In thriller ‘Severance’, Adam Scott’s humanity is tied to work-life balance

Don’t get me wrong: that long tracking shot of the first episode of BreakupApple TV+’s darkly funny and hugely imaginative corporate thriller series, is all about arrogance.

The camera follows Adam Scott’s mark through the empty, white, featureless fluorescent hallways of Lumon Industries as he makes his way to his sad little cabin. And it’s a long circuitous walk, as the floor he’s working on seems to contain very few actual workspaces, and instead seems to be composed almost entirely of these endless labyrinthine hallways.

The aforementioned swagger isn’t possessed by Mark himself, who seems like a dutifully nice, unassuming guy. No, this slow start is all about Breakup (and creator Dan Erickson and director Ben Stiller) confidently triggering his shot, saying, We’re going somewhere, somewhere specific and stylized. We may take our time to get there, but if you stay with us it will be worth it.

For some viewers, there is a fine line between bluster and self-indulgence, and the quiet nature of the show’s debut will prove a deciding factor. For me, the world of this series is so fully imagined, so singular and refreshing – plus, it just keeps getting weirder — this I was only too happy to strap in and was grateful that I did.

Mark is part of a team of four Lumon employees that make up the Macrodata Refinement division. There’s also Irving (John Turturro), a pure businessman devoted to Lumon’s unusual and quasi-religious corporate culture; Dylan (Zach Cherry), a sardonic office jockey only interested in earning company perks for hitting his numbers, and newcomer Helly (Britt Lower), who puts the “unfriendly” in a hostile work environment. (She whips a stapler into Mark’s forehead minutes after they first meet.)

You can’t blame her; Like all of Mark’s team, Helly has had her brain altered surgically so that, for security reasons, she retains no memory of the work she does at Lumon whenever she is at home. house – and retains no memory of her life outside of Lumon while she is at work. The main difference: Mark and his longtime team now completely accept it. For Helly, who doesn’t remember agreeing to the process, everything is new and terrifying; she wants out.

To put the Human in Human Resources

It’s the premise of the high concept: Mark, Irving, Dylan and Helly who sit in front of these clumsy consoles doing an inscrutable task with numbers all day aren’t really themselves: they’ve been stripped of the multiple experiences. that shape a life and define a personality. However, these so-called “innies” possess their own thoughts and feelings, and they are desperately curious about themselves outside of the office. Any contact or communication between “innies” and “outies” is, however, expressly prohibited.

When we meet Mark’s “outie”, we learn that he is a deeply depressed man who has eagerly accepted redundancy proceedings after suffering a crushing loss; his grief has worn him down and he just wants to stop feeling it, even for eight hours a day. One of the finest and surest touches of the first episode occurs when we follow “outie” Mark in a Lumon elevator and watch the exact moment of his transition to “innie” Mark, on the way down to his sleeping space. office in the basement. There’s a slight buzz, the screen’s aspect ratio widens, and the expression on his face shifts subtly but chillingly from low-level desperation to… perfect, happy absence.

Now: This premise, and its execution, could easily go wrong in a hundred different ways. If all this detailed and finely executed imaginative work were done in the service of broad corporate satire – the kind that merely scores lazy jabs at corporations’ ability to exploit and dehumanize their employees – it would grow rapidly in popularity. a note, and boring.

In place, Breakup expertly channels all the energy he would otherwise expend on making tired jokes about corporate culture into slowly but surely building his very specific world. And the world of it particular the company is fascinating – its confusing corporate culture; its bizarre systems of employee performance evaluation, rewards and punishments; its obscure history and traditions; and, more intriguingly, its fascinating mysterious founder. (Which sounds like you’d end up if you mix Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard with Elon Musk.)

The whole affair requires a sustained skill of tone that the series pulls off effortlessly, steadily raising the stakes and pacing while giving its characters room to breathe, grow and complicate themselves.

In “outie” Mark’s family life, his close relationship with his sister (an ironically funny and deeply empathetic Jen Tullock) gives him much-needed solace, while her self-help author husband (the hilariously great Michael Chernus here) only causes him exasperated frustration – and provides the series with its best jokes.

In the office life of “innie” Mark, his intense and ironically named boss Harmony (Patricia Arquette, who goes to the ham and adores it) and the aggressively affable office manager Milchick (Tramel Tillman) can add layers to their performances and make choices that legitimately surprise us.

And while all this is going on, Breakup manages to be on something, something fascinating to grasp, and not a little unsettling – the notion of who we are at the heart of our lives, and precisely how much our sense of self is shaped by the outside forces that constantly bombard us. Is Mark’s “innie” really a full-fledged person, if he only exists to work? Can something like consciousness arise in the absence of true consciousness?

Breakup raises these and many other questions and – oddly enough – isn’t particularly interested in providing overly tidy answers.

I loved watching this show, but I feel compelled to make this caveat: Breakup has one season of nine episodes and has not, to date, been picked up for another. It ends on a perfectly orchestrated and nerve-wracking cliffhanger in which every cast member makes irrevocable and heartbreaking decisions. The big questions that loom over the season get answered, but in the process, even bigger questions are offered, just as the final credits arrive.

If this is something you think your system can handle, then Severance pay An exciting conclusion will satisfy you – even (especially?) if you find yourself screaming at the screen.

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