As a premise, Severance’s seems simple: you can choose to go and work for the Lumon Corporation, but part of the catch is that your work self must be “severed” from your personal life. When you descend the elevator into the office (after getting the surgery), you switch to a totally separate person, one that lacks any of your memories, feelings or history. The show doesn’t really explain too much, but it seems that all you carry is your ability to do basic things like wear clothes, go to the toilet and eat food — otherwise, you’re effectively a new person lacking any of the context or information from the “real” self that exists in the world outside of work.
Writing this, I realize I should give a very big spoiler warning, not because I’m going to recount the entire plot, but because the nuance and brain torture of Severance comes from grappling with the core issue of the “severance” procedure itself.
Adam Scott’s “Mark” is deeply depressed from the loss of his wife in a car accident, and thus happily chooses to be severed and enjoy eight hours a day of not having to think about it. And even trying to type out what happens in this show is quite difficult, because it’s so deeply rooted in the kind of slow-drip exposition that dooms many prestige shows. Severance succeeds by being rigidly, forcefully focused on showing you exactly how little the severed have.
The specific thing to know is that within the world of the severed — inside Lumon Industries — there is no family, no God and no President. There are no Democrats, no Republicans, no Twitter, no Facebook. There are no bars, no coffee shops, and no special treatment outside that which is given to you specifically based on your performance in a job that, despite watching a whole season of this show, I cannot describe in any meaningful way other than “fencing off scary numbers.”
There is, however, a god, and that is Kier. Inside Lumon Industries, there is a godlike figure — Kier Eagan — who founded the company and built a kind of atheist work-religion, an even more terrifying version of the Protestant Work Ethic but entirely divorced from God. Kier has texts that he has wrote, including summaries of what he believes makes a man, specifically the four tempers of woe, frolic, dread and malice.