This is the column that digs into the science fiction lover’s world, tackling some of the most complex and perplexing that content allows. Is it weird? Most likely. Do we love it? Yes! It’ll likely be thought-provoking, and potentially illuminating.
Intriguing minds, unite for the weirdest Film Inquiry Column yet.
What I love about science fiction is that it often, when done well, allows us to play the role of a deciphering tool for constructed mysteries, wondrous scenarios, and often intriguing ideals as much as they are terrifying. Because, science fiction is based on a section of science, meaning it is based in reality (to a degree). Can we get to this place? How impossible is it? If your mind is whirring then you are into it. Some of the best sci-fi’s have us pondering the potential uniqueness and perpetual realities explored. So, let’s.
I wouldn’t have expected it, but my first column is about a television show because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Severance since I watched the finale recently. It was stressful, yet compelling, and I was at the edge of my seat until the very last moment, finally exclaiming “no!” Truly, it was because it was over. You know what that means, right? Success.
Severance found its niche, dug in, and didn’t let go.
Severance, a new Appletv+ show, proves to be an intriguing concept from its very inception. In a future (a timing not exactly distinguished) world, the Lumon cooperation allows workers to sever their working self from their version of themselves out of work. Meaning, that the moment one walks into the elevator of the office, they transition and forget everything before. From there the “innie” takes over, being only responsible for the working hours. Isn’t that the dream of anyone who has had an awful job? Yes, momentarily at least. Once it’s thought over… hell no.
Most feel they are doing something meaningful, and the work is truly an enigma. It’s generally jumbled numbers, but the audience is put in the same position as the “outies” in the terms that we don’t know what they are doing. We just know it’s not good. Why else would there be such secrecy and tight restrictions?
When Mark S (Adam Scott) is promoted, after his long-time work friend is let go, he suddenly has to train a new recruit. This isn’t an easy endeavor. Hellie (Britt Lower) shows not only indifference but actual hostility towards her new position, in a department that seems to be specifically upended, which includes Dylan (Zach Cherry) and Irv (John Turturro).
When Hellie comes to she’s in a conference room, unaware of her surroundings and having to answer a survey distinguishing how much she remembers. Nothing? Perfect. However, despite how much your outer self wants it, it’s your inner unknowing one that has to deal with the consequences of never having a real, fluid, life. It’s basically a half-life, and for the worker, that’s not much. It’s a fascinating conceit because you have to consider the other end of the spectrum: Is life worth living just for work? It spawns a torrent of emotion and cognitive dissonance because you wonder, is life worth living for the sake of serving another? Especially when you’re in the dark.
Ben Stiller directs many, and after Escape at Dannemora, I was convinced of his full ability to connect various genres in a precise and engaging way. From the first episode I was hooked, and I devoured this series as fast as allowed. Who doesn’t love mystery, dark comedy, and sci-fi? I do! Let’s go!
Severance also really taps into the drawl of office work, the daily banal existence many of us face, myself included. Without an outside connection, and if one can’t appreciate their work (let alone remember it), there’s a sever of joy. How was this not already made? It manages to be both meaningful, thought-provoking, and curiously small (in physical space, not metaphorical). Most of the sets reside within an office that’s limited and yet this world feels extraordinary large. That’s a nod to the creators, because none of us, as viewers, ever feel small. If anything, Severance makes us ponder the existential, the unknown, and the deliberate truth at play here. A sci-fi wonder.
When Mark S’s “outie” is contacted by his previous best friend inside Petie, who has had a procedure to connect his two lives, his world is inevitably turned upside down, and from there, the discovery of what’s real has begun.
Let me set the stage a bit because there are characters both in and out that is immensely important. It also doesn’t relent on its disturbing nature, some scenes focus on the unnatural element, making this sci-fi nearly horrific, even in the smallest nods. It truly wraps your emotional, empathic response with your desire to also test the boundaries of human ability. It’s also absurdly, and darkly humorous. I often found myself laughing as much as I found myself close to tears. I felt for these characters, in all their perceptions.
These “innies” begin to realize something is afoot, some by accident, some by curiosity. I can’t imagine anyone in their situation not being struck and calculated by innately abnormal circumstances.
What’s interesting about this series is that we see Mark S’s regular life outside. He’s depressed, grieving the loss of his wife while trying to be there for his pregnant sister and her husband. The disconnect is striking for the audience. There are so many opportunities where we want to reach through the screen and advise them of our findings. This kind of sci-fi-led sabotage, mystery, and ultimate discovery, is what makes Severance so enthralling. There’s a lot of humor worked throughout but don’t be misled; this is a dark show that fuels its dystopian roots with an ominous elixir.
It’s gorgeously shot with some unique camera angles utilized to acknowledge the space too. In more than one way this reminded me of a film I love, Being John Malkovich, and despite this nearly suffocatingly small-sized room they are stuck in, the ideas behind it spawn mysteries that extend through each of the immaculate, long, never-ending halls.
Throughout its 9 episodes, the show continues to keep us on our toes, scraping gently away at the surface, giving us rich characters that remain dynamic in their portrayal and their own innate understanding. Truth be told; it’s one of the best new sci-fi series. It incorporates so much about the evolution of technology, its abuse of it, human intuition, and our own basic understanding of what is best in a world of indescribable possibilities. Much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind asked us if we were ready to rid ourselves of emotional pain, Severance does the same. But who is serving who? Frequent Stiller collaborator Patricia Arquette plays a big role in the series as the intimidating, seemingly unstable, Harmony Coble, who has her fingers constantly stirring the pot, both inside and out of the office. Most of those in charge are severed, giving them ample opportunities to study their worker’s outside lives.
There is often a lot of black humor, and a lot of true heartfelt moments, especially in the portrayal of Mark S, and Irv (John Turturro) who suddenly has feelings for someone in another department Bert (Christopher Walken), and yet feels robbed simultaneously. It’s a see-saw of emotion. This series does that in a way that feels humanistic, And never false. It’s like we are watching a newborn struggle with emotions for the first time. This is all they know, and as a viewer we desperately want their world to expand. It is weirdly haunting, to a point I can’t stop contemplating what will occur next. I also found myself considering my own experience if I was in their shoes, and that’s a real tell of this series’ potential. As a combination of a psychological thriller, and a morbid comedy, amid a treasure trove of science-fiction components; Severance is a mind-bending delight.
I am not going to spoil where this series goes, because, much like a fortune cookie, the exploration is in the cracking of the shell and letting the answers come to you. So far, they’ve been intriguing, and with each episode, as the tension builds, I crave more.
I’ll say this, Severance is one of my favorite new series, and the clever and unique writing is fully distinguished in its provocative direction. These are some of the best performances I’ve seen from these stellar actors, and I can’t wait to see what is next. If this is just the first layer, count me in for the peeling.
Have you seen Severance? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Season one of Severance is currently streaming on Apple TV+
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