One of Apple TV+’s newest shows, Severance, is quite possibly the most compelling mystery show in years. The show follows workers at a mysterious corporation called Lumon who have undergone Lumon’s Severance Procedure: while at work, they can’t access any memories of their personal lives, and at home, they have no recollection of what goes on inside their office. Over the course of the season, however, the workers from the Macro Data Refinement division begin to question Lumon’s mysterious motives and set out to find the sinister truth.
Severance handles its multitude of mysteries excellently. The workers aren’t fully sure what it is that they do and are restricted from other departments. The show does an excellent job of compartmentalizing its mysteries, so the whole time the audience feels baffled, yet not overwhelmed. Since Lost, there may not have been a thriller show as exciting and enigmatic as Severance.
The show’s pacing is absolutely marvelous. Throughout the ten-episode season, the tension slowly but surely increases as we become more and more attached to the shows protagonists. By the time the tension finally releases, the audience has been sucked into the world of the show completely. The season finale feels less like an episode of television and more like a thoroughly enjoyable heart attack.
Needless to say, Severance’s scriptwriting is excellent. Although it’s tense and troubling, the show is at its core a satire on work-life balance, and the writers sprinkle in delightfully dry jokes that contribute to the show’s off-kilter tone. When the Macro Data department reaches its quarterly quota, they are rewarded with a “Music Dance Experience.” They choose a music genre (our protagonists decided on Defiant Jazz), and colorful lights turn on in place of the office’s usual dull lighting. For the next three minutes, we simply watch as all of our main characters dance, and, like many of the jokes in Severance, it is both hilarious and absolutely terrifying.
The production design and cinematography are major elements of Severance that sets it apart from other shows. The office building is filled with fluorescent lights and white walls. The corridors seem to go on forever; a web of identical hallways that never end. The Macro Data Refinement office is a large room, with four desks placed in the center, and empty space filling the rest. It’s haunting. The smooth, symmetrical cinematography makes it seem even more eerie. All of the shots are beautifully composed and carefully thought out. Even the Emmy-winning opening theme sequence is mesmerizing, a surreal stop-motion intro set to the excellent score composed by Theodore Shapiro.
The performances in Severance are notably excellent, and the characters all feel so richly detailed and flawed. Adam Scott stars as Mark, the head of the department, who is the first to suspect something is awry. Britt Lower steals the show immediately as Helly, the newest member of the department, who is wary of Lumon and their shadowy business. Zach Cherry lends comedic relief as Dylan, another data refiner. Tramell Tillman also excels as department supervisor Mr. Milchick with veiled intimidation, reminiscent of Giancarlo Esposito in Breaking Bad. Plus, if you were thinking this show was missing a great romance, look no further than Bert and Irving, played by Christopher Walken and John Turturro. Making these two iconic actors fall in love is the best casting choice on the show, as their relationship becomes a bright spot in the darkness of the show.
Severance is an excellent show, while fulfilling everything it set out to achieve: excellent writing, beautiful performances, remarkable visuals, and a fantastic build of tension. If you want a new TV show that you can analyze for easter eggs and hidden secrets, make wild fan theories about, and get fully immersed in, look no further than Severance.