Length: 9 episodes
Director: Ben Stiller
Creator/writer: Dan Erickson
Cast: Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, John Turturro, Britt Lower, Zach Cherry, Dichen Lachman, Jen Tullock, Tramell Tillman, Michael Chernus and Christopher Walken
5 out of 5 stars
New episodes stream on Apple TV+ every Friday
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The first three episodes of Apple TV+'s new sci-fi thriller, Severance, are out. Subsequent episodes will be released on Fridays, but we've watched all nine episodes, so this is a review of the whole season.
The story doesn't end by the end of the nine episodes, and the showrunners Ben Stiller and Dan Erickson are still waiting for Apple TV+ to give the official greenlight for Season 2.
I'll be darned if Severance isn't picked up for another season, though, because (1) many questions remain unanswered, and (2) it's a darn good show.
Apple calls the series a thriller but it's a lot of things. It's science fiction, mystery, dark comedy, drama, and yes, it's a thriller.
In Severance, Mark Scout (Adam Scott) leads a team at Lumon Industries, whose employees have undergone a "severance" procedure which surgically divides their memories between their work and personal lives.
What that means is that, when these workers come in to work, they are unable to access their personal memories while in the office. Conversely, they don't retain their work memories when they leave work and return home at the end of the day.
It's the ultimate experiment in work-life balance: these people's work and personal lives literally cannot encroach upon each other.
Or can they? It's obviously not a natural state to be in, and Severance explores the issues that arise from this fantasy that a lot of people might have: what if you didn't have to think about your job at all outside of work, and in fact don't have to experience the boredom or stress of work?
The work in question here is very strange indeed. Mark is newly promoted as department chief of Macrodata Refinement, with three employees under him. The team of four "refine" data on chunky, old-style computers.
What the work entails is: they sort and compartmentalise numbers from files based on emotions that the numbers cause them to feel. For example, one category of numbers feels "disconcerting" and "scary".
Yep, it's as strange as it sounds. The staff themselves have no idea what the purpose of their work is, either. And yet, they receive quarterly targets and incentives for achievements like normal workers in a company do.
And they are required to do the work simply because their "outies" – their identities outside of work – have decided to enrol in Lumon's severance programme.
The personalities who emerge from outies within the walls of Lumon as a result of severance are called "innies".
Who would volunteer for such an unnatural procedure? Mark, for one, lost his wife two years ago, and applied for the severance programme so that he could minimise the painful memories of his loss as much as possible.
However, new employee Helly (Britt Lower) is much more resistant to the inhuman conditions that they are subject to, and actively rebels and attempts to quit the severance programme. That's harder said than done, though, because innies require their outies' permission to quit their jobs.
The mystery of what is happening at Lumon grows layer by layer and more and more questions are raised as the series progresses.
But aside from the mysteries, the characters' journeys are also compelling as they deal differently with the effect of severance on their psyches.
The show resonates at a deeper level because it's an allegory of the seeming meaninglessness of work that many of us experience in the modern economy.
In a way, severance is a representation of how corporations often require us to become less human when we go in to work. We're often robbed of autonomy, subject to arbitrary rules, doing mindless work that seems to have no value.
Most of the questions that are raised are not resolved by the end of the series. It's essentially a set-up season to introduce us to the mythology and the characters. But I certainly can't wait to delve deeper into the world of Lumon and its severed employees.
If Severance sounds intriguing to you, you can subscribe to Apple TV+ here.
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