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Apple TV+ Severance (1 Viewer)

Adam Lenhardt

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You ever clock in at a job you hate, and wish you could skip right ahead to quitting time? That idea was the basis for Dan Erickson's screenplay Severance which got a reputation as one of the best unproduced scripts over the last decade.

Then Ben Stiller came across it, and helped shepherd it into a nine-episode series for AppleTV+.

The first episode begins with a woman in her mid-thirties passed out on top of a conference table. As she slowly regains consciousness, a voice over a speakerphone asks her a series of questions which seem to the woman like irritating distractions as she tries to shake off her disorientation and escape the room. Finally, once she has established that escape is not possible, she answers the voice's five questions. Four of the questions relate to her life, and she can't answer any of them. The other question is impersonal, requiring only general knowledge possessed by most Americans, and she answers that one without issue. Only later do we understand what is really going on.

The series's protagonist is Mark, played by Adam Scott. After a personal tragedy, he takes a job with Lumon Industries and agrees to undergo the procedure known as severance, which partitions his memories based on his physical location. His regular "outie" self retains no memories of the time spent on the "sever'd" floor of Lumon's offices; in the morning, he steps into the elevator. Seemingly the next moment, he steps out of the elevator at the end of his shift. He is well compensated, seemingly well-treated by his employer, with all of the benefits of full-time employment but none of the actual work.

His "innie" self, on the other hand, only retains memories of the time spend on the "sever'd" floor of Lumon's offices. He has never seen the sun directly, and his entire life is spent working. After a long day at the office, he steps into the elevator, and seemingly the next moment, his next shift is just beginning. He may start his shift feeling well rested and refreshed, or miserable and hungover. Either way, he has no knowledge of what his "outie" self was up to during off hours. His only compensation comes in the form of silly little knickknacks handed out by corporate as incentives. His employer is vaguely sinister, and controls all aspects of his life. He has all of the obligations of full-time employment but sees none of the benefits.

Over the first two episodes, available to stream now, we start to get to know both versions of Mark, and the ways they navigate their separate realities. The world itself is definitely an alternate reality, with Lumon as a sort of General Electric-esque multinational conglomerate on steroids. The time period is hard to pinpoint; the cars all appear to be from the nineties or earlier, cellphones are rare and take the form of flip phones. All screens, whether they be televisions or computer monitors, are boxy CRTs. The computers in the office are vaguely reminiscent of an Apple II.

The supporting cast is strong; aside from Scott in the lead and Britt Lower as the woman on the conference table:
  • Yul Vazquez plays Petey, a former Lumon employee who causes problems for both Marks.
  • John Turturro plays Irving, one of the other workers in Mark's department.
  • Dichen Lachman plays Ms. Casey, who directs employees' "wellness sessions".
  • Christopher Walken plays Burt, the mysterious head of another department.
  • Patricia Arquette plays Ms. Cobel, Mark's inscrutable supervisor.
So far, it's really weird but strangely compelling.
 

Reggie W

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So, I've been watching this and though I am not much for keeping up with a TV series, this one has me hooked. Turturro and Walken are pretty hilarious. Having them have this strange budding work romance is very funny. Weird show that seems to be giving no clue as to where it is going but the actors in this show are all excellent and keep you involved. I am watching the new episodes each Friday and because you can't binge this, it feels more like old school TV.

Anybody else watching it?
 

joshEH

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^ Yeah, just started watching this one, and finished episode 4 last night. The Metallica-scene at the funeral was amazing. Hugely looking forward to seeing where this thing goes. Very Charlie Kaufman-esque. Walken and Turturro together are worth the price of admission alone (and the rest of the cast is pretty damned great, too, especially the irrational rageoholic-dude who hilariously hates Walken's department).
 
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Reggie W

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^ Yeah, just started watching this one, and finished episode 4 last night. The Metallica-scene at the funeral was amazing. Hugely looking to seeing where this thing goes. Very Charlie Kaufman-esque. Walken and Turturro together are worth the price of admission alone (and the rest of the cast is pretty damned great, too, especially the irrational rageoholic-dude who hilariously hates Walken's department).

I love Walken and Turturro in this. They really are awesome and it is wonderful to see them in roles like this. Two fantastic character actors doing fantastic work.

I certainly see the Kaufman aspects, feels a little early Coens to me as well, like some Barton Fink, that probably has a lot to do with Turturro killing it in this.

I do laugh out loud every time that guy goes off about O&D slaughtering people. The actors here are all perfect.
 

Sean Bryan

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I’m very much enjoying this. It has great performances and a really interesting premise.

I feel that being an innie is tantamount to being in Hell. The idea of your entire existence being an endless work day with nothing to look forward to and no evening, weekends, holidays, vacations, conversations with coworkers about shared (outside) interests, movies and shows, family life etc… just a never ending tedious job is repulsive. Helly (appropriately named) seems to get this right away. If I found myself in her position I’d want to end it as well.

I get the sense that the outties don’t necessarily realize that they are putting a version of themselves through a living Hell. Though Helly’s outtie doesn’t seem to care. And that makes me root even harder for Helly to eventually be successful at another attempt.

Any thoughts on the black goo? I’m thinking that the severed innies aren’t meant to be able to dream because maybe severance can’t work on the dreaming mind and this is either a side effect of the process when a severed employer nods off or a deliberate design of the process to keep them from comfortably falling asleep so that no one gains memories of their outties’ life through dreams.
 

