On Screen: The Split World of Severance Keeps Viewers Intrigued

Digital illustration by Reid Alexander and Nava Mach.

Welcome back to On Screen, the Bit’s television and film review column. This time, I’ll be talking about Apple TV’s new show, Severance.

Directed by actor-turned-director Ben Stiller, Severance features Adam Scott as the show’s lead character, Mark. Mark works for a fictional company called Lumon that requires its workers to become severed, which is to surgically divide their memories between their work and personal lives. The severance procedure means that when employees enter the building where they work, they can’t remember anything about their personal life. And when they get off of work, they can’t remember their life at the office. The show follows both the version of Mark inside Lumon and the version of him outside of work as separate stories.  

Mark’s home and work life begin to simultaneously unravel when a man approaches his home-self claiming to have been his coworker at Lumon and accusing the company of not being truthful. Soon after their conversation, the man mysteriously passes away. The interaction acts as a catalyst for a season-long quest of both versions of Mark to learn more about themselves, as well as the world of severance and Lumon.

An interesting aspect of the show is that the audience often knows the answers the characters are looking for before they do. In most shows with some sort of mystery, the audience closely follows whoever is investigating that mystery, discovering every new piece of information as the character does. But in Severance, many of the answers are already known to the audience, given that the viewer has a window into the world of both versions of Mark. 

Scott’s performance as Mark is impressive given the fact that he’s playing two different versions of the same character—he’s able to make both versions of Mark feel distinctly different while also somewhat the same. 

Stiller’s direction of Severance is also top-notch. The symmetrical style of cinematography is visually appealing and reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film. He also uses color very consciously throughout the series—often making the scenes at Lumon monotoned and the scenes outside more colorful—which gives the audience a visual clue into what life is like at Lumon compared to the outside world.

Lastly, the show has a well orchestrated score, most notably featuring off-key piano notes which add to the show’s sense of tension, while never distracting the audience from the main story of the show. 

My only real complaint about Severance is that it is a little slow to hook the audience in. Though the show’s first few episodes lay the groundwork for the excitement of the season’s final installments, they lack action and feel a bit boring, especially when I was watching the show week-to-week as it came out. Severance may be more enjoyable on a binge-watch since you don’t have to wait each week for a new episode and can jump into the action sooner.

Despite the show’s slow start, I found Severance intriguing. Its finale especially does a good job of answering questions while also sparking excitement and new questions going into the show’s second season.

My rating: 9/10

If you liked this show, you should watch: Westworld, Lost and WeCrashed

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