Friday, February 18, 2022

REVIEW: 'Severance' - Mark Struggles With a Promotion When Trying to Welcome a New Co-Worker in 'Good News About Hell'

AppleTV+'s Severance - Episode 1.01 "Good News About Hell"

Mark is promoted to lead a team who've had their memories surgically divided between their work and personal lives.

"Good News About Hell" was written by Dan Erickson and directed by Ben Stiller

Helly is absolutely terrified when she wakes up on a conference room table with no memory of who she is. She can't leave. It's a confusing and disorienting entry into this world. It effectively signals that this show aspires to take an off-center, eccentric approach. That's what is required from the central premise. It sets out to show a new way to divide the work-life balance. It's all there in the script Mark is forced to read to welcome this newcomer. This company has seemingly plotted out every line and reaction that could be said. Of course, Mark is afraid of not doing a good job. He just got this promotion. He is immediately thrown into a case where Helly isn't acting like she is suppose to. Irving affirms that fact. She wants to break down the door and escape. Of course, it's impossible for her to do so. She can't be released from this place until the end of the work day. That's what she agreed to when she underwent the Severance procedure. She signed off on it, had it done and was thrown into the work mix quickly. The direction highlights the vast, empty spaces at this particular floor of Lumon Industries. Mark is hopeful about expansion. He believes this company is growing. And yet, Helly is simply replacing a worker who is no longer with the company. No one is entitled to know what happened to him either. These employees are just expected to do the work. They no longer have lives outside of those tasks. Sure, the co-workers have inside jokes. They banter amongst themselves. The work they are doing is relatively obscure. It doesn't seem all that special. And yet, each of these people decided to undergo this procedure. The change is subtle. Mark isn't suddenly a different person. He is crying in his car before work. He walks through the office purposefully losing everything that can hint at his personal life. And then, he shifts to the person who only knows this work space. He can navigate it's maze-like design with ease. It all seems completely extraneous. It all could be riddled with heinous abuses. But it's the job Mark has and chooses to go to each day of the work week.

Helly worries that she no longer has agency and a choice. Mark insists that the person outside the work hours does. She is the one making the decisions. It's simply up to this new worker to do the job. That's her sole focus now. She can't escape it. Mark and Helly don't recognize each other after work either. Their exits are staggered to avoid any awkward run-ins throughout the rest of this company. That showcases the efficiency of this procedure. The audience notices it. Mark and Helly simply have no clue who the other person is. Mark was best friends with Petey at work. Outside of that environment, Petey is a total stranger. He is nothing more than a stalker following Mark around. That provides the narrative with a sense of momentum. One where a mystery needs to be solved because something nefarious is going on within the basement of this company. Mark and his team hold so many secrets. They are trusted with them because they forget everything once returning to their normal lives. Mark's life outside of work isn't all that exciting either. That may explain why he did this procedure in the first place. It allows him to escape for eight hours a day. That's eight hours where he isn't thinking about his wife who died. The rest of the time he is sad and drinking. He's also calling his neighbor to complain about her garbage or recycling bins being inconveniently placed. Of course, that too reveals another secret. Mark's boss, Mrs. Cobel, is actually his neighbor, Mrs. Selvig. She too presents with different behavior in each interaction. That seems much more purposeful. She looks at him and sees potential. She is continually disappointed. She expects him to be better. She comments on the fact that he looks hungover at work knowing fully well the man standing in front of her has no clue what he did the previous night. She trusts him with responsibility. When he is injured, the company rewards him with a gift card. On some level, those in charge know that they have to appreciate the people who make this drastic choice of how they should live. But again, it's all too easy to cover up the truth. Those lies are present. The audience can finely comb through this narrative looking for that sense of eerie misdirection. The character work is also strong despite how dour it can be. It's slowly deliberate in this premiere. That still works in a chilling yet nonchalant way.