Why Severance is one of the best TV shows

Why Severance is one of the best TV shows

Enlarge / Helly R. wakes up in “innie”.

Breakupwhich recently wrapped its first season on Apple TV+, explores a world in which people can really separate their work and personal life. Thanks to a new procedure developed by Lumon Industries, people can divide themselves into “innies” (work months) and “outies” (personal months) – without sharing memories. It appeals to people like Mark, who lost his wife in a car accident and struggled to get over his grief. Why not forget about all that pain for eight hours a day?

Mark works at Lumon’s “separate floor”, a place that makes your own office, no matter how bad, look like Disney World. But Mark likes it. Or think he likes that. In the meantime, as viewers, we have some concerns. What is it, for example, in reality Do all day for Lumon? What’s up with the creepy cult vibe everywhere? What happened to his buddy Petey? And why are people so excited about waffle parties?

If you think this sounds like the setup of a corporate sci-fi dystopia, you’re not mistaken. Breakup made terrific television from its premise. Directed by Ben Stiller, the show is funny, absurd, depressing, mysterious, visually distinct and ultimately propulsive. Each episode picks up speed, from the slow start to the heartbreaking finale, making it one of the best things we’ve seen so far in 2022. Here’s why.

(Some minor spoilers below)

Beauty in the midst of banality

Breakup pulls off a clever trick: transforming windowless offices, fluorescent lighting, corporate furniture, break rooms, stairs, elevators and antiseptic white hallways into something that ranges from mundane to menacing to – dare I dare to say it? – wonderful.

The banality is quite clear. Lumon workers are encouraged with ridiculous corporate “perks” like finger traps and waffle parties, even as they work in absurdly empty spaces. Workers respond to middle managers who never seem fully human, even when they ask people to show “benevolent eyes” to others. What about the food that comes out of the vending machine – shriveled raisins, anyone? – is unappetizing at best. The team’s collective work may be “mysterious and important,” as one character puts it, but it’s an article of faith. To the viewer, work looks like boredom.

Then comes the threat superimposed on the banality. We meet Helly R. in a normal conference room, but in which she is locked, lying on the table and spoken by a disembodied voice. We hear hints of interdepartmental violence and are treated to strange and cult sayings from the “Manual”. A character suffers from disturbing hallucinations. A letter opener is repurposed as a menacing weapon. The company has a mysterious plan to do… something. The break room is a really bad place. So Breakup takes its place in a long line of corporate dystopias.

But amidst the threat, we also sense a growing sense of wonder. The Labyrinth Basement is a maze that Lumon has forbidden its employees to map. Why? We do not know. But we follow our team of lovable Lumon losers as they, like growing toddlers, stray farther than their guardians allow. Our team discovers new things. They find other departments, with the suspicion of many more waiting to be revealed. They explore a bizarre Perpetuity Wing. They find, uh, baby bottle-fed quadrupeds (not to spoil too much). Lumon may be spooky, but its people always react to beauty when they find it, like Burt and Irving do in the Plant Room.

Amidst all the labyrinthine mysteries, our team begins to make connections between departments, between inner and outer selves, with each other. People grow, thanks in part to a ridiculous self-help book that hits the cut floor. Families, lovers and children are becoming more and more important.

Breakup is a parody of office. It’s a story of corporate dystopia and evil plans. But it’s also a show about healing, empathy, new life, and emotional growth in unpromising conditions. The combination of all these elements gives the show its particular impact.

—Nate Anderson, Associate Editor

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