All Work and All Play

All Work and All Play

Severance on Apple TV+

If there's a downside to having a creative hobby and/or passion, it's that you can't ever leave it alone. Sure, you can close the laptop, leave the studio, go out to some island without an Internet connection or pen and paper, but you can't escape your head.

There's always something churning, a new idea or a revision to an old concept. Maybe, with your growing skills, you could tackle the vision you had one idle afternoon in 7th grade, when you should've been learning algebra but were instead off in some far-flung world. The idea crawls its way up your spine, taking top spot in your brain so that your mojitos are spent fleshing it out, eyes staring into space, your loved ones looking at you and wondering what's happened.

Just an idea, I say whenever this happens to me. Just an idea that'll consume me until I get the chance to play with it, tug at its corners and see if it'll mold into something coherent. At some point my family realizes this and lets me drift off, snapping me back to the present when, say, we're about to get on the roller coaster or dinner's been served. I can't say this wins me many points, but I can't abandon the imagination.

I've tried.

One way, though, to abandon just about anything is explored in Apple TV's new show Severance. I'm a sucker for a fun sci-fi idea, and while I whiffed on the tone in this series–for some reason I thought this would be a comedy–the dark drew me in. It's very Black Mirror, but with more time to draw us slowly into the horror.

While doing what the most effective sci-fi in this vein needs to do: get us to question whether the idea really is all that bad?

We're talking about splitting off our working selves from our, well, other selves. A total split, where your office drone has no idea what he or she does off the clock. Who they are, hobbies, life experience, all that seemingly vanishes (with no degrading of language and other basic skills, somehow) as soon as the 'innie', in the show's parlance, gets behind the office doors.

How many people would accept an arrangement like this, if offered? To walk in and, in a blink, walk back out? Never again to experience cubicle drudgery or the minute-by-minute slog on an assembly line or behind a fast food counter. How much, in other words, do we value all those minutes?

The show suggests there would be plenty of takers. The central conflict arises when those innies begin to question their existence–if the 'outies' get a life free from work, then the innies have a life that is, solely, the job–but, for the most part, society seems keen to ignore their plight. Escaping from what we must to do survive is worth ignoring the costs of that escape.

It's a fascinating journey, but one I wouldn't have taken knowing its cliffhanger ending. Severance would've made a great mini-series, and will likely make a fun binge-watch once its full story plays out. As it is, knowing it'll be a while until a 2nd season, I'm less enamored (perhaps this explains why I'm shifting, for future series of my own, to writing the complete thing one after another till it's done). There are too many shows, movies, and other entertainments vying for brain space to hold another one in suspension until its tale concludes.

Until then, I'll wonder what it might be like to discard every obligation, every attachment, every memory and dream and have just the job.

A.R. Knight

A.R. Knight