SEVERANCE Season One
All work and no play
Imagine how it would feel if you spent every waking moment working; if you felt kept in the dark by your employers; if you were bombarded with trite slogans; if they tried to make up for all this with the sop of tatty treats and “wellness” sessions. By now, many of you are probably muttering, “Huh, tell me about it.” Which is one reason Severance is so effective: its satirical take on office culture may be built on an outlandish premise, but it feels very close to home.
The near future. Instead of improving the work-life balance, industry has found a way to veil it. Certain employees of Lumon Industries have agreed to a surgical procedure called severance, which involves inserting a chip in their brains. Once they enter the “severed” floor they lose all access to memories of their personal lives, effectively cleaving their personalities in two.
The “outies” haven’t a clue what they do at work all day. The “innies” of Macrodata Refinement aren’t much the wiser, as all they seem to be doing is dragging numbers into folders. For Mark Scout (Adam Scott), whose wife died in a car crash, a job where he can escape his grief holds some appeal. But after a colleague of his innie counterpart Mark S disappears without explanation, boat-rocking newbie Hilly B (Britt Lower) gradually leads him to question what is going on…
The high-concept is very
Black Mirror, and the “mysterious workplace” vibes recall Alex Garland’s Devs. There’s some Lost in the mix too (a room full of goats is Severance’s polar bear) – and George Orwell, in the form of the punningly-titled “Break Room”, a HR riff on Room 101.
But Severance still feels distinctive, because of the way it blends its different tones, switching gears between quirky character comedy (Mark’s brother-in-law Ricken, author of a comically terrible self-help book, is a particularly quotable joy), thought-provoking concepts and gripping thriller beats. The production design’s retro stylings are immaculate, and there are some great needle-drop moments. There’s even space for a sweetly tentative senior romance – one all the more surprisingly touching for featuring Christopher Walken.
Whimsical at first, the show grows increasingly dark as it progresses towards a tour de force season finale. Incredibly tense, this supplies enough answers to leave you feeling satisfied, delivering huge revelations while maintaining mysteries to be explored at a later date.
There’s a much wider world which could be opened up, if the series’ makers choose to explore other ways this tech could be abused. It’s a tantalising prospect, given that they’ve managed to make a day at the office utterly fascinating.
The Lumon building exteriors are Bell Works in New Jersey, formerly an R&D facility for phone company Bell Systems.