Stiller, Ben

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: TV Program

Annotated by:
Brungardt, Gerard
  • Date of entry: Nov-21-2022
  • Last revised: Nov-21-2022


The titular "severance" surgical procedure is the ultimate answer to the work-life balance conundrum - separating work consciousness from personal consciousness. The person's work-self has no memory or knowledge of their personal-self, and vice versa. Lumon Industries and its employees do this for seemingly good reasons (e.g. to assuage grief) but unanticipated and darker motives are in tension throughout the series as its nine episodes follow a core team of four office workers navigating the realities of having had this procedure done.


Dystopian, thriller, science fiction, dark humor … all have been used to describe Severance. All are correct, yet none fully captures the multi-layered experience the series creates. As each of the principal characters is developed, we realize that this seemingly simple separation of work and personal life has far more consequences than first thought. 

Perhaps the most important theme for the medical humanities is that of our holistic nature. The medicalization of the attempt at work-life balance highlights our limited approach to many human problems. Unintended consequences supervene and we find ourselves searching for (medical) answers to these. Rather, it is through relationships and their supervening crises that the characters break free from this cycle of medicalization and attempt to heal their inner wounds. This need, this desire, this emptiness we all feel and experience in one way or another cannot be assuaged or healed by further reducing ourselves to our component parts. We cry out for a wholeness, an integration that Severance masterfully depicts as it careens towards its (first) season ending. 

Many of the internal medicine residents I work with have seen Severance and we have enjoyed discussing it. One theme that emerges is that everyone has a back story, a personal history, a narrative thread of their life. (Kurosawa's Red Beard, also annotated in the Database, provokes similar reactions from them).  

Other key themes include memory, in particular how it shapes who we are through our relationships and experiences; the many levels of relationships, including that of the severed person's "innie" (work self) with their "outie" (personal self); time and the realization that all any of us "have" is the present moment; and the interaction of technology and society, and the ways in which trauma, suffering and empathy are intertwined with it.     

Severance is a genre defying series that enables us to see a contemporary cultural construct -- work-life balance -- from new and different vantage points.


The series was created by Dan Erickson. The cast includes Scott, Adam; Cherry, Zach; Lower, Britt; Walken, Christopher; Arquette, Patricia  




Apple TV+

Running Time (in minutes)