Severance Is A Brilliant Spin On A Familiar Existential Nightmare
The question of what humanity or the mind really is has fueled science fiction and horror films for decades
Enter the new AppleTV+ show, Severance.
There are no clones, robots, cyborgs, or other created humans in Severance to discuss the nature of humanity. There are no flying cars, no amusement parks where rich assholes can live out their worst fantasies. Instead, there is just a company – Lumon – and its employees that exist in a world that could be here and now, in 2022, with just one key difference. At Lumon, employees can voluntarily undergo a surgical procedure called — wait — severance pay. Rupture is the act of implanting a “spatially controlled” microchip into a person’s brain, which literally splits their consciousness into two separate and unique halves, one of which is active while the person is in Lumon’s territory, and the other is active everywhere.
In the first episode of Breaking Up, we meet Helly R. (Britt Lower) who has just woken up in Lumon territory after going through the firing process. Except that she naturally doesn’t remember ever agreeing to it. We understand that this is part of the process – this version of Helly, the working version, is brand new. She retained some knowledge, she knows how to speak, and that the state of Delaware exists, but her memories of her family, her life up to this point, all her hopes, dreams and motives have disappeared. It’s exactly how it’s meant to be, and as her new boss Mark S. (Adam Scott) explains, the perfect result for a severance package.
With one important difference – technically they chose it for themselves. Or at least some part of them chose it for themselves. Although a severed person may be different in every way, it is still part of the whole person, right? A person who critically, voluntarily and consciously chose to undergo the procedure, aware of what it would do and the life they were creating for a different version of themselves.
This leads Severance to the tried and true question:
“What makes a man a man?” is a question that is much more unique and much more difficult. Are fired employees human? Of course, there is, there can be no doubt about it. But if that is the case, how is it ethical or moral to expect them to live in the same room doing the same task without being able to go out or choose anything for themselves? But if it is not ethical and moral, then how can we take into account the choice and free will of the person who decides to undergo the procedure?
Early in the season, w. This time it’s not about how we feel about something we created, but about how we feel about ourselves.