Someone recommended Severance to me. The way I usually gauge new shows is that one recommendation isn’t enough to sway me, but I waited for a couple to make a more significant impact before diving into it. I wasn’t disappointed. There’s a reason why Netflix is freaking out. The way to go is to have more curated experience in shows, to go for quality over quantity. This is probably one of the best TV shows that’s I’ve seen in a while, in a world filled with ST: Picard (🗑).
Warning: Some spoilers ahead.
Severance is a dystopian thriller set in an office. The premise is quite complicated. It centers around people doing some mysterious work, categorizing numbers according to some arcane requirements. We quickly learn that the workers have opted to get a Severance procedure done, in which they have been implanted with a chip that separates their work selves from their personal selves. Once they get into the office, they switch to a work-based personality, which has no recollection of their home selves. They’re effectively segregated, segmentated and partioned.
They all work at this mysterious cult-like company called Lumon. It’s yet unclear what this company actually does. Some of the materials I’ve seen, ie The Lexington Letter, says that they started out with salves and grew from there on. The drama centers on the Macro Data Refinement Department, which comprises of only four people. One recently left, and this person was the BFF of our main character, Mark S.
A new trainee, Helli R., just joined. We go through the struggle of her onboarding, from both sides of the process. Helli is newly severed, and she is fighting through it. It gets pretty rough. Mark was recently promoted and he gets to do her onboarding. It’s very interesting, because Helli doesn’t know why she is here and why she doesn’t remember anything. Meanwhile, Mark is trying to keep her as calm as possible and integrate her into his team.
This takes about two episodes, and it really sets the tone of the show. Throughout the whole show, Helli spends her time trying to get out of Lumon repeatedly, over and over again. She reminded me of Papillon, in the Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen 1973 version. She wills herself into freedom through the only means left to her.
The innies, Lumon slang for the work personalities, are like newborns in the sense that they don’t remember their lives, but retain some general knowledge. I suppose that that it would make them perfect to work on sensitive information, but without experience, since the innies have only been working, at the most, a couple of years, it seems a dubious benefit.
Over the course of the season, we see the main character start to get inklings that there is more to his life than just being a good worker. More and more of the conspiracy at Lumon is revealed, I got to say that they pretty good reveals. I didn’t expect them.
Mark’s sister notices that someone that she met at her birthing retreat is severed. This is the first inkling of severed people appearing outside in the world. It’s safe to assume that if it’s in the hands of big corporations, many people are severed throughout the world. If the innies misbehave, they are sent to the Break Room, where they receive what I like to call Bad Love. (This scene is so reminiscent of what happens in that book.) They have to read a statement apologizing over and over again, until a lie detector reads their apology as honest. It’s mind blowing, it’s kind of like brainwashing.
Over the episodes, we learn that Mark decided to get severed because he had recently lost his wife Gemma. One of the big reveals is that the hot wellness councilor, played by Dichen Lachman, is actually Gemma. However, she isn’t severed the way that the others are. She goes into “storage” whenever they have no use for her. She doesn’t get to go out and live a life as an outie. This is probably because she’s dead on the outside world. So Lumon might have stacks of slaves like this, who are dead and who can be used without any consequences.
Eventually, we learn that when people like her are disused, they have to go down an ominous elevator into “storage”. We see that Irving is a painter and is obsessively painting this elevator over and over again, further implying that his innie has some knowledge about this elevator. The season ends with Mark’s innie realizing that Mrs Casey, the wellness councillor is his wife and that he has to get her before she disappears.
The season ends naturally on a cliffhanger. A new season was already confirmed, and the writer Dan Erickson says that he envisions 4-5 seasons worth of material. It was wildly successful, so I wouldn’t be surprised for Severance to go on for at least four seasons.