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Can We Really Separate Work and Personal Life? — “Severance” Light Spoiler Notes

My initial reaction after finished watching the first season of Severance was:

“Mind-boggling work/life balance dystopia.”

Let’s take a look at the trailer before we continue with my notes.

The stories in Severance focus on the duality of Mark Scout. Mark Scout work in a company called Lumon, and we will have little information about Lumon in the first few series. We’ll learn that Mark agreed to take the Severance procedure to sever his memories to separate the work and personal memories. The Severance is a bio-technical procedure to install a micro-chip into the brain.

Mark Scout works at Severed Floor in the MacroData Refinement (MDR) department. On the Severed Floor, his name is Mark S. Severed employees should not know each other’s full names.

The series put great detail to provide Lumon website at lumon.industries.

It’s a really intriguing show to ask questions about work-life balance.

We will discover that Mark decided to be severed right after her wife passed away in a car accident.

Does it affect how he functions daily?

Does he need to avoid the emotional stress after his loss?

Under challenging personal problems, are we able to function properly at our work?

Does this memory separation or severance actually helpful to truly commit to work-life balance?

The main storyline got more interesting because Mark is promoted to department chief after his friend, Petey, decided to resign. His first task is to train a new employee named Helly R.

We see the first reaction of a severed person. At first, a severed person didn’t even know their name, where they came from, and more things they don’t know. They feel confused and disoriented.

It was a challenging first day for Helly R. as a severed employee and Mark S. as her department chief.

The pilot episode really got me hooked after the introduction of Petey in Mark Scout real life. Somehow, Petey managed to undo his severance procedure and he called it re-intregation. Petey’s work and personal memories had been re-intregated, but it had unhealthy side effects on him. Petey conveys messages about how shady Lumon is.

Yeah, for sure we need to question that kind of procedure in the first place.

I acknowledge that, henceforth, my access to my memories will be spatially dictated. I will be unable to access outside recollections whilst on Lumon’s severed basement floor, nor retain work memories upon my ascent.
I am aware that this alteration is comprehensive and irreversible.

I make this statement freely.

Is that how our future will be?

Severance is a thrilling dystopian.

So after this will be more spoilers because I will share great highlights from the series.

You’ve been warned.

Helly’s stare.

Story Flow

I really like the flow of the story from one episode to the next. We got just enough layers to hook our curiosities about severance, about Lumon, about Mark, and his other co-workers. The member of MDR each had unique characteristics that somehow bound together throughout the story. Helly is a rebel, Dylan is a cynic, and Irving is mysterious. Their unique characters get us more curious about their “real” personalities outside work. In the series, they have terms “outie” for the real person outside work and “innie” for the severed employee during office hours.

Irving, Dylan, Helly, Mark. Are those fake smiles? Who knows.

Spooky

There are several spooky office practices at LUMON as well. There is a “Break Room” that feels more like a punishment room to ensure the employee truly feel sorry for their wrongdoings. Even the “Wellness Session” feels so eerie.

Even some of the incentives feel odd, and also creepy, especially with the appearance of Mr. Milchick. So, apparently, Music Dance Experience is some kind of incentive. Because it seems the severed employees are not allowed to listen to music during work hours.

Questioning Your Office

Mark’s outie starts to question Lumon because of his secret meetings with Petey. We also learned that Mark has a sister, and his brother-in-law is a writer. Due to his severance, Mark’s outie does not even realize that his boss lived next door. We can feel that Mark is being watched in and outside the office. His boss even decided to take away the book that was gifted to him by his brother-in-law. That’s straight from a totalitarian playbook where they control what kind of information or knowledge you received, certain books might not be allowed to be read to ensure your mind is under control. Total surveillance.

This situation successfully makes the audience, me, more curious about Lumon. His boss, Ms. Cobel, or Mrs. Selvig on the outside, is definitely not severed.

Harmony Cobel

And also his assistant, Mr. Milchick, who deserved to be the most-hated character in this series.

