5 Things We Learned From The Inside Severance Comic-Con Panel

In no time at all, "Severance" has successfully made the leap from a quirky oddity (admittedly, with an intriguingly original premise) to the latest show viewers simply can't stop talking about. The jury is probably still out on whether events like San Diego Comic-Con serve as an accurate barometer of just how big and popular a given property really is or not. For example, "House of the Dragon" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" will undoubtedly put on a thrilling show for those lucky enough to pack into Hall H in the coming days. Will the Comic-Con hype actually translate to mainstream interest, or will they prove to be a pair of diehards-only events? That remains to be seen, but based on the buzz practically vibrating throughout the recent Inside Severance panel — not to mention its bounty of Emmy nominations — we would bet the series still has quite a bit of mileage left in it.

The always-passionate moderator, Patton Oswalt, was joined by a full panel of stars that included series creator Dan Erickson, director Ben Stiller, and actors Adam Scott (who plays Mark Scout), Britt Lower (Helly), Dichen Lachman (Ms. Casey), Jen Tullock (Devon), and Tramell Tillman (Mr. Milchick). The inaugural season of this mind-bending and oftentimes unsettling black comedy left a multitude of topics to address in just the one hour allotted to the panel, but everyone proved up to the task and left us with almost as many questions as answers about the twists we witnessed and the story still to come. Here's everything we learned from the Inside Severance panel.

That opening scene was originally very different

The best shows suck viewers in right from the opening seconds of their premieres, and "Severance" more than meets that lofty standard. As far as evocative imagery goes, the sight of a woman sprawled on top of a conference room table who wakes up with no idea of who she is or how she got there is as unforgettable as it gets. Helly is eventually talked down by the stiff and out-of-his-depth Mark to guide her through the company orientation process and the story proceeds from there, but that's not always how the show was envisioned to kick things off.

Erickson revealed that, in the original pilot script, Mark was written as the one to wake up and provide the audience's viewpoint into the weird, off-putting world of Lumon Industries' Severance floor. In that version, Helly would've played the role of the "seasoned" character who helps Mark S. find solid ground underneath his feet. Obviously, this role-reversal would've flipped the entire dynamic of the show on its head, making this the biggest change (out of several) from the script to the screen. At Ben Stiller's recollection that the earliest drafts had even "weirder stuff" than the finished product, Erickson noted how much more "acid-trippy" it used to be. While we ended up with mysterious goats and bizarre waffle party rituals, another concept we apparently could've seen was a pair of disembodied legs running around. Fingers crossed that season 2 doubles down on the weirdness!

You can guess its influences (or can you?)

Perhaps it's fitting that a show as fresh and original as "Severance" sprung out of an amalgam of inspirations — some obvious, others less so. Creator Dan Erickson name-checked many of the expected examples, but some of the more interesting details come from an assortment of other sources. As one might expect, the show that's all about taking work/life balance to the extreme couldn't help but take its roots from Erickson's own "corporate misery" as a result of various office jobs early in his career. Anyone who's experienced that 9-to-5 grind somewhere you really don't want to be can relate to the idea of somehow erasing every minute between punching in and clock out. Thus, "Severance" was born.

Yet as forthright as Erickson was when it came to his initial places of employment or the '90s movies that played the biggest roles in helping define what "Severance" would ultimately become, the creator suddenly became cagey when describing the theater, philosophy, and literature that factored into the story as well. One key plot point late in the season features the "innie" counterparts of both Mark and co-worker Dylan (Zach Cherry) undergoing a profound awakening of sorts, thanks to a misplaced (and unexpectedly profound) self-help book penned by Mark's tedious brother-in-law, Ricken (Michael Chernus). Maybe Erickson was drawing upon a similar text he came across, maybe he wasn't. Either way, we'll have to wait and see if season 2 provides any more answers there.

Filming Severance eerily resembled the severed experience

In 2012, Dan Erickson first began the process of putting pen to paper and bringing the world of "Severance" into our own. Five years later, Ben Stiller, of all people, ended up reading the script for a pilot about a dark and all-too-real twist on workplace comedies — as Erickson put it at one point during the panel, think of "The Office" but without anyone truly knowing what kind of show they're actually on. In fact, the feeling of characters like Mark S. and Helly R. and the rest of the severed skeleton crew that makes up Macrodata Refinement living in a bubble, separate from anything and everything else, was a pervasive one.

Briefly snatching the role of moderator (it was Stiller, not Oswalt, who asked Erickson how long he'd been working on "Severance"), Stiller remarked upon the once-in-a-lifetime circumstances that threatened to throw the show's already sizable development into disarray. With 10 months to complete filming, the cast and crew pressed on amid COVID-19 to get the production to the finish line — given its premise, a genuinely socially distanced affair if ever there was one — and, as a result, experienced the "bubble" as viscerally as their fictional counterparts did.

Nevertheless, the joy of being able to share their experiences with a full house at Comic-Con was palpable, helping to make the long and winding journey feel worth it in the end.

Those were actual working computers

For a show where the majority of the action takes place in an environment as visually plain as an office (a labyrinthian one, sure, but an office all the same), it's a credit to the production team that the scenes set on Lumon's severed floor never once feel unintentionally boring or stale. As Ben Stiller admitted during the panel, there's only so many different ways to place a camera under those circumstances. As a result, they allowed the idea of "what the scene is about" to dictate how they would go about shooting it.

To a certain extent, that also goes back to the decision to make the office as practical as possible. Not only did they craft the set in such a way that the endless hallways and mazelike corridors actually connected and led to their intended destinations on the soundstage, but even the workstations came with functional computers the cast grew to become incredibly proficient in using over time. (According to Jen Tullock, Zach Cherry was by far the best out of the entire quartet.) For convention attendees who visited the immersive experience Apple TV+ officially unveiled in conjunction with the series, Stiller revealed that up to 75% of the props on display were authentic and taken straight from the set.

Some jobs might actually justify erasing all memory of the experience, but working on the set of "Severance" was most definitely not one of them.

Sorry fans, the crew is (mostly) avoiding the Severance subreddit

At no point in the history of moving pictures have viewers been able to exert such influence on the media they consume — or maybe it just feels that way. In any case, the advent of social media, the increasing boldness of opinionated fans, and the normalization of extremely online creatives have all come together to plunge us head first into unexplored territory. If panel moderator Patton Oswalt's character on "Parks and Recreation" was once able to predict the future storyline of "The Book of Boba Fett" almost to the letter, then everything has to be considered on the table ... right?

Well, don't tell that to those working on season 2 of "Severance." Like any story steeped in mystery, the show's dedicated subreddit quickly turned into a hive of speculation and theorizing and predictions, each more outlandish than the last. Dan Erickson quickly confirmed he was warned to stay away from the site to keep the "infinite options" available to him during the next stage of the story without any outside influence. He admitted that, early on, he did indulge himself in checking out what fans were saying, but the best comment on the matter came from Tramell Tillman. Upon being encouraged to visit the subreddit, the actor ruefully admitted that most of what he saw was praise for what he sheepishly described as, uh, "specific areas" of his anatomy. Without missing a beat, Stiller quipped: "I should get on Reddit."