“What is it we actually do here?” Adam Scott’s character asks early on in Severance. It’s a question that looms over the new AppleTV+ series, which is set almost entirely at Lumon Industries, a mysterious company that requires employees to undergo a surgical procedure known as “severance.” The surgery makes it so their work memories are completely severed from their personal ones — their “Innie” self has no conception of who they are inside the cubicle, while their “Outie” self has no idea what they do for work once they leave the building.
Being able to compartmentalize his life while working as a “macro data refiner” is comforting for Mark Scout (Scott), who bears the emotional weight of his wife’s untimely death whenever he’s not within Lumon’s walls. Mark’s family and friends are concerned that he underwent such a controversial procedure, but he doesn’t seem particularly bothered by it until he’s confronted by Petey (Yul Vazquez), a former Lumon employee who explains to Mark that they were best friends at work. Petey claims he was able to “reintegrate” into society by removing the severance implant, but he fears Lumon is now hunting him as a result. He hands Mark a card and tells him to reach out if he wants more answers, throwing open the door for plenty of speculation about what Lumon does.
“What we know of them is that they are a med-tech company. So they created the severance chip,” showrunner Dan Erickson told Variety. “But we talk about them sort of like Johnson & Johnson, or one of those companies, where they make Band-Aids but then if you research, it turns out they make artificial limbs, too.” He added that there’s definitely something weird going down on “that severed floor,” but fans will have to be patient while unraveling the mystery. Here are the best Severance theories so far.
Severance is about punishment
One Redditor suggests that the “severance floor” — with its bizarrely empty rooms and impersonal upper management — is actually a type of prison sentence. The user theorizes that the reason Mark tends to shake is because he has alcohol use disorder, and that perhaps he was responsible for the car crash that killed his wife. “I’m thinking the severance is part of his sentencing, and that’s why he willingly went in. Same for the rest of them. Maybe it’s a pilot program for a new punishment?”
The Innies are doing content moderation
Erickson told Variety that the show was inspired by his own “corporate misery,” and the visual appearance of Lumon definitely lampoons the sterile aesthetic of tech companies. The show is careful to avoid telling us what the “macro data refinement” department really does, but it seems pretty important that none of the workers can remember what they saw while at work. This has led to some viewers to guess that the Innies are actually just doing content moderation — a real job at companies like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter that forces workers to be exposed to a disturbing number of gruesome images that take a steep toll on their mental health. This would be a pretty depressing twist, but one that mirrors real life concerns.
Lumon is a cult
It seems pretty weird that Mark acknowledges the portrait of Lumon’s founder, Kier Egan, every time he’s in the office. Is it possible this whole thing is just a weird religious cult (maybe one that really hates that we don’t have a work-life balance)? “It’s all comes back to Kier Eagan and basically this idea that everything they’re doing is to fulfill this vision that he had, that he wanted to enact,” Erickson teased.
Macro data refinement is involved in the surgery
Erin Qualey theorized in Vulture that Mark and his department are either writing the code or prepping the brains for the implant that’s used in the severance operation. But if this theory were true, one worrying question is why most of the files expire before they have a chance to finish them. Is it possible not everyone survives the severance operation?
Lumon wants a subservient population
If Severance wants to take the analogy of corporate dystopia to the extreme, it would make sense for Lumon to be a tech company that creates a product to help other companies create a completely obedient workforce. This is in fact what one “Whole Mind Collective” activist tells Mark that Lumon is really doing; if he’s correct, then it’s possible that Mark and his team are working on the code to make that product a reality. It’s a bleak concept, but when you look at how companies mistreat their workers, one that’s entirely believable.