The first thing you notice about the new Apple TV+ series Severance is how very Apple it is. From the minimalist sets, to the austere lighting, to the precise economy of words delivered by its characters, it all has that Jony Ive less-is-more touch.
But beneath the surface, what Severance does best is portray the deep dread of office drone life, the one so many US workers have rebelled against via the Great Resignation. Set in a fictional company called Lumon Industries, the workers of Severance have volunteered to allow their minds to be separated into work life and home life—a process called severance—with neither half having a memory of the other.
“It really was born of my own corporate misery,” show creator Dan Erickson told Variety, citing his early days as an office worker in Los Angeles.
The show’s theme of office dread has clearly has touched a nerve, as it is now the best-reviewed Apple TV+ original series among critics and fans.
Corporate culture that hits too close to home?
The irony of Severance becoming Apple’s most popular original series to date lies in the fact that the corporate science fiction drama so perfectly mirrors much of what the public has come to know about the tech giant in real life.
Lumon’s offices, filmed in part at the neo-futuristic Bell Labs Holmdel Complex in New Jersey, are oddly reminiscent of Apple’s own Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, in 2017. The 1970s-style computer terminals used by the characters, played by Adam Scott, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, and Patricia Arquette, also have the faint whiff of Apple’s original design aesthetics made famous by the 1984 Macintosh computer.
Similarly, the memory-inhibiting procedure, which is, according to non-severanced managers, meant to protect corporate secrets, echoes the notoriously stringent approach Apple takes toward secrecy. In 2021, a terse letter from Apple CEO Tim Cook leaked in which he told employees, “people who leak confidential information do not belong here.”
Apple’s real life as science fiction
Aside from the many similarities shared by Apple and Lumon on an organizational level, Severance also mocks the modern corporate culture of psychometrics as a productivity tool. Scott’s Macro-Data Refinement team is frequently pummeled back into compliance with dictums that could be pulled from the pages of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0.
The invasive nature of the severance procedure—think Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chip—as well as public protests against the practice, indicates that this could be some form of prison. The metaphor works as a dystopian take on incarceration and as a critique on the modern office-as-second-home proffered by the likes of Apple, Google, and Facebook.
“Hell is just the product of a morbid human imagination,” Arquette’s character says during a management meeting. “The bad news is whatever humans can imagine, they can usually create.”