You Really Should Be Watching Severance

Good afternoon. It is I Gigi the parti poodle here once again and I know you are missing me. I am diligently working on the groundwork for my new story coming out in June. As you know, my novelist is briefly taking over to discuss some television shows and movies to keep you entertained while I am on hiatus.

The weather around here has been erratic. We have gotten rain, sun, and winds. Our May month is often a lovely time here in the pacific northwest but this year it has been a weather dragon. Personally, I blame the Maltese. He in no way controls the weather but I blame him anyway. I occasionally have gone on walks on the sunnier days so not all is lost. However, I would like it if I could sunbathe in front of the window more often. Even as I write this, I see the grey clouds rolling in. How can I work on my hair color this way? I must look incredible to prepare for all the neighborhood summer gatherings. Even those infernal nocturnal cats will make fun of my less than bleached locks. You can’t begin to imagine how catty those felines can be. Again, I blame the Maltese and his natural platinum hair. Anyway, here is my novelist.   

You Really Should Be Watching Severance

Not only is Severance (Apple TV+) the best new show on television, but if it keeps up the pace of its freshman season it might have a chance of being one of the best of all time. Loosely though not admittedly based on the novella Paycheck by Philip K. Dick which was made into the film of the same name, employees of the Lumon corporation agree to have their brain “severed” to maintain a work life balance. What happens at work stays at work and what happens at home stays at home. The price they pay, however, is their memories. The procedure Lumon does to its employees separates them into two different people: their innie and their outie. Their innie knows nothing about their personal life and their outie knows nothing about their work life. The memories of each of these remains separate.

Mark S. (fantastically played by Adam Scott) has a reason for his choice to work at Lumon. He has suffered a horrific tragedy and to function properly at work he chose two years ago to undergo “the procedure” (two years, by the way, is the same amount of time it took the lead character Jennings in Paycheck to fulfill his contract at the Rethrick Construction Company). His sister Devon (Jen Tullock) is about to have her baby, his brother-in-law Ricken (Michael Chernes) has just published a self-help book called The You You Are, and life is going along as normal…until one day Mark’s manager Petey (Yul Vasquez) suddenly no longer works for the company.

Mark S. is promoted to Petey’s position. Newcomer Helly R. (wonderfully played by Britt Lower) an unhappy and rebellious young thirty-something finds herself waking up on a conference table, employed by Lumon, and inducted into Mark’s team. In addition to Mark S. and Helly R., the team also includes fastidious Irving (John Turturo) and reward driven Dylan (Zach Cherry). Overlording Mark’s team is Harmony Cobel (a wonderfully wicked performance by Patricia Arquette) and her always professional henchman Mr. Milchick (Tramell Tillman).

At Lumon the rooms are stark and nearly empty, the exit doors lead right back in if you try to leave, and once in a great while a stranger from another department shows up like Burt (Christopher Walken) who works for Optics & Design. The only way in and out of the place (for most employees) is through the elevator.

One night, Petey shows up and meets Mark S.’s outie at a diner. Petey says he has found a way to reverse the procedure, de-sever, and regain all his work memories. Mark’s outie does not recognize Petey despite Petey’s insistence that he is Mark’s best friend. Just the same, Mark agrees to hide him in his basement and after their initial encounter, Mark starts to question whether his decision to work at Lumon was the wisest choice after all.

Ben Stiller’s direction is amazing here capturing both a Twilight Zone and Kubrickian atmosphere as he brings creator Dan Erickson’s nightmarish take on corporate culture to life. Theodore Shapiro’s original score is both haunting and infectious. Oliver Latta’s opening credits alone are Emmy worthy with a fantastic animation sequence you do not want to miss.

That said, science fiction is a very tricky genre. A good science fiction writer has a solid understanding of science (see for example playwright and novelist Paul Zindel). As Isacc Asimov said, “Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.” In other words, it is a niche group who can write science fiction well. A strategic-thinking group. Many writers are idealists and often give into emotion over logic. This leads me to say there was one flaw in Severance which is the final scene of the final episode. And I am being rather picky here but when I saw it, I knew something was off.

