Severance pay review: Apple’s new series turns office life into purgatory

Severance pay review: Apple's new series turns office life into purgatory

True work-life balance can be as difficult to achieve as inbox zero. It’s so difficult, in fact, that the characters in Breakup go to a particular extreme to achieve it: brain surgery. The show, which streams on Apple TV Plus, takes its name from a surgical procedure in which a person’s brain is essentially cut in two, creating two separate people: one for work, one for home life. The result is a show that looks a bit like a cross between black mirror and The computer crowdexploring the horrors of capitalism and technology with banal mirth.

At the center of the story is a company called Lumon Industries, an Amazon-style megacorporation that dabbles in a bit of everything. (“What do not do they do,” a character asks at the start.) This means there are a lot of sensitive documents to sort through. Instead of an NDA for sorters, the company uses a procedure called separation, in which access to someone’s memories becomes “spatially dictated.” Basically, your memories are explicitly tied to a place. What happens in the records department at Lumon Headquarters stays there.

It may seem like a new way to separate your life, with work issues staying at work, so you can focus on the rest. In practice, the procedure creates two spirits in the same body: one living a normal life, the other trapped in a hellish existence where they can never leave the office. And the two are never able to interact.

Image: Apple

You are first introduced to how it happens through Helly (Britt Lower), a new Lumon recruit who wakes up on a conference table with no memory of where she is or how she got there. As her new manager, Mark (Adam Scott), starts asking her questions, she realizes she doesn’t remember anything at all. Not even his name. And everyone in his department is in the same position; the only life they know is inside the office.

Where the show does best is in painting how messed up it really is for people stuck in the office. Think about it: not all the good parts of their day happen to them. They don’t even sleep. For them, they leave the office one second, and the next they come right back. Mark says he can feel the effects of sleep, but it’s not something any of them actually experience for themselves. Life is just endless work – endless purgatory inside a cubicle. To make matters worse, they also have no say in their presence. The only way to quit is to file a request with his other self, and since that self has no idea how serious things are inside the office, the answer always comes back no.

Lumon tries to paint this nightmarish scenario with a kind of blind optimism. The employees are excited to have a melon party and work hard so they can get caricatured. (This job involves a Minesweeper-like a file system for encrypted data where workers have to find the “scary” numbers in a spreadsheet, which they do on delightfully retro-futuristic computers that wouldn’t look out of place in Loki.) Negativity is not allowed and handshakes are available upon request.


Image: Apple

The office is clean and mostly empty, but there is darkness lurking below. In order to improve their “mental well-being”, after periods of prolonged stress, employees attend well-being sessions which consist of silently listening to certain (probably invented) facts about their non-professional doppelganger. The office manager, Milchick (Tramel Tillman), seems very calm and pleasant until he definitely isn’t. And when someone breaks the rules, they’re forced to go to the “break room,” which involves some kind of disturbing punishment that I won’t spoil. You can’t even send messages to outside work, thanks to sci-fi tech in the elevator that detects all symbols. There’s also a not-so-subtle religious quality to the way employees are forced to view Lumon and its founder, a sort of extreme version of the cult fandoms that form around tech moguls like Elon Musk.

The doppelgangers, meanwhile, continue not to realize just how bad things are. Life is normal, except they skip the work pieces and have to deal with very curious questions about what the separation is. In Mark’s case, he took the job hoping to come to terms with the loss of a loved one. he thought eight hours without remembering the pain would help. This, of course, turned out not to be the case. His days are still just as sad, only a little shorter now.

The setup was enough to suck me into the first two episodes of the series. At a time when the lines between work and life are blurring more than ever, it’s fascinating to watch these characters go in the opposite direction, so far removed from work that they don’t even know what their job really is. . It’s something I might even consider… if it weren’t for the whole “hellscape in the office” thing.

The true voltage of Breakup occurs when Mark’s two lives begin to converge and his real personality comes face to face with the realities of Lumon and the impact of the proceedings. It’s too early to tell if this story will carry the series for an entire nine-episode season. But the way the show explores its basic vanity in such detail and seriousness helped it get off to a good start – and made me realize that I should probably punch in on time more often.

Breakup begins streaming on Apple TV Plus on February 18 with two episodes, with a weekly release schedule thereafter.