‘Severance’ Season 1: World And Concepts, Explained – Fantasy With Pertinent Touches Of Reality


The appeal of any good world of fiction is arguably that of causing a connection with its viewers or readers, and that mostly happens when we find some relatability in it, even amidst potential real-world impossibilities. This relatability can, of course, be either internal, something humane or “real” about the characters’ perceptions, or it can be through certain concepts of the fictional world that resonate with matters in our real world. “Severance” interestingly brings both these sides together, creating relatable characters who breathe and live in a world that is scarily not too far from the modern corporate world.

The City Of The Eagans, And Their World To Be

Lumon Industries is not your typical corporation that cropped into existence with some technological boom. Its existence precedes most things in its geographical area, and seemingly even the town itself where it is based. Lumon had been in business from as early as 1865, as Kier Eagan’s nameplate in the perpetuity wing reads, and had been serving people from at least 1880, as characters in favor of the corporation claim. There have been indications throughout the series about how the corporation has half of the town involved in its operations, even if not everyone is a severed worker, and then, ultimately, when Irving pulls out the local map, it is revealed that the town itself is called Kier.

The founder of the company, Kier Eagan, is almost a fatherly figure in these senses. When Kier’s modern-day successor, Jame Eagan, finally makes an appearance in the last episode, all hints point towards a potential takeover of the world in the distant future. Amidst the gala party is a scene supposed to be heartwarming with the reunification of a father and his beloved daughter. But it is indeed just the opposite, as Helly shockingly discovers herself in the middle of a sinister plot, being the next potential successor of the Eagan family. Jame recalls memories of the past, from his daughter’s childhood, where she was fascinated by the severance chip, still in its prototype stage with blinking lights, and she would exclaim that the whole world should get one for themselves. It is perhaps not a mere coincidence that Jame recounts these specific memories and these specific words of his young daughter at this particular point of time.

The event itself is a grand-scale advertisement for Lumon’s severance program, with the public presence of Senator Angelo Arteta, CEO Jame Eagan, and his daughter Helena Eagan. Helena’s decision to get herself severed was also for PR, to counter any opposition claims that the procedure might be too dangerous for users. Senator Arteta is also a pawn in the hands of Lumon Industries. His position in government is backed by the corporation in exchange for constant support for the propagation of the severance policy. There can be no doubt that Lumon’s ultimate aim is to establish indirect control over most of the world. But for what exact reason, though? What sinister work are they hiding behind severance?

Macro Data Refiners: What Do The Numbers Mean?

Lumon’s office space is a grand, intimidating building with a gray exterior and an even more intimidating interior as there is hardly anything to look at. The halls are frighteningly bright, white, and empty, and so are most of the halls and departments. The use of space here is quite interesting as well, although not something unique or new in visual media. The long corridors and convoluted passages serve confusion both for the workers, making it hard for them to reach other departments or any potential exit points, and also for the viewers, as track shots of characters in the hallways immediately build a sense of suspense and unpredictability.

Amidst such an office space and  frightening work environment, the actual work of the MDR department is too simple: they only have to put numbers into visual packages on their computer screens with the help of a cursor. But there is no indication or implication as to what the numbers actually mean.

The characters, too, have their own weird theories about their real work. Irving believes that they are actually cutting out profanities from films, and the numbers are actually software codes. Dylan’s theory is, of course, more colorful and nerdy: he believes that the outside world is actually going through an apocalypse where human civilization has to seek shelter in the seas and oceans; the real-world implication of their packaging numbers into boxes is that they are actually emptying out the seas, removing marine life and making it habitable for humans.

On one particular walk through the unknown corridors, Mark and Helly stumble across a room where a singular man, in a suit, bottle-feeds baby goats and angrily shoos away the intruders, only saying that “they’re not ready.” Helly later speculates that packaging numbers into boxes might be a cruel program signifying the killing of the goats. There is nothing conclusive that the series presents, even by the end, about what the work actually represents in the real-world. The second season might have exploration in that regard, or it might very well be a sort of hoodwink in the entire plot.

“Severance” presents enough opportunities for its viewers to think, and the almost palpable and convincing science-fiction world is one where possibilities are vast. It is not too difficult to imagine a situation where the work that the severed workers do has no significance whatsoever to the organization. Lumon’s entire concept is about discipline, about strict governance, and about ownership to a certain degree. Of course, all these ends are reached (or gradually attempted) through the roundabout indirect approach of separating a worker’s conscience and then reaping external benefits from it.

The workers are not just without any personal mental baggage in their work spaces, but they hardly know who they really are. This makes for not just an emotionally sincere worker, but also one that is easiest to dominate or overrule. There is ample proof of this concept at work in Lumon, as the workers have absolutely insignificant incentives to look forward to, in the form of erasers (without any existence of pencils) or caricature portraits of themselves. The punishment served in the break room at first seems to be something grandly terrific, but then turns out to be the most subtle but effective measure of breaking someone down mentally.

Almost like a small child in kindergarten, the workers are kept in check by making them utter four lines of extreme apology over and over again until the authorities are happy with their tone and enunciation, or simply, as long as they want. The work that they do in their respective departments might then ultimately mean nothing, and the corporation is only trying to prove the possibility and effectiveness of such a process of splitting one’s conscience. In this context, the series perhaps stands at a juncture where it can choose to either present something sinister behind the MDR’s “number refining,” or it can lay bare the insignificance of their work and stress more on the possibilities of mind control.

Severance: Relatability And A Slight Ray Of Hope

In a world with greatly reduced labor welfare and deceiving labor laws, Severance’s world of creating a separate space for the working entity is equally relatable and scary. The work-selves are kept totally devoid of any knowledge or comprehension of their own selves. Almost all the characters are quite different in their personal and professional lives. The implication of severance is even to such an extent that most of the outside characters have no problem with the existence of their inner selves being mistreated. Of course, in most cases, the outside-selves are unaware of what the condition of their inside-selves is, but there is clearly (and logically) a tendency to not take the inner-selves too seriously. Helly’s outside-self totally dismisses the humanitarian side of her work-self. “Severance” very cleverly places its narrative on the side of the workers, on those who have everything to lose and nothing to gain in the present setup.

Although it might seem like too much of a conceptual push, there is a slight undercurrent of rights and freedom throughout the series’ first season. The first point of rage for the workers is over the fact that higher authorities like Milchick and Cobel get to live their normal lives with their memories intact, while those lower in the work-space hierarchy have to leave out (the most important) half of their lives and be content only with work. There is a gradual moving of the chains, though, when Mark’s brother-in-law, Ricken’s self-help book reaches the office and then the MDR workers.

In reality, Ricken is a character shaky and under-confident about his own self; he seeks validation and support from his wife throughout the first season, perhaps a bit too much even. So, quite naturally, his self-help book, of course, is mostly just confidence-boosting jargon without much real-world significance. This is clear from the reading sessions that he conducts; his wife is also not convinced by his works, much like his brother-in-law. It is this same reaction that Milchick has while reading the book in the Lumon office, checking for any concealed messages. But the MDR workers, Dylan G. and Mark S., find the book of immense inspiration, which greatly boosts their confidence, because it is the first such piece that they have read or experienced in any form.

Perhaps, human minds would always find a way, an outlet, to revolt against oppression. It is these several human possibilities that make “Severance” unusually relatable, given its unbelievable science-fiction background. What to look forward to in the second season is how the series continues to nurture its characters and lead them towards liberation, if any.

See More: ‘Severance’ Season 1: Ending, Explained: What Is The Real Truth Behind Lumon Industries? What To Expect From Season 2?

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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