What if there was a way to permanently quit your job at work and live your life without professional worries?
On “Severance,” the new Apple TV+ series that concluded its first season this week, it’s the promise Lumon offers to its “separated” employees who agree to surgically share their memories between their work and personal lives, in the framework of their employment. Contract.
For Lumon, the breakup is a nondisclosure agreement taken to new extremes. As soon as separated employees step out of a Lumon elevator, they have no memory of who they are working on or what they are working on.
The show follows Mark, played by Adam Scott, who is a lonely man mourning the loss of his wife at home, while at work he is an obedient company man leading the separate Macrodata refinement team. by Lumon. For Mark, working for Lumon is an eight-hour reprieve where he isn’t haunted by his grief. His “innie,” as Lumon’s management calls his work side, knows no family and sees no one but co-workers. He doesn’t know what sleep is like. “I find it helpful to focus on the effects of sleep since we don’t experience them,” Mark tries to reassure his new direct report. It’s dark.
All the separated Mark knows of the world is the windowless building he works in, and for the most part he has made peace with the arrangement.
Innie Mark is more confident than his grief-stricken outie. He walks straighter and repeats sayings from the company handbook, like “work is mysterious and important,” without irony.
But as the season progresses, we see laid-off employees who aren’t willing to work forever just for the reward of a quarterly waffle party. And that’s where “Severance” shines for highlighting just how ridiculous and inhumane workplace culture can be.
“Severance pay” skewers familiarized the language and benefits of the company.
One part that “Severance” nails is how business language can get twisted to the point where the words mean nothing. Mark and his team are all working in “Macrodata Refinement”, and even after watching the finale, I’m no closer to understanding what exactly is being refined.
At Lumon, obtuse business language is also a euphemism for corporate misdeeds. Jhe break room is actually a detention center designed to break employee morale. An “overtime contingency” mechanism is a sinister monitoring tool that violates employee privacy.
Lumon’s cut floor is really where the show pokes fun at the company’s sad perks. Irving, the most experienced macro data refiner (played wonderfully by John Turturro), remembers a time when employees were enticed with coffee cream. Dylan, another refiner, is thrilled with the finger trap puzzle and cartoon caricatures he earns for completing a task. When an employee earns an MDE, it’s a five-minute musical dance experience where an employee can choose a song and boogie around their desk.
When that’s all the stimulus your mind experiences, even a brief hip-shaking dance to “defiant jazz” with your evil manager can feel like a break from the drudgery and horror of endless toil.
“Severance” turns work-life balance advice on its head.
“Don’t live to work. Work for a living” is the business slogan printed on Lumon’s starting chip. Lumon’s girlbos public spokesperson (Sydney Cole Alexander) describes the split as a way to put “the human” first. It’s a perverse interpretation of work-life balance.
When Helly (Britt Lower), Lumon’s new intern, is on board, we see the human sacrifices that make a life without work troubles possible. After Helly suffers severance pay, she wakes up on a conference table, not knowing where she is or who she is. When she realizes that her life will now be spent endlessly on a computer, she has a reasonable response: “I quit. I don’t want to sort through files or never see the sun.“
Mark tries to reassure her with the facts of their employment: “Every time you end up here, it’s because you chose to come back.” But Helly refuses to accept that it’s her life and sends numerous quit requests to her ex.
Helly’s refusal to work the job escalates to a point where Innie Helly threatens to cut off her fingers with a paper knife unless her outie lets her quit. Through a video message to innie Helly, his counterpart dictates the law of his existence. Outie Helly says she understands her job can be miserable, but that’s the lot she was given.
“I’m a person. You’re not. I make the decisions. You don’t. And if you ever do anything to my fingertips, know that I’ll keep you horribly alive only to regret it,” he continues firmly. and coldly Outer Helly. “Your request to resign is denied.”
This is where the series manages to use Helly’s bizarre battle with itself to address a familiar professional conundrum: what’s the ideal line to draw between work and the rest of your life?
It’s normal to act differently at work than in the privacy of your home. Researchers call people who draw difficult boundaries between work and life “extreme segmenters.” Segmenters separate work and home through objects ― for example, by having separate calendars, uniforms, or keys for each location or activity. Segmenters love to end their work day at the same time every day. “Integrators,” on the other hand, are workers, according to the researchers, who prefer everything to be intertwined and don’t need hard lines between start and start of work. Integrators don’t mind taking an hour break for lunch and then getting back to work.
Preferred workstyle researchers have found that it doesn’t matter if you’re an integrator or a segmenter, you still need downtime. “Severance” shows the fallout of what happens when “extreme segmenters” get no break.
To achieve true post-work recovery, researchers have found that you need detachment from work, relaxation, time to gain a sense of mastery over a skill, or time to do what you want. The tragedy of every laid-off worker is that they have no time to recover.
Take Mark. During weekends away from Lumon, he drinks and isolates himself from loved ones, and this affects his work. His body records what his mind tries to forget. As ex-colleague Petey shares with outie Mark, he could always tell when Mark spent the morning before work crying, “You carry the pain with you. You feel it there too. You just don’t know what it is.
The most gruesome parts of “Severance” remind me of the movie “Sleep Dealer,” which is also a dystopian workplace nightmare. “Sleep Dealer” follows a Mexican man named Memo who works in a “work node” where employees must have cyber implants implanted. While his body is in stasis in a factory, Memo’s cyberarms virtually power robots building skyscrapers and robots mowing lawns in America. As one character in the film puts it, “We’re giving America what it’s always wanted: all the labor without the workers.”
No spoilers for the ‘Severance’ finale, but what the sci-fi thriller, as well as movies like ‘Sleep Dealer’, do best is show the inhumanity of bosses forcing workers to work. regardless of their human needs. Luckily, even when companies do their best to bring workers into compliance, there are still parts of humanity that will still rebel and harbor dreams of self-reliance and true rest. The body remembers.