Very mild Spoilers for the first episode of “Severance” below.
For every answer that the new Apple TV+ dramatic thriller series “Severance” offers, more compelling questions arise. That’s certainly true of the technology at the center of the show, which allows people to literally split their work life and their home life through a controversial procedure called, appropriately enough, severance. Once severed, a person will have no memories of their work life while at home, and no memories of their home life at work. And the details of exactly how that technology works, according to creator and showrunner Dan Erickson, are purposefully a little vague.
Adam Scott plays Mark, a man who has undergone the severance procedure. On the outside, he’s lonely and mourning his dead wife. On the inside, he’s a bright and loyal worker at a mysterious corporation called Lumon.
The switch between “Outie” and “Innie” is visually represented by the character going down an elevator to some lower level where their “Innie” work life takes place. So how, exactly, does the elevator trigger the severance process? “I have… file upon file on my on my laptop of walking through in my head how this scientifically makes sense. But suffice it to say, there’s some sort of a barrier that if you’re basically halfway down the elevator, you pass it,” Erickson told TheWrap. “We’ve talked about it as a wire. We’ve talked about it as as just some sort of a threshold, you pass that, and it sends a frequency to the chip in your head that causes you to switch to your Innie mode. And then it just comes back up when you’re going home.”
The show also finds characters exiting a stairwell where the same switch occurs. “For the stairwell, it’s similar, whatever that thing is — and again, we sort of intentionally, never fully decided even for ourselves, like what is the exact technology,” he said. “But that threshold is in the doorway. So when Helly (Britt Lower) is running through, that’s the moment that she’s switching, is the moment that she passes through the doorway.”
As the season progresses, the characters grow more and more curious about what, exactly, is going on inside Lumon, and viewers are unraveling the mystery at the same time. That mystery extends to the location of the show, which Erickson confesses was also left intentionally ambiguous.
“We sort of intentionally kept a lot of ambiguity to the time and place,” Erickson told TheWrap. “We obviously shot mostly in New York and New Jersey, so there’s sort of a vague New England, east coast-y feel to to the city, but we didn’t really want to know exactly where it was or tie it to a specific locale.”
As for when “Severance” takes place, it’s not a far-off future. “It is around now, it’s like vaguely now-ish,” he said. “We’re not going for something where this is 10 years in the future where severance has been invented and already exists. It’s sort of an alternate, vaguely now-ish timeline.”
The first two episodes of “Severance” premiere on Apple TV+ on Feb. 18 with new episodes airing weekly on Fridays.