Reggie W

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Any thoughts on the black goo? I’m thinking that the severed innies aren’t meant to be able to dream because maybe severance can’t work on the dreaming mind and this is either a side effect of the process when a severed employer nods off or a deliberate design of the process to keep them from comfortably falling asleep so that no one gains memories of their outties’ life through dreams.

Yes, I think you are correct. They use the black goo thing in the opening of the show and I think it is representative of the way the severance process works with masking off, or covering up memories of who you are outside of the workplace. So, when he is dozing the black goo oozing over things is the process working to prevent his mind from being able to see anything he should not while in a sleep state. So, as he drifts off, the black ooze begins covering his subconscious brain activity and it plays like a nightmare in his mind. Perhaps that is intentional in how it works to startle him into waking up.
 

Reggie W

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I get the sense that the outties don’t necessarily realize that they are putting a version of themselves through a living Hell.

Actually, I think they do know that they are putting themselves through some form of hell because the story portrays that people in the town where they are do think the process is controversial and unnatural. Also Mark a few times says in the story that he realizes the process can be seen as awful in that half of you is always in this bizarre office workplace and knows nothing about the outside world and you just keep finding yourself at work, never remembering what went on when you were not there.

Helly also has them shoot a video message to her outside self and if her outside self watched it...and seems she did...her outside self knows exactly how screwed up her inside self is. However, like Mark she may have a reason why she wants to be put in a place where she has no memory of the outside world.
 

Reggie W

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There is an article in today's Boston Globe on the show, mainly about Walken and Turturro and how wonderful their characters are. I've not seen Turturro in something this good in a long while. The two of them do play off of one another beautifully.

All of the characters on the show seem somewhat damaged and out of sorts. However, like most good shows or stories these characters are sharply drawn and pull you in. I watched the first episode on a whim and now I am 6 episodes deep.

Interesting ideas and I am constantly working out all the different ways it could go.
 

Sean Bryan

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Actually, I think they do know that they are putting themselves through some form of hell because the story portrays that people in the town where they are do think the process is controversial and unnatural. Also Mark a few times says in the story that he realizes the process can be seen as awful in that half of you is always in this bizarre office workplace and knows nothing about the outside world and you just keep finding yourself at work, never remembering what went on when you were not there.

Helly also has them shoot a video message to her outside self and if her outside self watched it...and seems she did...her outside self knows exactly how screwed up her inside self is. However, like Mark she may have a reason why she wants to be put in a place where she has no memory of the outside world.
Yes, that’s likely the case. Of course, I still think that it may be the type of thing where most outties realize that it isn’t great for their innies but they haven’t really processed just how hellish it actually is. These people may have personal reasons for volunteering for severance, like Mark, and that is likely a contributing factor for why they may not being thinking too hard about what they are doing to themselves. But in Helly’s case we have an outtie that clearly knows that her innie wants out and is in psychological pain but doesn’t care because she doesn’t consider that part of her as an actual person. I feel like if outtie Mark were to learn that his innie was as tortured as Helly that he would be more likely to quit, or continue whatever it is that Petey was doing.
 
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Adam Lenhardt

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This show has such a unique ambiance and tone. I really do feel like I've stepped out of my own life and am fully immersed in this world while watching each episode. The last show that did that for me was the "Twin Peaks" revival.

So it looks like Mark's late wife is actually Ms. Casey?

All of the characters on the show seem somewhat damaged and out of sorts.
I think you'd have to be somewhat damaged to want to check out of your life for eight hours a day.
 

Sean Bryan

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Pretty wild reveal in this episode!

Cant wait to learn how and why that happened and to see where this goes.

Right to the freaking ground!
 

Greg.K

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This might be my favorite currently airing show.

They haven't announced a season 2 yet. Perhaps only the innies know.
 

Josh Dial

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If anyone is interested, Apple has released a free tie-in "ebook." It's not really a book, but you get it through the Apple Books app.

The "book" is composed of 1) an email from a severed employee from MDR to a reporter at the local newspaper; 2) a full copy of the severed employee welcome pamplet, which the employee attached to their email; and, 3) a series of short emails between the reporter and their editor.

I finished the book in about 15 minutes or so, including time to re-read a bit for "clues."

There's nothing Earth-shattering in this, and it's 100% not required reading to "understand" the show. But it's neat and does have a few extremely small tidbits of info.
 

Reggie W

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If anyone is interested, Apple has released a free tie-in "ebook." It's not really a book, but you get it through the Apple Books app.

The "book" is composed of 1) an email from a severed employee from MDR to a reporter at the local newspaper; 2) a full copy of the severed employee welcome pamplet, which the employee attached to their email; and, 3) a series of short emails between the reporter and their editor.

I finished the book in about 15 minutes or so, including time to re-read a bit for "clues."

There's nothing Earth-shattering in this, and it's 100% not required reading to "understand" the show. But it's neat and does have a few extremely small tidbits of info.

We are 7 episodes deep at this point with no clue what Lumon or these employees are working toward. It seems Cobel is going to get a face to face with the board, or we are led to believe that. Only two episodes left and many open questions.
 

joshEH

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Yeah, this has pretty much been just about my current favorite running show at the moment (even above Winning Time and Picard), and absolutely cannot freaking wait to see what's about to go down, here. Got a feeling we're gonna finally find out what the company's real mission is (apart from maybe snipping naughty-scenes out of Hollywood films).
 

Reggie W

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