A woman wakes up on a table. She’s locked in a room, a room that looks like a boardroom. She’s disorientated. An intercom is on the desk and the voice coming from it is calm, continuously asking her to take a survey of just five questions.
She frantically does her best to get out of the room but is unable. Finally, she relents, takes the test. The first question is simple, should be simple, “who are you?”, but she doesn’t know, she can’t answer.
In fact, out of all five of the questions, the only one she can answer is to name any State in the US. She’s confused, frightened, then the door opens and Mark, Adam Scott (“Big Little Lies (TV)”, “Between Two Ferns: The Movie”), tells her that was a perfect score.
Step back and we see Mark outside the building, crying in his car. He calms down and enters before going down to the basement. He takes off his watch, takes out his wallet, anything personal, and places them in a locker before entering the lift.
As he goes up the lift his mood visibly changes, he’s not ecstatic suddenly, but he’s certainly in a better mood than he was previously. He steps out of the lift and walks effortlessly through a maze of white corridors; left, right, right, left and so on, seemingly forever.
He arrives at his desk, one of four, the only ones in a room that should have many more. Also in the room is Dylan, Zach Cherry (“Duncanville (TV)”, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”), and Irving, John Turturro (“Transformers: The Last Knight”, “The Name of the Rose (TV)”).
This is the Macro Data Refinement department of the Lumon company. As the trio are talking about the location of the fourth member of their department, their boss Petey, Milcheck, Tramell Tillman (“Godfather of Harlem (TV)”, “Dietland (TV)”), arrives and says Peggy / Ms Cobel, Patricia Arquette (“Boardwalk Empire (TV)”, “Boyhood”), wants to see Mark.
Mark is told Petey is no longer with the company and he will be replacing him as department chief, “a handshake is available on request”, he takes it. He’s then immediately sent to interview a new person and we see the other side of the conversation we kicked things off with.
Helly R, Britt Lower (“High Maintenance (TV)”, “Future Man (TV)”), is the woman in the room, his replacement, she injures him by throwing the intercom at his head. Eventually she finds out she has undergone Severance, the procedure of separating her memories between work and home.
Whilst on this floor at work, she will not remember anything of her life outside those walls and as soon as she leaves that area, she will not remember anything about what she’s done at work. One part of her is effectively always at work, the other is never at work.
Mark leaves for the night and finds a gift card on his car from the company informing him he slipped whilst at work, here’s a gift card for a local diner. As he’s leaving the car park he nearly runs Helly over, neither has any idea who the other is.
Mark’s sister Devon, Jen Tullock (“The Coop (TV)”, “Before You Know It”), takes him to dinner where we learn that the severance procedure is controversial, but we also learn that Mark is a widow and Devon thinks he agreed to the procedure to forget his deceased wife for eight hours a day.
Mark goes to dinner on his own, using the voucher from work he’s been given, he also has yet another call with his neighbour, Peggy / Ms Cobel, who is always putting her bins out on his side of the drive, then a stranger sits down opposite him.
The stranger knows him, it’s Petey, Yul Vazquez (“The Outsider (TV)”, “I Am the Night (TV)”), from work, of course, Mark has no idea who he is. Petey’s bypassed the severance chip in his head and tells Mark not all is what it appears at Lumon.
He hands him a card which has an address on the back. The card says if he wants to learn the truth, head to that address, if he doesn’t, he won’t force him. Petey thinks Lumon are out to kill him because of what he knows.
Mark is confused but doesn’t go to the address, instead he goes home and finds Ms Selvig outside, apologising about the bins, perhaps that’s not all she should be apologising for.
It’s a strong start for Severance. Created by Dan Erickson this episode, and most of the series, is direct by Ben Stiller (“Tropic Thunder”, “Zoolander”), who does wonderfully to keep the whole appearance of Lumon surreal and with an almost sixties vibe, whilst outside it’s more Stepford Wives, though cold, very cold.
I’m intrigued with Severance, it’s odd but in a good way, whilst things could still go either way, there’s some effort to keep the dark, subtle humour going for instance, I’m hoping it continues on this path.
18th February 2022
THE QUICK SELL
Set at Lumen Industries, where a "severance" program is used to separate the non-work memories of their employees from their work memories.
TV / STREAMING PLATFORM