‘Severance’ warns us about separating work & play

Show speaks to importance of being educated on workplace practices

The film is about a severe distinction between work and play.

Have you ever wished you could separate your work and social life? Wished the problems from one sector didn’t overlap into the other? What if you could—do you think there would be implications?

Severance, a tv series on Apple TV+ created by Dan Erickson, provides insight on just what that would be like—but perhaps in doing so, also offers a warning of the implications of such and the troubles within our corporate industries today.

The premise of Severance seems ideal at first glance.

If you elect to work in the right department, you’re required to undergo “severance:” a surgical procedure that makes employees lose access to their personal memories once they enter the workspace, knowing only enough to make them functioning employees.

When they clock out at the end of the day, they completely forget whatever they did at work. This essentially splits the work self and personal self into two distinct entities; work-life separation is taken to the extreme.

I’m sure anyone who has had to work long boring hours wishes they could experience it all in the blink of an eye. Just enter and exit and feel like no time has passed at all.

The working self would not agree, though. It would be trapped in the office.

This premise, while idyllic in theory, is slowly revealed to be horrifying in practice—which is part of what Severance does so well. With all the characters placed in pristine formal work clothes and stiff, polite dialogue, the realization there’s much more going on beneath the surface creeps in.

The corporation behind the severance procedure, Lumon, is a startling mirror to the modern-day corporate culture. It reflects the extreme measures corporations take to maintain total control over their workforce.

The working selves—or “innies”—exist in perpetual work; their entire lives and personalities surround and are shaped by the corporation they work for. With no knowledge of the outside world, the ways in which their workplace abuses them get dismissed as how things are.

They get next to no breaks, their progress is constantly monitored, and their interactions with other departments are policed and discouraged. Each department is completely isolated from their co-workers.

Honestly, it's a relatable struggle. Where I used to work, I had to fight to get breaks. If you work in retail or customer service, it's hard to get a moment to yourself when you’re understaffed and the customers keep coming in.

What makes it harder, though, is being unable to advocate for yourself.

Knowing your rights is important in any workplace; it empowers employees to advocate for themselves when workplaces abuse them. For example, you can’t know you’re being abused when you don’t know the labour laws.

Severance presents a world where the workers are isolated from the things that protect them. Without accountability, without knowing what good workplace practices are meant to be, the severed employees—and employees in real life—are trapped in their roles with no way to advocate for themselves.

Severance is the terrifyingly reality of what lengths a corporation would go to maintain control over its employees. 

You don’t have to look far to find another news article about workplace abuses, or how companies cut corners just to keep their employees underpaid and overworked for profit.

Every billionaire gets to the top by stepping on hundreds of necks. Regular people are stairs on the staircase to success.

Severance isn’t a dystopian warning us about societal decay; it’s a reality check on the harm caused by worker division and a lack of corporate transparency.

Shows like this remind us why worker unity is important. We can’t trust corporations not to take advantage of us. If we don’t know our labour rights, we might end up like the employees at Lumon: so sucked in by corporate propaganda we forget all about life outside of work.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.