By David Baldwin
Mark Scout (Adam Scott) works for Lumon Industries. He says he works in an archiving department, but he cannot be certain as he has undergone the “severance” procedure – a controversial surgery that involves a chip being implanted in the brain and separating any knowledge about work and personal lives in half. As he begins to train new employee Helly (Britt Lower), Mark begins to question what is really going on within Lumon Industries at the same time as he starts uncovering a much bigger conspiracy on the outside.
That may sound like a lot to digest, but after two episodes, it gets much easier to wrap your head around the intricacies of SEVERANCE. Both episodes are directed by Series Producer Ben Stiller (yes, I am just as shocked as you are) and boldly blends elements of Horror, Science Fiction, Dark Comedy and Conspiracy Thrillers into one mysterious nightmare that you will not be easily able to shake afterwards. Stiller frames the Series as clinically precise and sterile as he can, echoing the monotonous grind of the 9-to-5 office worker on a much larger scale. There are few brushes of colour, preferring to stay monochromatic in its costuming, lighting and production design. And having the sets be so expansive and high-ceilinged (likely due to Covid restrictions) make the few amount of on-screen characters feel genuinely small and isolated. The dystopic and sinister undertones flow through very well, giving just enough hints at the overarching mystery to keep viewers invested. I doubt the series would feel anywhere near as palpable and tangible had it been filmed prior to our new normal; everything here feels like you are looking into a mirror and the hellscape of our modern lives is looking right back at you.
I would not suggest it captures the Zeitgeist or has its finger on the beating pulse of modern office work, but I was having some serious déjà vu watching many of these scenes and scenarios play out.
The Cast is terrific and genuinely gifted, despite only getting to see fleeting glimpses of their histories and motivations so far. Scott is excellent as Mark, imbuing the greater themes of loneliness and despair quite wonderfully. Lower, who I loved on the short-lived series Man Seeking Woman, is a firecracker just waiting to explode, while character actor Zach Cherry has a lot of fun playing their no-nonsense, straight-and-narrow co-worker Dylan. And though their roles are small so far, I cannot wait to see John Turturro, Patricia Arquette and the legendary Christopher Walken dive into their roles.
I have not quite settled in on any theories about what is happening just yet, and am fearful for how the Series plans on balancing all of its competing tones and genre mashups. For now though, I am optimistic and excited to see just how SEVERANCE plays out over the next few weeks.
The first two episodes of SEVERANCE are available to stream now on Apple TV+, with new episodes arriving every Friday.