Apple TV+’s latest drama series ‘Severance’ has started streaming on the platform. The first two episodes have been released simultaneously and the following will premiere every Friday.
The series zeroes in on a company called Lumon Industries in New York City where a “severance” programme is put in place. It is used to surgically divide memories of employees between their work and personal lives, however, when a mysterious worker shows up outside of work, the employees start figuring out the truth about their jobs.
Episode 1 recap: “Good News About Hell”
The episode kicks off with a lady lying in a dizzy state on an extremely long conference table in a locked room. As she wakes up, she is asked to take part in a five question survey by a mysterious voice coming from a speaker on the table.
At first she tries to escape but gives in to the demand and listens to the questions. Out of the five questions — four of which are about her personal life — she is able to answer the only one which asks her to name an American state, to which she replies Delaware.
Worried about why she cannot remember anything, the voice tells her that it was a perfect score and she is free to leave. The narrative then switches to the man behind the voice, Mark Scout (Adam Scott), who is an employee of Lumon Industries, crying in his car.
He eventually walk into the building and following an elaborate security check, meets with his fellow employees Dylan (Zach Cherry) and Irving (John Turturro). It is also revealed that they work in the field of macrodata refinement for Lumon which requires them to filter through numeric data and send small portions of it into digital ‘bins’.
Mark is then summoned by his boss Harmony Cobel (Patricia Arquette) who lets him know that his best friend and boss Petey (Yul Vazquez) is no longer a part of the company and Mark has been promoted to department head.
After taking up his new role, he is tasked with interviewing a new trainee, Helly (Britt Lower) and the narrative switches to the opening scene but now we see the events unfold from Mark’s perspective. He reads the instructions and questions from a binder as he tries to get through to a bewildered Helly.
Mark tells the woman her name and informs her that she has been hired for a position on the severed floor of the company. Unable to comprehend what she’s being told, Helly flings the speaker at Mark who gets a decent wound on his forehead.
After an unfruitful conversations, Helly demands to be freed and once she asks for it three times, Mark has no choice but to show her the way out. In a curious twist of events, as soon as Helly leaves, she finds herself back in the same hallway.
Mark finally sits her down and shows her a video with her beaming and telling the camera that she consents to undergo a procedure known as severance — a process in which work memories are surgically separated from personal memories, and vice versa. The process is extensive and permanent.
Slightly calm, Helly asks Mark if she has a family and he simply tells her that the work version of her will never know. With her orientation complete, Helly finally settles into the empty cubicle vacated by Petey and starts working.
After a while, Mark is seen leaving the office, ending the day and his eyes flutter on his way out, signalling that he’s shifted into his away from work memory state. As he’s about to get into his car he finds a note that tells him he got hurt because he slipped and banged his head. There is also a gift card attached to it which he can redeem later.
Content, he heads back home where he lives alone and pops open a beer. He then gets into a scuffle with his neighbour, Mrs. Selvig, about her trash cans and goes on about his day. A little later Mark’s pregnant sister Devon (Jen Tullock) shows up and takes him to dinner she’s hosting at her place.
Amid conversations, we are told that Mark used to be a history professor and he also had a wife who perished. The topic of discussion moves to Lumon and the severance programme which is a huge cause of national debate.
Devon showcases her support for Mark’s decision to be a part of this programme but also worries about him inadvertently suppressing his grief for his wife’s death. Mark ends up passing out at Devon’s place and wakes up in the middle of the night for some water when he sees a mysterious man staring at him from outside.
He thinks nothing of it and goes back to bed. The next day he is seen redeeming the gift card at a restaurant when the same man — who turns out to be Petey — approaches him. Mark is unable to recognise him but Petey tells him that he hacked the implant, undid his severance and thinks Lumon is after him.
He hands mark a card and writes about when they used to think about their lives outside while at work. Finally, he points to an address at the back of the card and urges Mark to go there to find the initial thread of a very long answer.
Confused at what just happened with him, Mark heads back home and runs into Mrs. Selvig again, who is revealed to be none other than his boss Harmony Cobel.
