Severance Review


Jack Armstrong, Staff Writer

What if every time you walked into University School, you forgot everything about yourself and the world around you outside of school. What if you took Dr. Foulds’ Civil War elective class and every time you walked out of the building, you not only forgot everything that you learned in that class but also have no recollection of who Dr. Foulds is. What if every time you walked into US at 8am for assembly, you immediately woke up at 3:20pm as you walked to your car to go back home, not knowing anyone or anything that happened inside.


This is the premise of the (not-so) new Apple TV original series, Severance.


As someone who struggles to watch through shows, I never thought I would ever feel motivated to watch Ben Stiller’s new psychological thriller series, Severance. Sure, shows like The Rehearsal and Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared will capture my attention and inspire me to write reviews about them. However, I have trouble focusing on shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Better Call Saul because of the length of both episodes and seasons. Hence why I usually turn to watching movies because of their “easier-to-digest” nature of being only two to three hours long. But when my dad came to visit from Indiana for winter break, he was raving about this show, forcing my two friends and I to watch the first two episodes the night that they arrived. I was a little apprehensive at first, as I am with all shows, not because of the premise or story, but because of the fact that it was a show. Yet, I put those thoughts aside for a moment to watch the first episode. Then I watched another. Then another. Then another. Then I finished the series. Severance is yet another one of those shows that kept my eyes completely glued to the screen.


In a world much like our own, Lumon is a company that has developed a way for its employees to separate their “work-selves” from their “personal-selves” through surgery. The “outie” is the person living on the outside of Lumon, remembering all their personal struggles, relationships, getting to work, and leaving work. While the “innie” is the person who every day wakes up inside of an elevator, prepared to work every single day. They don’t experience sleep, rather, they experience the feeling of their “outie” sleeping before arriving at work. They don’t go outside because that pleasure is left to the “outie.” But on the flip side, the “outie” has no idea what happens inside Lumon or who anybody is. A Lumon employee could walk right by him in the outside world and he wouldn’t even bat an eye. Two consciousnesses, two ways of living. One is content, one is not. Our protagonist, Mark Scout (played by Adam Scott) chooses to work at the company because he wants to escape personal trauma that he experienced in the outside world. But the motivations of other characters like Helly (Britt Lower), Dylan (Zach Cherry), and Irving (John Tuturro) remain a mystery. As the season progresses, twists, turns, reveals, and surrealism ensues as the “innies” and “outies” try to figure out what it is they are working on at Lumon.


This is as far as I want to describe because that would ruin the eerie and eye-catching experience that you should have while watching this show. I will say that the clues and mysteries that this show drops throughout several times over the course of the series kept me engaged. While not every question is answered, it didn’t make me frustrated because I knew that they would either address it in the future or the question isn’t necessarily supposed to be answered. Yet, one of the biggest surprises of this show that I had was the fact that this show was primarily conceptualized by Ben Stiller.


Being known for his comedy work in films like Zoolander, Night of the Museum, and Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller has a lot of work as a director as well! Films like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and even Tropic Thunder are directed by Stiller, much to my surprise! Though I have heard mixed things about these films, he has proven himself as a creative visionary that can not only be funny, but create provocative social commentary in his art as well. So after being in awe at the end of the first episode and the credits stated “Directed by Ben Stiller,” I was surprised but, at the same time, I was not. This is not saying I felt that Ben Stiller was incapable of making something like this, but Severance is the most “un-Ben Stiller” project that I would expect him to make. This is not a comedy and the world-building is definitely the most ambitious I have heard from a project by Stiller. But it is through the brilliance of both Stiller and the actors in this show that really makes it one to remember.

Adam Scott easily gives not only the best performance in this show, but a career-defining one. I was only familiar with his work in Parks and Recreation, which is a comedy show. So seeing this guy who I know for cracking one-liners and telling jokes go on to give one of my favorite performances in a television show was something that was refreshing! Scott has the added challenge of playing “Innie Mark” and “Outie Mark” who, despite sharing the same body, are two completely different, yet nuanced characters if the actor plays their cards right. Scott nails both versions of Mark and was personally my choice for the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Series (even though I haven’t seen any of the other entries). The supporting actors all did a great job as well! The main crew, portrayed by Britt Lower, Zach Cherry, and John Tuturro, are all very well written characters with actors that truly make them alive. The supporting roles filled by people like Christopher Walken, Patricia Arquette, and Dichen Lachman are brilliant as well! However, in my opinion, the actor that I feel is not given enough credit is Tramell Tillman as Mr. Milchick. He gives an eerie, cold, and ominous performance that clearly stands out among the rest of the cast. I am very surprised that he was not nominated for any awards for his acting. He was absolutely brilliant.


The production design of this series is also something to behold. I was very impressed with the cinematography and the set design especially in this series. The offices of Lumon are all grand, yet empty. Huge rooms are complemented by small desks with small computers and small chairs. But alongside the massive wide shots in cinematography, it really makes the audience feel like they are both truly alone in this building and like anything could be around the corner. It’s a very effective use of camera work.


Especially because season 2 has begun production, I highly recommend you watch Severance in preparation for the continuation of the story! Seeing as how the show is only in its first season with around eight, 48 minute episodes, watching it should take no time at all! With the stress of college decisions happening around now, Severance, while it’s not a comedy and requires a degree of focus, is a show that is a great way to distract yourself with some engaging mysteries and amazing cliffhangers.