Good News About Hell
The You You Are
The Grim Barbarity of Optics and Design
Hide and Seek
What’s For Dinner
The We We Are -| Review Score – 5/5
In the words of Dolly Parton: “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.” But imagine if instead of work being a means to make money, work was just… it. Endless loops of working 9-5 without leaving, engaging in weekend breaks or going on holiday. If the sound of that just filled you with existential dread, welcome to the world of Severance, AppleTV+’s mind-bending, genre-hopping gem.
With thought provoking ideas about work/life balance, a very well worked mystery and a host of talented actors across the board, Severance is one of 2022’s best shows.
The story centers on Mark Scout, a man who’s still grieving the loss of his wife. To remedy this, he undergoes an experimental procedure called ‘severance’. This controversial act, which sees activists take to the street, sees the subject’s memories surgically divided between their work and personal lives.
What happens in work stays in work. What happens during the weekend and time off work, well that remains separate too. As one may expect, this leads to two versions of the same person start to emerge as we follow these two separate lives that eventually intertwine into one much larger mystery.
Mark works at Lumon within the Macrodata Refinement department, and it soon becomes apparent that the work this company are doing, is very strange indeed. I won’t spoil that here because it’s part of the mystery but suffice to say, it’ll keep you watching through the different episodes.
While Mark’s “innie” (the colloquial term for the severed work-self) starts to uncover secrets about the company he works for, his “outie” is approached by Petey, one of Mark’s colleagues from inside Lumon. He’s managed to “reintegrate” and warns that Lumon are not to be trusted.
What ensues from here is a carefully put-t0gether mystery as both versions of Mark try to uncover the truth in their own ways, unaware of what their other self is actually doing.
Fleshing out the roster is Helly R, who really does not want to be working in Lumon. She tries everything to get out of work, and through her attempts of escape we learn more about the company’s tight-knit security and different protocols. It’s subtle, but a really clever way of exuding exposition.
Alongside Helly are both Dylan and Irving, two of Mark’s colleagues who essentially serve the same narrative function as Helly (showing extra parts of the Lumon world) but play very different roles to get there. Irving finds himself befriending Burt, the head of a rival department at Lumon called Optics & Design. The pair share a really sweet and tender friendship, throwing into question the ideologies they’ve been fed about the different departments. Ideologies that Dylan vehemently fights to preserve since he’s the star employee.
What’s particularly interesting about Severance though is the way it refuses to be pigeonholed into a single genre. There are light bits of horror, plenty of surrealist and quirky comedy, bitesize chunks of character drama, romance and even sci-fi too. It’s impressive the way Severance skips between these different tones – sometimes in the space of 5 or 10 minutes.
The show’s use of themes and symbolism is, quite simply, outstanding. Overhead cameras reinforce the idea of being “looked down upon” by one’s superiors; the use of green and blue is clever and ties into the final episode’s explanation; the idea of trying to control one’s workforce and rebellious unions is shown; and even the trippy Hitchcockian camera zoom in the work elevator, shifting between the personal and work parts of one’s self, plays a significant role in keeping this tonally consistent.
Sticking with the visuals for a second, everything in Severance is very deliberate too. The team have done a fantastic job of tying all of this into the use of lighting and shadows, which symbiotically join with the colours and narrative in a fantastic way. As the series progresses, the scenes start to become darker. Those brightly lit corridors soon become dark and uneasy tunnels.
There’s also some subtle but very interesting details in the background of shots too. In episode 3 for example, Mark’s fish tank in his room back home shows a single goldfish, but the way this is framed shows off the reflected fish too. It’s a visual metaphor for this double-life Mark has been living and the fish-tank signifies the cage he’s trapped in. These little nuggets of details may not stand out to everyone but they’re worth mentioning nonetheless.
The whole team behind Severance’s inception deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve achieved with this gem. Severance is a fantastically enjoyable season of TV. The 9 episodes are masterfully paced, the narrative is interesting and the themes are both topical and thought provoking. While it’s too early to call this the best show of 2022, this one has certainly set a very high bar indeed.
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Verdict - 9.5/10
1 thought on “Severance Season 1 Review – A genre-hopping tour de force of tension”
What an astute and perceptive analysis of this provocative, continually surprising series exploring the work-life balance in a most unusual way. I was initially impressed from the first episode then found myself increasingly gripped by the narrative as it evolved. I was also surprised that some of the characters whom I initially found off-putting, indeed aggravating, suddenly were tracing emotional arcs that I found spellbinding and mesmerizing. For me this series particularly resonated in the ways it illuminated the modern-day workplace. One of the very best programs I can recall in a lifetime of watching.