Whilst this is not my usual focus for Miss Mooch, it is definitely mysterious and worth a review. The premise of the show (directed by Ben Stiller) revolves around a set of office workers, dreaming of the perfect work-life balance, who elect to have their mind surgically split between their work lives and their personal lives through the ‘severance’ procedure. In the office, they can forget all of their home memories and focus on the task in hand; whilst at home, they can leave work at the door and enjoy life with family and the things that they love. What a brilliant idea, sign me up!
Severance begins following Mark (played by Adam Scott), seemingly on his way to work, looking rough, heartbroken and alone. As he enters the Lumon Corporation building, we watch as he goes through the motions, putting things in his locker, retrieving his key card and then heading down an elevator to the ‘severed floor’. Upon entry, we watch as his demeanour begins to change – he appears lighter and like a fog has lifted as he walks through the maze of corridors to his office, however a tinge of sadness is still in his eyes.
Whilst initially I thought what a brilliant idea being severed might be – never again would I get the thoughts of work seeping in whilst trying to relax at home – I did not consider the lives of the ‘innies’ who spend all of their waking time at work, and the endless torment and loneliness the daily grind would have for them.
We quickly come to realise Mark is the newly appointed team leader of the Macrodata Refinement Division (MRD), who was thrown into the role as his work buddy and previous team leader Petey (and Mark’s best friend) doesn’t show up for work in the first episode with no explanation – the first mystery and only the tip of the iceberg!
Mark’s co-workers add different dimensions to the office and bring the comedic element to the show: There is Dylan (Zach Cherry), the hardworking guy who is doing it for all of the ‘Lumon perks’ (including the infamous ‘waffle party’). He already is the office’s front-running number cruncher, and has an abundance of finger traps, pencils and other perk paraphernalia cluttering his desk. Then Irving (John Turturro), a sweet long-standing team member, who is a stickler for the rules and regularly reminds others of what the Lumon handbook says.
Lastly, Helly R (Britt Lower), the newest recruit, who wakes up on a conference room table, with no memory of who or where she is. Helly is disorientated and confused from the first moment we see her, mirroring the cloud of mystery the viewers are under; we end up piecing things together along with her as the series plays out.
Following Mark’s life as both an ‘innie’ and an ‘outie’ adds an extra dimension to his character (he is the only office member we do this with). Over the series, his reason for deciding to go ahead with the severance procedure is gradually revealed. Whilst his memories are gone at work, his ‘red eyes’ are not, and his co-workers naively question whether his ‘outie’ has been out on the razz the night before and that he is hungover (but viewers know the truth is a lot more complex!).
My favourite character however has to be Milchick (played by Tramell Tillman). the senior supervisor on the severed floor, making sure everyone is doing what they should be doing. Apparently unflustered, with a brilliantly fake beaming smile that can be turned on at the flick of a switch – typical for a senior manager in any establishment, he reminds me of a poised swan gliding along whilst panic-paddling under the water out of view. It is fun to watch him unravel as the series goes on.
A shout out also has to go to Ms Cobel (played by the brilliant Patricia Arquette), the head honcho on the severed floor, who you do not want to mess with. There is a little surprise at the end of episode one (that I will not spoil), which again adds to the complexity of this innie/outie world – the mystery icing on the cake that pulled me with force into episode two. Her character also becomes very intriguing as the series plays out, leaving me with lots of questions throughout the show (in a good way!).
The underground, severed floor (where the ‘innies’ live) is both clinical and confusing, a sterile maze of corridors and rooms which look identical to one another, with artificial lights, no windows and minimal creature comforts. As characters move from one location to the next, it takes time as they navigate through the landscape, again adding to the confusion and mundanity of the office, and disorientating us just when we feel we might be getting to grips with what is happening.
As the episodes unfold, you begin a journey of discovery with the team trying to find out what Lumon does, what happened to Petey and whether there is any way out for the ‘innies’. The series starts off slow, replicating the mundane nature of the office 9-5, however the mystery and tension builds up to an explosive conclusion, with such a huge cliff hanger that has stayed with me since the episode finished. As a viewer you are torn between the suffering of the ‘innies’ and the decision making of the ‘outies’, not knowing who to side with – did they really know what they were letting their innie-selves in for?
As the final elevator bell rang at the end of episode 9, I was left with a pain in the pit of my stomach, longing to know whether the characters are okay, even days later I am thinking about the innies – how could I have even considered going through with the severance procedure?
You can even check out Lumon Industries Linkedin Page, promising to give ’employees the best work environment they’ll never know’, with their ‘patented and extremely safe’ Severance procedure. Don’t be fooled!
Press photo stills from Severance, used with permission from Apple TV+