the jewel series of Apple TV + between sci-fi, mystery and existential drama

Produced and directed (in part) by Ben Stiller, the Scissione series is an exceptional work of suspense, geometry and split consciousness.

“But I don’t have AppleTV +,” many of you will say. You cannot be a subscriber to all streaming services, God forbid, but it is important to know that among all the platforms that offer original content, therefore produced only for their customers, the (relatively) few that Apple TV offers, have a very high percentage of quality. Since recent The signs of the heart – TAILwinner ofOscar Best Film of the Year in the award-winning series Ted Lasso of which the third season will arrive in a few months. Popular and ordinary titles are there, like The Morning Show And If it’sor the always great Tom Hanks in the two altogether pleasant films Greyhound And Finchbut the general impression is that Apple wants to favor productions with the desire to move away from the “formula”, from those narrative conventions that meet the mass audience according to the “calculations of an algorithm”, favoring authorial freedom and experimentation instead.

Servantfor example, is a claustrophobic thriller / horror series overseen by M. Night Shyamalan which revolves around a surreal idea whose tension is all in the hands of the actors and the phenomenal filmmakers who take turns directing. A drama centered on “Alternative History”, or what turn History would have taken if things had gone differently, is For All Makind which tells, with an intelligent fictitious development of events and characters, the space race between the USA and the USSR. The espionage series has just arrived Slow Horses which comes across as more than worthy of our attention, but it’s on Demerger that this article dwells now that the first season has ended in the ninth episode.

Splitting: the original plot of the series

Demergerin original Severance, is a series that has progressively gained prominence, with episodes made available on a weekly basis, as an original and meticulously curated show. The starting concept is very interesting: some people join a project to split their memory when they go to work, thus living two distinct lives, the private one and the professional one. The technology that allows this split is developed by the Lumon company for the “benefit” of a group of its employees. It consists of inserting a capsule in the human brain that works as a sort of switch, turning off the external identity of the individual and turning on the internal one during the descent in the elevator to the offices in the basement.

This idea may not seem so amazing, having by now read and seen in many series, films and books, science-fiction narrative creations that tell of identity splits, multiple personalities, mental projections and abstractions, states of hypnosis and invasive technologies with alleged beneficial effects for communities. DemergerHowever, he treasures his potential and chooses to take care of the characters, keeping a futuristic concept and a dystopian scenario in the background. The creator Dan Erickson developed the subject with the executive production of Ben Stiller, who would have had to deal only with the direction of the pilot but then decided to direct six episodes out of nine. Together the two understood how the idea of ​​going home from work, without remembering anything about the hours spent in the office, was something tempting and easy to identify for the public. With intelligence they decided to focus on the existential condition of the characters during the gradual expansion of the story, ferrying science-fiction towards the psychological thriller.

Splitting: the memory reset

The action takes place in an American provincial city in the north-central of the country where the large biotechnology company Lumon arouses some fear in its inhabitants for the launch of the controversial project called Severance. The insertion of the microchip in the skull of some employees is considered dangerous for their health. Although they voluntarily submitted to the experiment, these workers are viewed with distrust when they live their day in the city. Why do they do it? We discover almost immediately that the protagonist Mark Scout, played by Adam Scott, has experienced a trauma in his recent past. His wife died in an accident and for him, being able to go to work with a clear conscience that makes him remember nothing of his personal life is a great relief. And this is often the reason that drives a Lumon employee to request to work in the basement, a heavy outdoor life from which to take a real break. Very quickly, therefore, the show overturns a first expectation: the split is more useful in forgetting external life rather than the other way around.

The show begins by introducing newcomer Helly Riggs, played by Britt Lower. It is a logical choice of narrative convenience to facilitate our understanding in the first steps of the story, as the woman must also begin the orientation process on her first day as a “split”. The plumb shot in which she sees herself lying on a large table in a meeting room, just before she comes to her senses, marks her birth. Her figure is enclosed within what may appear to be a cocoon from above. When she wakes up, she Helly comes into the world. It’s the Helly with a reset memory, she doesn’t know her name, she doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t have a memory of her being one of her from her life outside her. Her knowledge of an adult person is intact (she can walk, speak, write) as is her character mark, but her consciousness and memory are brand new. To help with the disorientation, Lumon had her record a video message before the switch in her brain was turned off. The external version of her explains to her that it is her choice to join the split project, so everything is under control. Too much under control, a finding destined to emerge in all employees, including the other two of the quartet Irving and Dylan, played by John Turturro And Zach Cherryand the always magnetic Christopher Walken as Burt of the division Optics & Design.

