Imagine if you never had to work another day in your life? What if there were no more psychopathic megalomaniac bosses or sneaky back-stabbing colleagues, no more bland monotone grey cubicles and blinding florescent lights, no more endless pointless hours spent at a computer doing boring repetitive tasks that you wish they’d design an app to do instead? Well, in the world of “Severance”, that’s exactly the problem that creator Dan Erickson proposes to solve with a new (albeit currently fictional to us) technology known as ‘severance’.
Employees of biotechnology giant ‘Lumon’ undergo the procedure by having a device implanted in their brains that severs their lives into two halves: one half of their lives is devoted exclusively to their boring cubicle job (‘innies’), the other exclusively lives a life of freedom and leisure (‘outies’). Not only does this mindwipe appeal to employees, it’s also of benefit to Lumon to keep outie employees from ever knowing about the highly sensitive work their innies do: the threat of corporate espionage is effectively eliminated. A life of both emotional and corporate convenience seems like a win-win, but as we know, the problems that technology proports to fix often creates 10x more problems than it ever solves.
In the case of severance, it’s not that the technology doesn’t work it’s that it creates unintended consequences. For example, while work and home memories remain completely separate and don’t bleed into each other, the innies (work selves) develop distinct personalities with separate agendas from their outies (home selves). The main character, Mark S. (Adam Scott), seems to be an ideal employee who has accepted the severance procedure and lifestyle fairly easily. All that changes however, when two incidents (spoilers ahead) happen on the same day that change Mark S. forever: one, his best friend Petey (Yul Vazquez) at Lumon suddenly disappears; and two, a new employee Helly R. (Britt Lower) is assigned to their unit whose only motivation in life (it appears) is to escape their Kafkaesque prison. The plot thickens when we eventually discover that Helly R. is the granddaughter of Lumon founder, Kier Egan, and her outie is the face and spokesperson of the severance procedure for Lumon (which they want to start performing on children). The real enemy of Helly R. then, is herself (literally). Ultimately, “Severance” becomes a battle between innies and outies, as innies try to warn their outie selves about the evils of severance while it appears that their outie selves have little to no interest in changing their circumstances. Can you imagine enslaving yourself, only to believe that you’re not a slave? That’s the provocative question “Severance” poses to the audience. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised with the emergence of computer/brain interface technologies currently being developed, if a device like severance wasn’t already in the works. A chilling thought.
Director Ben Stiller, who has probably never worked an office job one day of his entire life, absolutely nails that oddly benign but silently threatening work environment of corporate life in America (and elsewhere): the beige smiles, the uncomfortable closeness of strangers, and the constant feeling of surveillance. Stiller effectively conveys the panoptic prison-like atmosphere through the clock-work routines, the endless identical bad-dream hallways, and the bizarre carefully monitored reward system of finger traps and waffle-parties (don’t ask, it’s really weird yet makes total sense). If you’ve ever worked in soul-sucking corporate cubicle land, let me warn you, I had more than a few flashbacks to my younger days in office prisons watching “Severance”. But it’s not just the set-design, or the script, or the cinematography, or the excellence of the acting that makes “Severance” so good, it’s how all the elements come together seamlessly to create a perfect horror series that looks about as scary as a coffee mug. Truly outstanding work, I highly recommend you watch it!
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