machine all punctuate the boring cycle of day-in-day-out clock-punching.
Away (but not really) from Lumon, Mark is disconnected from everything and everyone, his sister being the only person left after his wife’s passing. Through some conversations and car rides, some more information is expanded in regard to the loss of his wife. Things such as it being partially recent and her being involved in a car crash are at most of what we know about her.
When Mark is on a date set up for him, the topic comes up and it’s quite apparent how fresh the wound still is for him. His alcoholism more than once drove people away from him and it was interesting to see this depicted quite accurately throughout the season (one example is Mark eating minimal food to drink more instead). Even when in his “innie” mode, others notice things such as the smell he sweats off to help underscore the severity of his drinking.
While Mark navigates through some new to him truths, Helly and Irving keep things moving inside as they explore new sections of the Severed floor. Between multiple visits to the O&D department and Perpetuity Wing, the love and detail from the set creators is at its height during these long walks. Going from dim, space-age-era engineering floors to a fully reconstructed house and then to the haunting and dark “break room” is almost like entering a trance.
The last three episodes of the season had me on the edge and nearly out of breath. In the last 20 or so minutes of the season one finale “The We We Are” I should have worn my Apple Watch to see the leaps my heart rate was making as the final moment intensifies and cuts to black.
I haven’t been so drawn to a show that made me want to binge it all in one go like this in a very long while. The fact that viewers had to agonize over weeks for resolution is incredible to me as I was not as patient, and the ending setting up a second season can be viewed differently depending on the viewer. Granted, I do want to spend more time with Lumon and the Data Refinement team, I am indeed curious as to what Lumon really does and the answers to many questions. AppleTV has a hit on their hands, they know it and I wish I could “sever” myself until more releases.
Check out the trailer below and catch the entire season now streaming on AppleTV+!
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