Splitting: the mysteries of Lumon Industries

From the outside world it would seem that the memory division operation has the purpose of maintaining the secrecy of the work that employees carry out within it. In fact, even in that large office with only four desks the employees of the Macro Data Refinement they know exactly what they are doing. Capturing numbers on your computer screen with the mouse looks more like a video game than a vital task. Many of the questions related to what Lumon does remain unanswered and it is in the last episode of the first season, with a significant revelation, that we begin to understand something. The project of Demerger it is something in which a lot is being invested and in the ninth and last episode the intentions of the company are manifested.

Meanwhile, inside the floor with the employees at work, quite a few oddities happen, and it is here that the series also shows a dark comedy character. In addition to the myth of Lumon carried forward from generation to generation, complete with wax statues of the former presidents of the company, there is a psychological support and manipulation system that is based on a disconcerting truth: resetting the memory means resetting the experiences. . Employees are like children and are treated as such. They are reluctant to do what is asked of them and face “therapeutic” treatment sessions to intervene on their fragile psyche, but if they get good results at work they are rewarded. How? As if they were schoolchildren, with childish celebrations, between musical interludes, fruit, waffles and cocktail parties. Mr. Milchick in a white shirt or turtleneck is a supervisor as smiling as he is creepy, thanks to the fantastic performance of the actor Tramell Tillman. Authoritarian and not at all reassuring is Mrs. Cobel, played by Patricia Arquette. They are not “split” and outside the walls of the company they play a part to keep an eye on the external identity of the employees. Milchick and Cobel are under the orders of a board of directors we never see.

Splitting: scenographic geometry and the art of opening credits

The work done by the set designers of Demerger. In addition to the engaging narrative construction, the show finds a perfect disorientation for the characters in the labyrinthine basement where they work. Immersed in white and with narrow or excessively large spaces depending on the psychological conditioning that the company of the story tries to impose. The film provided a good inspiration to give substance to the conceptuality of the series The Truman Show (of which we remember the totally fictitious setting for the unwitting protagonist played by Jim Carrey), the videogame The Stanley Parable (in which an employee realizes that the building where he works is deserted and must understand why) and the urban legend born on the internet of Backrooms (non-places with empty rooms, the hum of neon lights and fluorescent light that generate bewilderment and disquiet).

The so-called icing on the cake is the sequence of the opening titles, in all respects capable of reproducing the alienating effect that resides in the characters of the story. The music of Theodore Shapiro even listened to with closed eyes, it captures the essential moods with a few elegant notes: anguish, disorientation, alienation. The computer animated images with a rendered version of Adam Scott are instead the merit of the German creative Oliver Latta. It was enough for Ben Stiller see his works on Instagram, a series of 3D modeling of bodies and faces that are often disturbing to the viewer, and therefore perfect for giving Demerger an intro not to be skipped but admired with fascination at every single episode.

Splitting: Ben Stiller creator of an exceptional series

Finally it is right Ben Stiller to further confirm great skills and intelligence when working in the control room. His is in effect a natural evolution of a discreet and resolute artist in the Hollywood film industry. He inherited the role of a brilliant actor from his parents, Jerry Stiller And Anne Meara who formed a comic duo between the 60s and 80s, but directing other actors and giving substance to the stories was something he had in his blood, starting in 1994 with Young, cute and unemployed. The director’s work continued with The pain in the asswith Matthew Broderick And Jim Carreyand with three titles in which he also directed himself: the cult film Zoolanderthe self-deprecating ensemble of Tropic Thunder and the ambitious The secret dreams of Walter Mitty in which the mastery of the medium acquired over the years became evident, both for a more than good photographic eye and for the sensitivity required by the story.

He is directing the 2018 prison-type drama miniseries Escape at Dannemoraseven episodes featuring the phenomenal performances of Benicio Del Toro, Paul Dano and above all of the unrecognizable Patricia Arquette. For Apple TV + Ben Stiller he went further, creating and coordinating a dystopian world of very strong aesthetic impact, with symmetries and an off-axis orthogonality at the service of a story of existentialist suspense. Scissione is one of the best series ever made and hopefully the suspended finale of the first season will find the same high level of artistic quality in future episodes.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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