HOW “SEVERANCE” THE SERIES MADE ME THINK ABOUT A WRITER’S PERSONALITY
The Art of Being An Asshole and Angel At The Same Time For A Writer
Just when you think you have seen all the variations of every television genre, along comes a television series that makes everything new again. I remembered finishing the entire run of Breaking Bad and thinking to myself, alright, this is it. No more compelling character dramas. Then came Better Call Saul. And now in its final season, I am thinking yep, this is it.
And then came Severance, the new series from Apple, created by Dan Erickson and executive-produced by Ben Stiller.
It turned the idea of work/life balance brilliantly on its head. Anytime you see a show that is derived from an idea that makes you go “Now why didn’t I think of it?” you know you’re in for a good time.
What is Severance about?
Set in an undefined time, it could be now or it could be in the near future, Severance tells of a group of people who works in a company known as Lumon where a certain procedure has been perfected. A procedure that effectively divides your memory into two parts. The part where you work and the part where you exist outside of work. In effect, this takes the mantra of One Should Never Bring Your Work Home to the extreme. It is the literal division between your work and personal lives.
A great concept for a television series will birth innovations and bursts of creativity across all aspects of the production. The writing, editing, production design, sound design, and cinematography. The show’s unique concept gave rise to some original terminology that I suspect will soon be slipping into mainstream vernacular.
You’re an “innie” when you’re working in the office. And you’re an “outie” when you finish work. Never the twain do they meet. The concept also gave rise to some creative editing effects, like the jittery moments when a fragment of the character’s life in the office intrudes upon his outside memories.
The series is at once a dystopian thriller, a character study, filled with layers of commentary about corporate lifestyles, workplace hierarchies, a big mystery filled with smaller mysteries that propels you to keep watching. Why is that room filled with lambs? What exactly are the innies working on? What is the Lumon industry all about?
And why did it provoke thoughts about me as a writer?
It made me wonder about the different facets and aspects that make us whole. Especially for writers. I recall the times when I was writing police dramas. How I would lavish so much care on the descriptions of action and the violence. As a result, I got a reputation as a writer with a deviant turn of mind. That I am in my heart of hearts an evil bastard with a fetish for violence.
Then I remind everyone that I also wrote Growing Up, a family drama. I wrote heart-warming stories. I spent a lot of time crafting those scenes where fathers and mothers had heart-to-heart talks with their children. When I wrote Fighting Spiders, a coming-of-age series, I was equally if not even more intense when it came to writing the scenes of romance and courtship between the young characters, making sure that the scenes were funny and they were warm and nostalgic.
I think writers cannot go through Severance. It would be disastrous. A writer needs to have the whole package, balls, minds, and heart. A writer has to bring all three aspects into a story when they write. And the only way to do that is to feel equal and be comfortable with all three aspects that make up the character of a writer.
As writers, we have to be unblinking when we write about Mankind’s darkest fears, and greatest joys and loves. We’re lovestruck teens, sadistic killers, violent, kind, gentle, angels, mothers, fathers, girlfriends, boyfriends, all at once, and we cannot be severed from each of those threads that make up the tapestry of our personalities. We are never just one person, but we are that person for that duration when we are writing a story.
Severance. A great concept. But God forbid, as writers, we cannot choose to be an innie or an outie.
We must be both.