The Wesleyan Argus | ‘Severance’ is a terrifying and fascinating sci-fi thought experiment

c/o Rotten Tomatoes

A few days ago a friend of mine, in the midst of a messy breakup, took her head in her hands and moaned, “I don’t know how I’m going to go to class tomorrow.” Another friend stared at his wall last month after discovering his cousin had slipped into a coma, trying to figure out how he could get through his shift the next day. “I won’t be able to focus on anything else,” he said. When I told him I was sure his boss would understand if he stayed home, he shook his head. He desperately needed the money.

Everyone has been there at least once or twice in their life and will certainly experience the same many times in the future. How do you get through the miserable mundanity of class or work when tragedy strikes in your personal life? Or even vice versa, how do you maintain healthy relationships with your loved ones when you’re so overworked and stressed that all you want to do is kick everyone off and go to bed?

That’s where “redundancy proceedings” come in, according to Lumon, the fictional company at the center of Apple TV+’s stunning new “Severance” series. The procedure involves, in Lumon’s own words, “a minimally invasive surgical technique” that alters your brain “so that, essentially, you have a part of you that works and a part of you that plays.” Disturbing as it may sound, it would be a lie to say that it doesn’t sound a bit appealing.

“Imagine being able to come into work uninhibited by your domestic problems. Or imagine being able to go home and never think about work,” Lumon’s statement read.

It would literally be life changing. While I’m sure many of us would balk at surgery and ethical considerations, I think the offer would tempt us more than we’d let on. In fact, when I surveyed around 70 peers via a Google Form a few weeks ago, almost 40% said they would at least consider having the procedure.

“My job and my home life aren’t very good, and I think worrying about my home life at work and vice versa is a big contributor to the quality of both,” a peer said. “It will probably significantly reduce my stress level, which is the main reason I would consider doing it.”

“Severance,” created by Dan Ericksen and directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle, dedicates nine expertly written, beautifully shot, and carefully constructed episodes to show us the profound dangers inherent in this line of thinking, and even worse, the effects of procedural herself. The show follows four Lumon employees who have been “separated” and now work in a strange office space, where they sit in front of strangely retro computers all day, engaged in tedious and inexplicable work called “Macro Data Refinement”. .

We watch in horror and intrigue as these workers become increasingly desperate to break out of their self-inflicted prisons, knowing that they must keep coming to the office every day because their outer selves have no way of knowing. how unhappy they are while at work, which Lumon guarantees through a variety of ethically dubious means.

“Every time you come here, it’s because you chose to come back.” Mark Scout (played by Adam Scott) says.

It’s a terrifying implication, especially because the question of how to define the word “you” is a point of extreme contention throughout the show. Which one are you really? The “outie” who lives at home and made the decision to undergo the procedure in the first place, or the “innie” born out of the separation process, forced to live for eternity in a brutally minimalist, empty office outside. exception of four cabins? Are you Mark, the “outie” who underwent the procedure due to his debilitating grief over the tragic loss of his wife, or are you Mark S., the “innie” loyal to Lumon practices because he don’t know any other way to be? Can you be both? Or are the two selves entirely different people? Do we have to undergo what is essentially endless psychological torture ourselves in order for the other to live happily?

“Severance” raises many such ethical dilemmas regarding the self, memory, technology, capitalism, work, love, grief, trauma and the possibilities of resistance, while keeping you on the edge of your seat, making you deeply invested in the lives of the characters, and locking you into the uncomfortable, almost sterile symmetry of office cinematography. It’s a show that really has it all, from the extraordinarily disturbing “waffle parties” (if you know, you know) to the inexplicable baby goats tucked away in one of the small rooms of Lumon’s maze-like building, to the characters played by John Turturro and Christopher Walken in the slow-burning love story none of us knew we needed. From cult corporate lore to devilish eggs squashed in textbooks, murder to raise a family, intimidating dance performances, black goop, awful self-help books and neck-biting very non-sexual, there is not a single moment lost in any episode.

The pilot is immediately captivating, immersing you in a fascinating world so close to ours that the differences seem all the more present. The dialogue comes easily, the characters are firm in their personalities and their relationships with each other, and the pilot’s questions, mysteries, and implied promises make you desperately want to keep watching.

It’s a show that encourages you to theorize as you watch, but the twists never feel too obvious (or at least unsatisfactorily obvious), nor do they feel out of left field or made purely to surprise the viewer. audience. “Severance” is funny, fascinating, disturbing, satirical, emotional and so remarkably devoted to the characters it created and the world in which it is set. The jaw-dropping season finale was released on Friday, April 8, and despite the frankly cruel cliffhanger, it was hugely satisfying and left its audience desperate for the recently confirmed season two release. It’s been a long time since I found a new show that I’m so excited about, perhaps since “Succession” premiered in 2018.

“Severance” is the best show you don’t watch, and I know most of you aren’t because 68.4% of people who took my survey assumed I was talking about a procedure real potential rather than acknowledging it as the premise of a critically acclaimed but still largely unrecognized show. Have you ever read Foucault in a Wesleyan class? (Actually, cross that out, it’s Wesleyan. I know you did.) This show is the perfect illustration of the panopticon of capitalism taken to its extreme, and it’s not incredible. It takes the corporate dehumanization of workers to the next level, literally robbing the characters of any life outside of work. The fusion of surreal sci-fi and real-world consumerism is part of what makes this show so spectacular.

What would you choose? If new technologies gave us the possibility to completely separate our professional lives from our family lives, would you do it? At what price ? And if you underwent the procedure without knowing the consequences, would the blank slate with no “innie” memory waking up inside the gates of Lumon fight back, or would they fall in love with the Lumon philosophy, the only one they have ever known? How far would you go to avoid dealing with the consequences of trauma and grief? What if companies could maximize their profits by turning their workers into veritable drones with no personal life outside of work? When will the horrors of capitalism end? Why the hell is there a guy in a suit feeding kids in a little white room? Will John Turturro and Christopher Walken kiss one day? Why is there glue dripping from the ceilings? Oh my god, is this a waffle party?

If you find any of these questions intriguing, try “Severance”. Jit shows, not the procedure, ie. Please, for God’s sake, do not attempt the procedure.

Casey Epstein-Gross can be contacted at [email protected]

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