Everything in Severance is just a little bit off. In the Apple TV+ thriller, we’re introduced to the corporate cult of Lumon, where a team of employees led by Mark (Adam Scott) have had chips implanted in their brains that partition off their memories between their personal and professional lives.
It may seem like a simple way to ensure work-life balance (or escape from grief for eight hours a day, if you’re Mark), but the severed workers come to find out that Lumon has trapped them in a sinister conspiracy. Beyond the sci-fi intrigue of this premise, the show amps up the mystery with its deliberately distressing aesthetic, where a typical midcentury modern office takes on an ominous twist.
Each episode adds a new layer to the unsettling environment, whether it’s a trek through endless identical hallways that leads to a room full of baby goats or a sudden death by baseball bat. In the eighth episode, it’s revealed that the waffle party reward for strong end-of-quarter performance is more about roleplaying Lumon founder Kier Eagan in an Eyes Wide Shut-like ritual than it is about having breakfast for dinner.
In an interview with Culture Study, Severance creator Dan Erickson revealed that his original vision for the Lumon office was even more disconcerting.
“...when [director] Ben [Stiller] and I first started talking about the show, the original version of the script was much more Brazil,” he said. “It was much more heightened and strange, and at one point in the script I remember there was a pair of disembodied legs that runs by in the background and their characters are all like, ‘What the hell was that?’”
This is a show where John Turturro is constantly hallucinating black goo oozing out of his keyboard, so sure, that seems like something that would freak these characters out!
“If you can believe it, we took down the weirdness of the show,” Erickson continued. “Ben fell in love with the part of the show that was this weird human sadness of a person who would willingly do this to himself. Like what would make you want to experience less time on Earth? How bad would things have become?”
Severance is still plenty weird, and while the specificity of the world-building is definitely part of the appeal, the strength of the characters and the emphasis on human connection are what’s earned the show a devoted fanbase. The season finale will be available on Apple TV+ on April 8, and a second season was just announced.