I thought about it overnight and realized the fault lay in selecting an emotional choice over a thinking choice. So, let’s say you have a fantasy movie like Ghost. The movie from the get-go is based on emotions. When we get to the final scene the right choice is to make it emotional. And it is emotional because it’s the tone the writer set up from the beginning. But with a science fiction movie like The Terminator, we are not dealing with emotions, we are dealing with a problem to be solved. How do the characters keep a killing machine from destroying the woman who will give birth to a human redeemer? The protagonist and her fairy godmother character are required to strategize. Are there emotions in The Terminator? Absolutely and critically. But the main thrust of the story is to leave the audience thinking not feeling. The ending therefore works because the characters make rational choices and because science fiction characters are often designed to be rational or tactical. Or as this article says, “More than any other genre, we’d argue, the protagonists in science fiction cinema are divided along two lines: those of intellect and those of action.”  

Some years back I was in the studio audience of a television show which had won a wheelbarrow full of awards and rightly so. However, they had two endings to the episode I saw taped. One was verbose, much like the last scene in Severance and the other was covert. Guess which one they went with? That’s right, the wrong one. This goes to show even the crem de la crem can make a misstep. Had the Severance creators taken the time to watch expert science fiction filmmaker Christopher Nolen’s Memento, they would know that under time constraints one should accurately write down or somehow record pertinent information. Get one’s thoughts together as opposed to expressing one’s emotions. Another film that extols the importance of recording information is Scott Frank’s The Lookout where if you want to know where a story is going, and you are a person whose brain cannot be trusted, you write the story down by starting at the end and working your way back to the beginning.

The Severance character I’m referring to in the final scene is a thinker and recorded information is set up to be very important to them. By that rational, that character would have accurately recorded the information they received at the end of the final episode in one form or another. Doing so would parallel with the importance of how the keycard is handled in Defiant Jazz, Episode 1.7 and what one of the characters writes on their arm in In Perpetuity, Episode 1.3. Even though another character tells the character in Episode 1.3 what they have written on their arm won’t work under the circumstances, in Episode 1.9 The We We Are recorded information will work because the circumstances have changed. That’s why the character recording the information in the season finale would have made sense, despite the dialog about finding someone you trust in Episode 1.8 What’s for Dinner? Even if this character trusted someone, they would be rational enough to record the information themselves to maintain its accuracy whether they were under duress or not. When you watch the show, you will understand what I mean.

If you want to watch a season of a show that sets all its ducks up perfectly (a lead rational character albeit not a science fiction show) see season two of Breaking Bad and watch how the teddy bear weaves its way through various episodes until the final moment of the final episode leaving no question that the ending is justified and correct.   


You can check out my books Chicane and the five installments in my Musicology book series Musicology: Volume One, Baby!Musicology: Volume Two, Kid!Musicology: Volume Three, Twist!Musicology: Volume Four, Sweetie! and Musicology: The Epiquad on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback editions. You can also check out Musicology’s web site at and vote for who you think will win Musicology!!!


Similar in tone to Severance is Netflix’s excellent limited series Maniac. The show is loosely based on the 2015 Norwegian show also called Maniac. This is a fantastic mind bender about a schizophrenic young man named Owen Milgram (Jonah Hill) who cannot seem to fit into his wealthy family and agrees to be a subject in a pharmaceutical trial for the Neberdine Pharmaceutical Biotech (NPB) company. Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone), a plucky young woman with borderline personality disorder, is desperate to join the trial to gain access to drugs and silence the demons of her very troubled past. The purpose of the trial: to take first the A then the B then the C pills provided you and let the computer track your dreams as the scientists take notes.

After the unexpected death of the pharmaceutical trial’s lead scientist Dr. Robert Muramoto (Rome Kanda), Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux) who was originally thrown off the project is asked by his former girlfriend Dr. Azumi Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno) to return to head the project. Mantleray has psychological issues stemming from his unbalanced relationship with his mother Dr. Greta Mantleray (Sally Field) a famous pop psychologist whom Mantleray must call in to assist with helping his peculiar computer.

The show, much like Severance, does an excellent job of balancing comedy, drama and science fiction weaving technology of the past with technology of the present and future. The dreamscape storylines are magnificently imaginative, and all the characters are vivid. A great show if you’re looking for a summer binge.     

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