Severance (2022) Review
Have you ever felt trapped inside yourself?
Have you ever wondered if another version of you exists?
If you have - well - you’ve come to the right place. I, too, have pondered this topic with great intrigue. Some may argue that escapism is inherent to our nature, a side effect to our constant search for purpose and meaning. When we, as humans, are dealt a difficult set of cards, or fall short of our goals for ourselves, it’s common to abandon the pursuit of a higher purpose and simply trudge through life. Many of us have felt unfulfilled, or beaten down by the world to the point where you'd rather bury it than process it in a healthy way. But what if that extraordinary version of ourselves - the Superman inside of Clark Kent in each of us - is simply lying dormant, waiting to be revealed?
This refreshing concept is brilliantly illuminated in Apple TV’s recent hit series, Severance (2022). Strongly led with mesmerizing performances by Adam Scott (Parks & Rec, Step Brothers) and Britt Lower, Severance takes place in a reality where employees of the mysterious corporation Lumon are required to undergo a procedure that splits their memories in two: a work version (innies) and a home version (outties). In these two different realities, two different versions of you exist - though they bear no recollection of each other, even while sharing the same body. Due to the extraordinarily sensitive data being processed at Lumon, the company requires all of its employees to voluntarily sever their brains using a data chip implant, a device that renders any workplace information inaccessible to the employee’s brain outside the office. Did I mention this process is irreversible? Don’t forget to read the fine print. That being said, if you could check out for eight hours of every work day and collect a paycheck while your day-off “outtie” enjoys their best life, essentially never having to “go into work” again, would you? Sure it sounds nice in theory… but before you go ahead with the procedure, you should probably watch a few episodes.
Mark S. (the innie), played by Adam Scott, begins the story of Severance as a seemingly average joe with a programmed routine; A guy who looks the part, plays by the book, and doesn’t ask questions. He bears a familiar semblance to Scott’s straight-edge character Ben in the long running series, Parks & Rec (2009). However, Mark’s outtie, the guy who doesn’t have to work but simply gets to enjoy life, doesn’t seem to be enjoying life all that much. A struggling alcoholic still grieving the death of his wife, Mark appears to have given up on his hopes for happiness and fulfillment as he goes through his daily motions.
The predictable monotony of Mark S.'s work life at Lumon is soon dramatically shaken up, when Mark is suddenly and unexpectedly promoted to Department Chief of Macrodata Refinement in the place of a former co-worker. Timid and clumsy, yet eager to impress his supervisor, Mark S. begins his first task of integrating the new hire, Helly R. (Britt Lower) to the severed workplace. Disoriented and feeling trapped in the new “severed” environment, Helly R. attempts numerous escapes before realizing the fate that her outtie has committed her to: a never ending shift in the corporate dungeon of Lumon. However, Hel
ly’s innie’s outright rejection of the severance procedure begins to spark ideas in some of the other co-workers, and ideas soon grow into a wildfire that threatens to expose Lumon and reveal the dark truth behind severance.
Artfully directed and filmed, Severance takes a refreshing yet complex idea and personifies that idea vibrantly and creatively. Just when you think you’ve figured something out, they throw another curveball at you. This results in a non-stop thrill ride that delivers nine solid episodes of binge watching along a fascinating thread of inquiry. Through the lens of science fiction, Severance allows for an authentic experience of purpose, happiness, and truth alongside the characters. I think many of us can relate to the feeling of being trapped in a job, a lifestyle, or even trapped within ourselves.
It’s an idea that resonated with me ever since the first time I watched the Wachowski's 2001 masterpiece, The Matrix. I’ve always loved the metaphor of the red pill versus the blue pill - The idea that the normal everyday version of you is asleep, trapped in the Matrix - while the more badass version of you is elsewhere - waiting to awaken. As Morpheus so famously said, “I’m trying to free your mind Neo... I can show you the door, but only you can walk through it.”
I felt there were certainly some homages to the Matrix in Severance, for example how they depict the bridges between realities. “The Construct,” in the Matrix bears semblance to the basement at Lumon - the sterile, endless, maze-like office evokes a feeling of limitlessness and entrapment at the same time. It’s like being in some kind of video game or alternate reality; a mental, emotional limbo. The Matrix, much like Lumon’s basement, is used by machines to enforce control; to control people, information, and to put limits on the mind. This was a concept similarly explored in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi classic Inception (2010), a film in which the main character is tasked with planting an idea into another person’s mind. Spoiler alert: it gets messy.
At home among these legendary comparisons, Severance makes masterful use of the lens of science fiction to explore the deeper human inquisitions of love, trauma, emotion, freedom and higher purpose. Whether we like it or not, it’s all part of the human experience. What Severance teaches us is that how we deal with those experiences is what defines us.
Together we can change our reality and change the world. Are you ready to find out who you really are?