Episode 2 recap: “Half Loop”
Half Loop opens with another flashback to Helly recording her consent video for the severance programme. She is told by Seth Milchick (Tramell Tillman) — the severed floor supervisor — that her work personage will wake up once she descends the elevator into the basement which is the severed floor.
She is then escorted into what looks like an operation theatre where the memory segregation hip is inserted into her brain. The process is quite graphic and she is awake during the entirety of it but doesn’t feel any pain.
Once severed, she steps out of the room and is greeted by Seth but she is unable to recognise him. He explains to her that newly severed employees are brought to the stairwell they’re at to ease in the process.
Helly tries to leave but finds herself coming back to that staircase unwillingly, unable to figure out what’s going on with her. Eventually after a day of work, she leaves the office building and her outer personage is greeted by a now suited Seth at the exit who hands her a bouquet of flowers.
Back in the present, Mark enters the office and goes through his task list for the day, cleaning and organising along the way. He notices a team picture in the team cubicles with Petey in them and removes them.
Helly comes along and talks to him about feeling like she never left and not remembering the weekend. Mark explains that it’s important to focus on the effects of sleep since they don’t get to experience it. He also mentions that the company staggers entries so that the employees don’t meet in real life.
As Mark explains the work to Helly, Irving questions him about removing the photos and Mark says they’ll take new ones at Helly’s party later. Irving reiterates that the old photos should stay till the new one comes in as Helly questions if she can quit the job should she dislike it.
Mark explain that she can submit a request with her outie self and try to get it approved, however, this work personality of hers exists only at Lumon so quitting would end her life as she knows it. Also, he explains that they aren’t allowed to talk to their outer selves so notes cannot be passed through elevators.
Seth shows up with some melons in a trolley and the team play a game in which they roll a ball to each other and the holder of the ball talks about themselves. This scene reveals a little bit more about the characters.
Mark accepts that he broke protocol by removing photos with Petey which he wasn’t supposed to and Seth thanks him for it. He shows more concern about their ex-boss but is stopped by Seth and the team move to click the new picture.
As Seth clicks the photographs, Helly has a change of heart and decides she wants to quit. She writes it on a note and runs to elevator which triggers the code detectors. This attracts the attention of a senior employee, Mr. Graner (Michael Cumpsty), who sees the note and asks Helly to accompany him.
However, Mark shows up and takes the blame, which leads to Graner escorting him to the mysterious Break Room where he sees Harmony. The scene then switches and outie Mark is on a date which sort of doesn’t go well when he gets into an argument with a couple of kids speaking up against severance on the street.
He heads home and is visited by Mrs. Selvig who brings him cookies as a peace offering for their fight about the bins, he invites her in and two have a nice conversation.
The next day Mark wakes up and chances upon the “End Severance” poster from last night and decides to call in sick from work to check out the address Petey gave him. Back at work Seth, Harmony and Mr. Graner discuss Mark’s intentions for not showing up.
Meanwhile, Irving has a disturbing vision while working and screams out loud which forces Seth to take him for a wellness check. Mark elsewhere reaches the place which is 499 Half Loop Road and finds Petey there.
He explains that there is something horrible going on at Lumon and mentions the Break Room. Petey also shows signs of sickness which he reveals to be reintegration sickness. Mark is confused and Petey shows him that he’s been mapping the severed floor and left the original blueprints at the office for Mark to find.
Mark takes Petey back to his house to give him refuge and as the latter gets into the bathroom, his symptoms worsen and he coughs up blood.
- The tone of the series is exceptional. It does well to maintain an immensely high level of suspense without the use of common tropes like build up music and loud noises.
- Ben Stiller’s direction is spot on. The choice of colour, camera angles, transitions, and dialogue, all add to the eerie feeling that make Severance brilliant.
- The concept of the show is unusual and full of potential to begin with, however, the near-perfect execution takes it up to another level. All developments are unexpected and trusting a character isn’t easy in this narrative.
- The cast is stellar and every actor so far has put their best foot forward with Adam Scott and Britt Lower being standouts.
- The plot, even though quite vague till now, has built enough interest for the audience to want to get to bottom of the Lumon mystery.
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