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Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: ‘Severance’ is an interesting thought experiment from the mind of Dan Erickson

The show provides an example of how avoiding problems can backfire 


By RUMA POUDELL — arts@theaggie.org


Content warning: This article mentions suicide, which some readers may find distressing.  


Dan Erickson’s 2022 science-fiction and psychological-thriller TV series follows the lives of people who have surgically divided their brains into parts to separate professional work from personal life. “Severed” individuals essentially lead two lives — that within work and that outside of work.

Balancing life is the main driver behind the idea of severing oneself. Once individuals undergo the surgery, they no longer have to recollect what goes on in their work life when they are off duty, or, when working, who they are outside of work. 

This creative thought experiment poses an interesting question: would you want to be completely oblivious to parts of your life if it meant possibly enjoying each part more in the moment?

Personally, since work takes up such a big chunk of our lives, I wouldn’t want to remain unaware of what goes on there — especially if I don’t know what exactly it is that I’m doing. On the other hand, if you despise work or have a troubled home life, there may be a logical reason to become severed. For example, the series’ main character, Mark, became a severed worker in order to get a break from grieving the loss of his wife while on the job. 

The series begins with Mark training a newly hired and severed employee named Helly. She wakes up on a table discombobulated and soon realizes she doesn’t know who she is or what her name is. This is the beginning of her “innie’s” life — “innie” refers to the individual she is within work. 

Upon realizing that she is stuck at work for life, Helly’s innie immediately looks for a way out. She writes letters to her “outie” (the version of herself outside of work), relentlessly looks for an escape out of her job’s buildings and even attempts suicide. 

What I loved most about this show was its absolute eeriness — from the intro video, shots of characters trapped in buildings and experiencing their world melting, to an alarmingly bizarre dance of animal-headed strippers toward the end of the first season. 

As the show unfolds, we gain insight into each of the main severed employees as they slowly realize their lack of personal autonomy. This realization results in a struggle between boss and employees, but the struggle isn’t necessarily a physical, violent war. Instead, the severed employees devise a plan to connect with their outies, and viewers are left on the edge of their seats by the end of the season as they learn more about the lives of each character outside of their work. 

I remember the moment my jaw first dropped while watching the series — when Ms. Cobel, another prominent character on the show, realizes Mark’s innie has taken over. If you haven’t watched the series yet, there are plenty of jaw-dropping moments like this to digest in its short, nine-episode runtime. 

The most important takeaway from the show is that severing one area of life from another won’t necessarily serve as a repellent for problems that arise in each respective area. “Severance” has been confirmed for a second season, so now is a good time to begin watching if you haven’t already.


Written by: Ruma Poudell — arts@theaggie.org