Look at that creepy smile of Mr. Milchick

The Right Amount of Suspenseful Cliffhanger

Kudos to the creator of this series, Dan Erickson, for the prominent cliff-hanging script. In the first half of the series we got a mix of resignation requests from Helly that are consistently denied, more questions about Lumon and Petey, and then followed by Petey’s death that lead to more questions. Is the severance procedure actually reversible? At what cost?

Even though our minds are isolated at work,
are we still going to be capable to think for ourselves?

Turned out the book that was stolen by Ms.Cobel/Mrs. Selvig was found by Mark’s innie. Was it fate?

Something to contemplate about our job. From Episode 4 “The You You Are”

The book discovery was one of the pivotal points in the rebellious spark within MDR team. The other will be Helly’s angst, and Irving’s spirit to get close to Burt from Optic & Design department.

Burt and Irving

They continued to question “weird” circumstances at their office. The basement. The maze-like office map. The Break Room. The weird perks. The isolation between departments. They want to know more. They have their own will.

However, having your own thoughts, or your own actions, might be counted as a deviation from the rule or the principles of your company. And with deviation, there must be some correction or punishment. You might end up “tortured” in The Break Room for hours until you are truly feeling sorry of your wrongdoings.

“The Fight”

And of course, the corporation is not stupid. They are getting more totalitarian, now with more pinch of doublespeak (It’s not too late to learn some stuff from Orwell’s works, fellas). Easy way to say it is sugarcoating with a wordplay. You got locked in your office room, bet the corporate term for that is “safely situated” as Mr. Milchick said to Mark S.

But, it’s probably human nature to fight or flight. With a surprise from the outside world (I don’t want to put more spoilers on this part so you can feel more suspense), they make a plan to force a worthy fight.

The Twists

Again, related to the flow of the story. I love the twists! Especially on the last 3 episodes. It’s twist after twist that makes you feel more empathetic with Mark’s character, and you just want to join forces and help the MDR team to fight.

If I may, I would just add one no-context spoiler for the Season 1 Finale.

I would say those are also brilliant twists and writings because obviously there will be Season 2 of Severance for the outies out there seeking for answers.

The Production

I guess that’s all for the notes. It’s time to appreciate the people behind this series.

Recently, my friend, Vinka, suggested me to read Ben Stiller Esquire interview. Ben Stiller is the Executive Producer and Director of this series. I guess that’s on my reading list this weekend after I finished the finale. I guess I really have a soft spot for comedians’ works.

The cinematography and production design are lovely. I adore the minimalist retro look, the series also successfully portrays a spooky corporate look.

Kudos to Jessica Lee Gagné and Matt Mitchell as the DoP/Cinematographer and Jeremy Hindle as the Production Designer. I also added a podcast episode of Jessica Lee Gagné interview to my commuting list for next week.

The white walls of isolation.
The desk.
The LUMON Office. From AppleTV’s Twitter.

And of course, the music. The scoring by Theodore Shapiro is a great element to increase the thrilling suspense and the feeling of isolation in this series. I really like how the songs were selected to fit the severed as well. Awesome selections by music supervisor George Drakoulias. This scene really hit the feels.

The song in that scene is Times Of Your Life by Paul Anka. I choose to listen to this fan-made playlist for more chronological music of the series.

And don’t forget, the show also shared that Defiant Jazz playlist and Lumon Industries Music Experience.

And, last but not least. I guess all casts are perfect!

Adam Scott as Mark. I might need to re-watch Walter Mitty as well, where Ben Stiller and Adam Scott played together. Britt Lower as Helly is so witty.

Zach Cherry as Dylan is the best!

And we have John Turturro as Irving, the great Christopher Walken as Burt. Patricia Arquette as Ms.Cobel/Mrs. Selvig is so frightening. And the creepy Tramell Tillman as the creepy Seth Milchick.

Loves the ensemble, and I don’t want to expect anything for Season 2. This outie is ready to jump in on his own free accord.

Haha.

By the way, here’s the last message to contemplate.

I hope you enjoy this series! Say hi to your outie!

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