The Apple TV+ series Severance presents a world in which office workers have their minds split into two personalities—one who only remembers what happens at work and one who only remembers what happens outside of it. Science fiction author John Kessel loves the show’s inventive premise.
“After we watched the first episode, I said to my wife, ‘This is one of the smartest shows I’ve seen in a long time,’” Kessel says in Episode 509 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I rank it—at least through this first season—as highly as I do things like Breaking Bad. I really think it’s classic.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley agrees that Severance is a standout series. “This is my favorite show of the last year or two,” he says. “I think you would have to go back to something like Devs or Dark for something I liked as much as this.”
Writer Sara Lynn Michener enjoys how Severance puts a unique spin on the idea of using robots or clones for unpleasant tasks. “This is obviously something that we’ve seen repeated in science fiction over and over again,” she says. “Who are the slaves? Who are the group of disposable people? And so what this show is doing is creating that concept out of splitting yourself literally in two, and having that side of yourself be something that you sort of kick aside. It’s really effectively unsettling.”
Science fiction author Anthony Ha is looking forward to Season 2 of Severance but worries that the show might be stretching its story out over too many episodes. “I did feel like the pacing slowed down a bit in the middle of the season, and I do wonder if there is an even better version of this that is the ‘one season and done’ narrative,” he says.
Listen to the complete interview with John Kessel, Sara Lynn Michener, and Anthony Ha in Episode 509 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
John Kessel on Franz Kafka:
We watched a whole season and we still don’t know what they do at this corporation. They’re sort of rounding up “bad” numbers and removing them. I keep thinking: Is this a metaphor? Is this connected to some other thing? The whole idea of the cult and the great founder, all that stuff is really intriguing to me. It reminds me of Kafka, with The Trial or The Castle. In The Castle, there are these people in the castle who are running things, and you never get into the castle—you don’t know who they are or what they’re doing up there. I don’t know if Dan Erickson had any of that specifically in mind, but there’s a lot of metaphorical stuff going on here that is very interesting to me.
Sara Lynn Michener on Patricia Arquette:
Patricia Arquette does a fantastic job in this show. She plays basically two different characters, but she isn’t severed. She intentionally has two different characters, and two different names, because she’s high enough up at the company that she can do that. Her work persona is this very creepy, rigid, obsessive person, and then in her “neighbor” persona she comes across as a crazy cat lady—she dresses completely differently than her other character. So it’s a really wonderful performance by Patricia Arquette because she captures both sides of this very unsettling, unnerving, crazy person.
Anthony Ha on set design:
The visual style is not about the kind of “Googleplex, brightly colored, all-glass, open floor plan” Silicon Valley ethos, but it is much more about this older style of work. It’s how I imagine the offices that my parents went to looked. Just the fact that it is a cubicle farm as opposed to a bunch of desks. I mean, I think there is in-world logic for that, because if they all had laptops and sat down and could immediately get on the internet that would kind of defeat the whole purpose of severance, but I think there’s also an emotional logic to it. It’s supposed to feel like this nightmare of what office life is, as opposed to a realistic representation of what it’s like now.
David Barr Kirtley on characterization:
There’s this constant idea that the [characters] are going to escape somehow, and I don’t see any way that really works. Even if they get the word out that this is this exploitative process, it seems like if the severance program were shut down and the chips were turned off, they would just all die, in effect. If their agenda is basically “we would rather all be dead than at work for the rest of our lives,” that makes sense, but I feel like that idea sort of gets pushed to the background in the show. It seems like they don’t just all want to die. It seems like they have some hope of escape, and I’m not sure what it is that they’re imagining is going to happen.