The most severe method of achieving Work-Life Harmony
True work-life balance is as difficult to get as inbox zero. It’s so difficult that the people in Severance go to great lengths to achieve it: brain surgery. The show’s title is derived from a medical operation in which a person’s brain is basically cut in two, resulting in two distinct people: one for work and one for home life. As a result, the show resembles a combination between Black Mirror and The IT Crowd, delving into the horrors of capitalism and technology with a banal sense of humour.
Lumon Industries, an Amazon-style megacorporation that dabbles in a little bit of everything, is at the heart of the plot. Early on, one character wonders, “What don’t they make?” This implies that there will be a large number of sensitive documents to sort through. Instead of an NDA, the company uses a method known as severance, in which access to someone’s memories is “spatially dictated.” Essentially, your memories are linked to a specific location. What happens in Lumon headquarters’ records department stays there.
It may appear to be an unusual way of splitting your life, with job problems remaining at work so you can concentrate on the rest. In practice, the surgery generates two minds in the same body: one that lives a regular life and the other that is locked in a terrible existence where they are unable to leave the office. And the two are unable to communicate with each other.
Helly (Britt Lower), a new Lumon Recruit who wakes up on a conference table with no knowledge of where she is or how she got there, is your first introduction to how this plays out. As her new manager, Mark (Adam Scott), begins to probe her, she discovers she has no recollection of anything. Not even her name was mentioned. And everyone in her department is in the same boat; the only life they’ve ever known is the one they’ve had inside the office.
The show accomplishes the greatest in portraying how twisted up things are for the folks trapped in the office. Consider this: they do not experience all of the positive aspects of their day. They don’t even get enough sleep.
They leave the office for a fraction of a second and return the next. Mark claims to be able to sense the affects of sleeping, but none of them have personally experienced it. Life is nothing but endless toil – a never-ending torment within the confines of a cubicle. Worse, they don’t have a say in whether or not they stay. The only way to leave is to make a request to their other self, but since that self has no idea how horrible things are at work, the answer is always no.
Lumon attempts to paint a naive optimism over this nightmarish circumstance. Employees become enthralled by the prospect of a melon party and work diligently in order to have caricatures drawn of themselves. (This work entails a Minesweeper-style file system for encrypted data, in which workers must locate the “scary” numbers in a spreadsheet, which they accomplish on deliciously futuristic machines that wouldn’t be out of place in Loki.) Negativity is not tolerated, and handshakes can be requested.
The Real Tension of Severance comes when Mark’s two lives start to converge, and his real-world persona is confronted with the realities of Lumon and the procedure’s impact. It’s too early to tell if that storyline will carry the show for an entire nine-episode-long season. But the way the show explores its core conceit with such detail and seriousness has helped it get off to a great start and made me realize that I should probably clock out on time more often.