Severance Creator Dan Erickson Loves The Irony Behind Ricken's Self-Help Book

Currently, two different universes exist: one in which someone has seen the Apple TV+ show "Severance" and is irreparably changed in its wake, and another of ignorant bliss in which one has not yet been emotionally devastated by it. The show is set in a world where technology has evolved to the point of allowing humans the chance to sever their memories, allowing two simultaneous "versions" of themselves to exist — one at work, and one outside of the walls of their offices at Lumon Industries. A multitude of existential questions is at play regarding why someone would ever want to undergo a procedure like this, but considering the work versions, known as "innies," are unaware of a life outside of work, there's not a whole lot of pushback. They may have curiosity from the "outies" in what they do all day at work as they have no recollection of it, but the harshest ethical criticisms made of the "severance program" usually come from those who are in no way connected to it.

Adam Scott's character, Mark, serves as our protagonist, a dependable yes-man who believes in the message of Lumon Industries — until he comes across a self-help book left in an office called "The You You Are" written by Dr. Ricken Lazlo Hale, PhD (Michael Chernus). For Mark's innie, "The You You Are" was the radical education he needed to realize something Very Bad™ was going down at Lumon. But for Mark's outie, the book is the overstuffed philosophical ramblings of his brother-in-law. For "Severance" creator Dan Erickson, the juxtaposition is so much more than a bit of ironic humor or the script for an embarrassingly cringey book reading by Ricken at a party.

The book is a serious plot device

Self-help books are easy to mock, especially when a good chunk of them are written and popularized by people who have absolutely no business telling anyone how to live their life (I'm looking at you, Rachel Hollis). In a recent interview with Polygon, "Severance" creator Dan Erickson pointed out that the book was obviously a heightened take on the traditional self-help book, but that he "didn't want it to be so silly that it felt out of the world." He knew the book was going to play a pivotal role in the lives of Mark and his co-workers in the Macrodata Refinement division (MDR for short).

"We wanted to write something that, taken out of context, could believably inspire people and had ideas under that bluster that maybe had actual value to them," said Erickson. The book was a tool to encourage the show's premise that the mundane things in life have just as strong of an impact on us as the massive moments that shake us to our core.

The book should have never ended up inside Lumon. Any influences of the outside world are explicitly forbidden so as to not influence the severed workers. Work is all they know. Which is why when the MDR employees find the book, they treat it the way someone would a loaded revolver. The book is addressed to Mark, as Ricken gifted it to him on the outside, and by a series of events, it has ended up on the inside in the hands of Mark's innie. The book that Mark's outie dismissed would quickly become the spark that inspired a revolution for Mark's innie.

The irony of in-laws

Dan Erickson told Polygon it was in the writer's room that the production team found the irony of Ricken's place in both innie and outie Mark's lives: "What if the person that [outie] Mark disdained more than anybody ended up being the father of the revolution on the inside?"

Michael Chernus has another interpretation of the book. "There's a commentary on how context influences what's good art, or good writing, or good media," Chernus said. There's a reason innie and outie Mark have different viewpoints on "The You You Are," because while they inhabit the same body, they are, for the most part, completely different people with entirely different lived experiences. "You can't fully dismiss it if it's doing something for the innies," Chernus said. "If it's doing something for them, who are we to say it's objectively bad?"

This is what makes a show like "Severance" so utterly brilliant. Even looking at the overly motivational and pretentious cover of "The You You Are," it's hard not to want to kick Ricken in his pretentious head. But his message is ultimately what unlocks the freedom from within the innies of MDR and inspires them to fight for change. We can't control what inspires us, and there is value to be found in all forms of art. Sometimes it just takes a change of perspective ... or a microchip that wipes the memories that make you human.