A cross between Black Mirror and 1984


In terms of leading a happy life while balancing your family life and a stressful job, many experts have come up with various tips, guidelines, and advices. One of the most popular such advices is to separate your work life and your family life; meaning that you should not bring your work home and vice versa. Go to work, punch in, do your job, and when the clock strikes, punch out and go home. Another popular tip suggests that not everyone at your workplace is not your friend and therefore, just do your job during office hours and try to limit your interactions with work colleagues to the place you are working at. Don’t try to be overly friendly with your work colleagues outside work.

All these sound reasonable enough but in reality, it is so very hard to separate your work life and your personal life. More than often we find out work life and personal life crossing paths and sometimes, these encounters don’t end in a happy way.

However, what if you are able to separate your family self and the work self completely? Even though you like what you do for living, there are times that you wish you could just take a break from the work and enjoy your personal life in peace. There are countless times that I have wished I could have left work burdens at workplace and go home with a clear mind and enjoy a stress-free time at least until the next morning when I return to the office. Well, you can have a glimpse into what your life would possible be if you can actually separate your work life from personal life with the new hit TV show Severance, streaming on Apple TV+. 

Mark is appointed the Head of Macro Data Refinement following the former Head Petey’s sudden resignation. Others including Mark in the department have no idea whether Petey is alive or dead, despite their close relationship at the workplace, because they all have undergone a procedure to surgically separate their work lives from their private lives. This means in the office Mark (innie) only exists inside the office from nine to five, while Mark in the outside world (Outie) has no memory of what is going on in the office. The surgical procedure puts a chip in the brain which bars the memories of office and personal lives. As soon as Mark enters the office he becomes an innie who has no memory of the outside world and when after the day’s work is done and Mark leaves the office, he becomes an outie who has no memory of what has gone down in the office. While it is the same person who works in the office and goes home after work, the separation of memories essentially makes it two different people who have no memory of the other person’s life despite sharing the same body.

Mark’s calm office life becomes a bit turbulent as the new recruit begins to question everything and rebels against the ‘severance’ – the act of surgically separating work life and personal life.  The show cleverly discusses the debate of whether it is good or bad to separate your work life and personal life. The idea is a simple enough one but instead of presenting the case in a TV drama Severance goes down sci-fi, dystopian future, and mystery/thriller way, making the show all the more interesting. Everything about this show is almost perfect. Taking its plot or the story for example, it is so original and intriguing that it alone is enough to pique the interest of any viewer, even without the support of music, cinematography, great acting, and production design.

However, the story is well-complemented by all the other departments as well. Acting, for example, is so on-point that even the odd minor role such as the pregnant woman from whom Mark’s sister borrows coffee when they both were at a retreat to give birth, delivers proper and convincing performance. Seeing Adam Scott (Mark) playing the lead role in a dystopian, sci-fi, thriller is a bit strange since his bread and butter is comedy but I can see why he was cast because the character Mark bear striking similarities to the role he played in Parks and Recreation. That doesn’t mean the show is all serious and doesn’t contain any laughs at all because it does, but those laughs are cleverly blended with the surrealism of the show to not undermine the overall seriousness of the plot. Also, the performances of Christopher Walken and John Turturro need to be mentioned since they are brilliant and convincing.

Most of us know Ben Stiller as a comedic actor but he also is a gifted director. Severance is a fine example of how good a director Stiller is. The backgrounds, the colour selection, the music, and lighting; all are blended in a perfect combination to maximise the viewer experience. The open white spaces of the office, long corridors, and minimal inter-departmental interaction depicts how isolated the innies are, and the odd reward/punishment methods of the workers coupled with the secrecy of their work shows the level of fear and uncertainty in their work, which in turn makes it much easier for the corporate to control them.

Controlling is what happens in the first half of the show while the latter is the uprising of the workers against the emotionally draining working conditions. Overall, the show depicts how unethical a working environment can be while being perfectly legal. It shows how big corporates are manipulating its employees with ease, to be just another cog in the machine. If there is any complaint I have it is the manner the first season came to an end. While it is the perfect ending to an intriguing season which built up in progression, it also leaves so much for the second season. Severance is a quality show that can be watched again and in fact, I recommend watching it twice because there are so many subtle things hidden in dialogues and everywhere else that you’d only realise while watching it for the second time.    

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe