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Which is Better, ‘Severance’ or ‘Severance’? The Answer is ‘Severance’

After the back-to-back success of Severance by Ling Ma in 2018 and Severance on Apple TV+ in 2022, you could be forgiven for thinking the series was based on the novel. Apple’s Severance tells the story of Mark, Helly, Irving, and Dylan, four office workers who work on the “severed” floor of Lumon Industries. Mark and the others have had their workplace memories surgically severed from the rest of their brains, leading to the formation of entire new personalities at Lumon. Mark has no idea who his outside self, or “outie,” is; likewise, once he leaves work, he becomes someone who has never met his “innie.”

Ling Ma’s novel, on the other hand, is about a fungal infection that wipes out humanity, reducing people to mindless shells, called the “fevered,” who go through the motions of their previous lives. Candace, a former book production worker, hooks up with a band of survivors heading to a mysterious facility where they hope to start a new life.

Both the novel and the series are incredibly good. Neither of them have anything obvious in common with the other except the fact that they use sinister corporate jargon as their title. And yet, here I am, compelled to write about them both side by side.

Severance points to the strange marriage of capitalism and spirituality
Covid, and the extended quarantines it spawned in many parts of the world, changed the way we look at office culture. Those of us who were lucky enough to be able to work from home did so, and found that our offices didn’t crumble into dust without our butts warming our Steelcase-fabricated chairs. Corporate culture leans hard into lofty idealism to keep its workers in line, calling them family and pronouncing their work a sacred vocation. The brief loosening of office workers’ leashes during Covid gave us the space we needed to see the rhetoric for the lie that it is.


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