My Trauma Brain Won’t Let This Series About Workplace Proximity Dis-sociates Go
I’m glad that I didn’t catch on to Severance until after the entire first season aired in its entirety because Darren and I binged it.
I wouldn’t have wanted to wait.
The next day, we started watching it again. I’m also relieved that other than a two-sentence summary, I didn’t know all that much about the series going in.
Now, after that re-watch, I still can’t praise it enough. But for me to do that, I want to be sure I don’t spoil it.If you read any farther than the image below THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AFTER THIS IMAGE!
One of the reasons I love Severance so much is how well it portrays dissociative events, corporate life, and being raised by radical evangelicals. It excels at portraying the brain-numbing dissociation that can accompany life at large, impersonal corporations. I was hooked by the evocative opening, where a disembodied voice asks, ‘Who are you?’
Each moment after is an amazing, slow-burn masterwork of television.
The Story / The Writing
A writer who loves a good story? Whaaat?
Severance features strong story telling with intelligent writing and effective world-building. There are so many gratifying details that come out on subsequent viewings it’s truly hard to name them all, but off the top of my head:
How the the four tempers and nine principles are woven into everything about the series.
Why they change when they come to work (to eliminate the numbers on their watches, etc.)
The truly wonderful questions are the larger ones. What, exactly, are they doing — (not just Lumon, but the Master Data Refiners)? Is it something insidious using emotional cryptography, or is it busywork meant to tame stray questions? What’s under Miss Casey’s careful coif?
The Lexington Letter includes the employee handbook and interesting tale that answers some questions while raising others.
Every performance is amazing. They all deserved some sort of Emmy recognition.
It’s easy to get lost in the nuances of the performances of greats like Christopher Walken, and his Burt becomes more complex the more we get to know about him. And next to him, often physically, is John Turturro turning in a riveting performance as Irving.
Irving’s character is not only deliciously complex, but has a few mysteries attached. What was his outie doing with those lists? What do his lapses into sleep and his waking dreams indicate about Lumon’s technology? Is the admonishment from Kier not to fall asleep actually due to some flaw in the chip? Does that explain why Petey was singing “Enter Sandman?” But most importantly — Is Radar the best boy?
Patricia Arquette is shockingly good in every moment the camera finds her. From her composed yet seething with rage and disgust moments to those where she’s the unhinged true believer left adrift: she’s commanding of every moment she’s in. One of the things I find so amazing about her performance is that as someone raised in the world of evangelical Christians, she is playing someone I know all too well.
So, too, is Tramell Tillman who turns in one of my favorite performance of the whole thing so far. While he’s not given a lot of screen time, he’s playing a character I know well, too.His ability to be passively threatening, and to quietly carry the tools of utter psychological devastation — the friendly, smirking threat: he’s amazing at it. But the moment that made his performance my favorite came after Dylan bites him — the scared, raw elevation in his voice at his realization that he was vulnerable was an incredible crack in Milchick, and I can’t wait to see what’s there.
Our four macrodata refiners (don’t make me realize they might be related to the four tempers). Zach Cherry’s Dylan grew on me incredibly fast. As someone who worked in tech, I knew him — and that credits the writing and the actor. Watching as Dylan goes from sarcastic cube dweller to hero with killer delts (but missing a cape).
Being able to see most of them people as their ‘innie’ and ‘outie’ showed the actors’ range and capability as artists. I think I rewound Adam Scott’s time in the elevator 10 or 11 times to watch his facial features change between Mark S. and Mark Scout. All of them turned in nuanced, complex performances. His grief-stricken Mark Scout is relatable to many of us.
Britt Lower’s Helly fierce yet likable. Vulnerable but powerful. We spend the least amount of time with Helene Eagen for the reveal. Given Helly’s conversation with Helene’s dad — I’m hopeful to see Helene more to get a sense of just how dark this Eagan thing goes (and just what a ‘revolving’ is). Regardless of what Helene might be like, Helly R. is pretty spectacular.
Helly definitely makes me wonder how much of a person is nature vs. nurture with a Severance chip.
The Use of Liminal Spaces
Derived from the Latin for threshhold, limen, liminal spaces are spaces of transition. Places that are between the familiar and the unknown, the new and the old, the was and will be. They are transitional spaces. Hallways. Parking lots.
And does Severance ever deliver hallways.
So many hallways.
There’s a beatiful imgur album of some of them here.
The brilliant lighting work is on a different level throughout the show. In addition to changing a regular work space into a Music Dance Experience, brilliant moments with lighting pop up everywhere.
My personal favorite is the moment where Mark is sculpting clay with Ms. Casey / Gemma mere feet from him. Cobel watches. As the reveal that Mark was sculpting a tree happens, he fades in and out of the light of the frame. It’s a gorgeous use of light and shadow.
It’s not just suits. The colors worn by the characters, especially those in MDR, are often indicative of their state of mind.
The Props Department
The props department must have had a blast. First, for all of the clocks and watches and everything else that had to be entirely without numbers.
Then, all of the absolutely unhinged artwork. Don’t forget the employee handbooks, the retro feeling technology — the props department had their hands full! They delivered a world that feels both familiar and uncanny.
The cinematography is adept at echoing the feelings of loneliness and disillusionment.
The Details that Stick In Your Head
Ms. Selvig points out that one of the lights is out in Mark’s hall. When he goes out to find a lightbulb, he finds that red and green candle that Selvig later steals, and then it appears in Wellness.
The three beds and the liminal spaces and transition.
The question about Eagan’s breakfast there is another test that is clearly set up as Helly is being escorted to her appointment.
The Hales: Devon & Ricken
The Hales are great people. I want to be best friends with Devon. I want to support Ricken. Devon’s grounded, fierce, and funny. Ricken is so earnest and thoughtful of inner worlds it’s adorable. I can’t wait to see what happens when he finds out he’s inspired so many innies. I can’t wait to see what Devon will do to help Mark.
The whole thing really has me asking — am I livestock?