Why Severance is one of the best shows on TV

Helly R. wakes up like
Zoom in / Helly R. wakes up as an “innie”.

Severance paywho recently finished his first season on Apple TV +, is exploring a world where people can really separate your work and personal life. Thanks to a new procedure developed by Lumon Industries, people can be divided into “innies” and “outies” – without sharing memories. People like Mark like this, who lost his wife in a car accident and who struggled to overcome grief. Why don’t you forget all that pain eight hours a day?

Mark works on the “cut floor” in Lumon, a place that makes your own office – no matter how bad – look like Disney World. But Mark likes it. Or he thinks he loves it. Meanwhile, we as viewers have a few concerns. Which he, for example, actually is work all day for Lumon? What about the creepy cult vibe everywhere? What happened to his friend Petey? And why are people so excited about waffle parties?

If you think this sounds like a setup for corporate sci-fi dystopia, you’re wrong. Severance pay makes great TV from its premise. Directed by Ben Stiller, the play is funny, absurd, depressing, mysterious, visually different and ultimately propulsive. Every episode is accelerating, from a slow start to a turbulent finale, making this one of the best things we’ve seen so far in 2022. Here’s why.

(Some smaller spoilers below)

Beauty in the midst of banality

Severance pay performs a handy trick: turning windowless offices, fluorescent lighting, corporate furniture, living rooms, staircases, elevators and antiseptic white hallways into something that goes from banal to threatening to – dare I say? – Miraculous.

The banality is clear enough. Lumon workers are encouraged by hilarious corporate “benefits” like finger traps and waffle parties, even while working in absurdly empty spaces. Workers respond to middle managers who never look completely human, even when they ask people to show “kind eyes” to others. And the food coming out of the vending machine – crumpled raisins, anyone? – is tasteless at best. The team’s collective work could be “mysterious and important,” as one character puts it, but this is an article of faith. To the viewer, the work seems boring.

Then comes the threat stacked on banality. We meet Helly R. in an ordinary conference room – but in the one where she is locked up, sprawled on a table and a disembodied voice speaks to her. We hear hints of inter-departmental violence and treat strange, cult sayings from the Handbook. The character suffers from disturbing hallucinations. The paper cutter has been converted as a threatening weapon. The company has a mysterious plan to do … something. The rest room is a really bad place to be. So Severance pay takes its place in a long series of corporate dystopia.

But among the threats, we feel a growing sense of wonder. The Labyrinth Basement is a labyrinth that Lumon forbade its employees to map. Why? we do not know. But we follow our team of lovely lumon losers as they, like growing children, wander farther than their caregivers allow. Our team is discovering new things. They find other departments, with an indication that many are waiting to be discovered. They explore the bizarre Perpetuity Wing. They find some, err, small four-legged animals bottle-fed (not to be too spoiler). Lumon might be creepy, but his people still react to the beauty when they find her, as Burt and Irving do in the plant room.

Among all the maze-like mysteries, our team is beginning to make connections – between departments, between the inner and outer selves, with each other. People are growing up, thanks in part to a hilarious self-help book that reaches the cut floor. Families, lovers and children are becoming increasingly important.

Severance pay is an office parody. It is a story of corporate dystopia and evil plans. But it is also a show about healing, empathy, new life and emotional growth in unpromising conditions. Holding all these elements together gives the show its distinctive effect.

– Nate Anderson, deputy editor

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