Review: ‘Severance’ is a Strikingly Thoughtful Meditation on How Work Functions as Prison

If freedom means having control over your own life, then most of us are profoundly unfree at the very least from 9 to 5 weekdays. Workers give up the right to set their own schedule; they give up the right to decide where and how to spend their time; they even give up the right for the most part to say what they think. 

Supposedly, it’s all worth it because you get paid to let someone else tell you when you can eat and which websites you’re allowed to visit, and because you chose to trade the bulk of your precious hours on earth for a bag of groceries and, if you’re lucky, the occasional motor vehicle. But even if you “freely” decided to discard your freedom, you’re still not exactly free.

The new Apple TV+ show Severance is a strikingly thoughtful meditation on the way that work functions as a prison. Created by Dan Erickson and directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife Mcardle, the nine-episode thriller is set in a Black Mirror-esque near future. 

Lumon Industries has made great strides in brain memory research. They’ve used their tech for workplace security via a “severance” process. People who work in sensitive jobs at Lumon are essentially split into two different people, one of whom has all the memories of their time outside work (such as childhoods, families, relationships) and one of whom remembers…well, only work. 

The office is the only place they really live. For the “outies,” who can’t remember and don’t have to worry about work, the severance process can have a number of benefits. Mark (Adam Scott) lost his wife in a car accident; the grief left him unable to work at his college teaching job.

Erasing his memories allows him to make money and to literally forget his troubles for a while.