Severance: A Disquieting Science Fiction Tale

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Severance Has A Lot Of Things Happening At Once

Much has been said, no doubt, about the social satire inherent to Severance. It’s the most immediate aspect of the show—and only continues to become more aggressive as the series continues. But I am not the reviewer to talk about its accuracy to either the feelings inherent to such a type of work or the setting’s accuracy. I’m a professional writer. I don’t work in corporate settings—and have never worked in a corporate setting. Go to other reviewers for that perspective.

But the thing about Severance is that it contains way more than just social satire. It’s also an excellent science fiction show, horror show, and thriller. By all metrics, this series manages to blend all of that with almost no issues. So, it only seems fitting to give each of those genres their dues.

First off is the science fiction premise. In case you don’t know: the basic idea of Severance is workers at this company (and throughout the world, apparently) can be “severed.” This means that they essentially become two people sharing a body who cannot remember each other. The person in the office does not recall or even perceive any time spent outside the office—and the person, when not working, has no idea what happens inside the office. And I’m sure somewhere, this sci-fi idea of dual perceptions has been used before, but I’ve never seen quite this twist on it. It operates like a combination of memory alteration and time travel.

Severance Grabs Your Attention With Strong Ideas

And within the three episodes I watched for this review, the implications of being “severed” only get more disturbing. Sometimes, this is openly acknowledged, like how characters mention that they have no way of knowing what happens to someone if they don’t show up for work or how injuries sustained in the ruthless environment of the work area persist to the other version’s bodies. We, the audience, get to witness the switch—but there’s an even more terrifying version of this show that could’ve existed where we never leave the office environment.

This is why I said Severance functions as a horror story. An absurdist horror story, to be precise. Lots of scenes are weird, seemingly for the sake of being weird. There’s a motif about black ooze crawling out of things. One character’s mind is so temporally fractured that we get harsh edits, cutting between locations and points on the timeline. A scene in the “Wellness Center” operates on such an arbitrary rule set that it almost swings around to being comedic. But it’s not always like that. I often got mildly annoyed by how slow scenes progressed. The camera lingers way longer than you’d expect on things like cleaning gutters. But the compound effect is inarguable—the combination increasing the effectiveness of both.

Severance

The Strange Pacing Increases The Off-Putting Tone

And then there’s the thriller aspect. A genre addition that I suspect mostly functions to give the plot forward trajectory. Without it, Severance would make for an amazing—but probably overwhelmingly bleak—movie. As a show, we need something besides sitting in the uncomfortable reality of these doomed workers to carry hours of television. Thus, we have a conspiracy thriller with a twist: how do you send information to yourself? How do you protect yourself when you only know what’s happening half the time? What sort of business needs this level of secrecy? Severance deliberately obfuscates huge amounts of information from us and the characters, and these mysteries easily keep you in the story. I don’t know if the answers could possibly be interesting enough to be worth it, but sans that knowledge, I’m completely intrigued. I don’t often continue shows past reviewing them—but Severance seems worth it.

But is there anything to complain about yet—only knowing what I know in three episodes? Well, mainly just one thing. And that’s the first episode spends far too much time explaining the premise—basically doing so a second time through a blatant exposition scene—but doesn’t explain the wider world’s reactions to it much. I understand that might be later in the series, but that’s a lot of wasted time. I was already invested. The concept is already so interesting. They could’ve just gotten going.

But, uh, that’s about all my complaints. This is an amazingly good show. Severance has incredible acting from literally the entire cast, with tiny vocal inflections and facial motions that tell you worlds of information. It’s also wonderfully edited, the camera work is fantastic, and the soundtrack loves to mess with you in creative ways. Severance will stick with you long after you watch it, and is one of the most unique shows I’ve seen in a long time.

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