I don’t usually watch that much television, but once in a while I allow myself to get sucked in.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve been drawn into the fascinating and bizarre world of the science fiction thriller Severance. It is about a mysterious corporation (Lumon Industries) whose workers have had brain surgery so that their memories are divided between work and non-work life.
I’ve found the show entertaining, and I’m looking forward to the second season, following that evil cliffhanger. Directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McCardle, it has an unusual set, engaging cinematography, dynamic acting, and entertaining writing.
It also blends in a lot of humor–sometimes quite quirky and bizarre–alongside many disturbing and suspenseful sequences. The animated opening sequence, along with the eerie theme song composed by Theodore Shapiro, is attention-getting.
Like many good science fiction tales, the show provokes thinking about various aspects of modern life. The world often demands that we compartmentalize and set aside different parts of ourselves in different settings. When humans organize ourselves into large groups, there’s often diffusion of responsibility for the outcomes we’re collectively producing. What happens when we take these concepts to the extreme?
Alongside all of this, there’s something else about Severance that–for most of the season–really excited me.
** The remainder of this post contains spoilers. **
The Ultimate Performance Reward
Lumon Industries, the mysterious corporation, provides its workers with various rewards to incentivize their performance. I won’t give any of the others away, as they are often humorous. But if you’ve seen the show, you’re probably not surprised that I was particularly excited by one of them: the waffle party.
Not only is the waffle party an award to motivate employees for good performance, but it is the ultimate award, a major goal to strive for.
Hey, if I were CEO, that’s the reward I would choose to offer.
One of the employees, Dylan (played by Zach Cherry), is particularly excited by the prospect of waffle parties.
Eventually, he earns one.
. . .
Wait, what is happening . . .
My Critique of The Lumon Waffle Party for Dylan
In my opinion, the writers were quite creative with the waffle party. Their job is to be entertaining, and they kept with the bizarre and mysterious nature of Lumon.
However, I have standards when it comes to waffle parties. Standards that are hard to let go of, even when I’m attempting to suspend reality by watching a television show. (Read up on what a real-world waffle party is.)
From an employee engagement perspective, a real-world Lumon would need to make some major improvements to this particular reward. I felt pretty bad for Dylan. I thought he deserved so much more.
Following are several improvements I would make to Lumon’s waffle party.
We’ll get the most obvious thing out of the way first: the waffles. If they were vegan, great. If not, that’s the first place for improvement.
Then there’s texture. Judging by the appearance, they looked like just your basic run-of-the-mill all-purpose flour waffles. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; I know many people who love such waffles. But in my opinion, there was probably room for more whole grain wheat flour, or some other type of grain, to add texture, like the Naked Vegan Waffles (and their gluten-free counterpart) incorporate.
At least Dylan’s waffles had a bit of browning, suggesting that he enjoyed a bit of crispiness. Hopefully they had a soft, fluffy interior to provide contrasting mouthfeel. He deserves at least that much, I think.
If Lumon really wanted to treat Dylan to something special, they could have made something fancy like the yeast-raised Umami Mama Vegan Waffles, which taste like fancy pizza with Kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes. (The revised and expanded Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook has a gluten-free version as well.)
The waffle toppings
Then there are the toppings. Omigosh. I’m not even sure where to start here. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with your basic plant-based butter and maple syrup. I love these classics myself, and perhaps that’s what Dylan requested. But, there are so many other possibilities for vegan waffle toppings.
So. Many. Other. Possibilities.
They could have asked Dylan to browse the highlights and photos from a past waffle party to get some topping ideas, and let him pick out his favorites.
How about some chocolate syrup?
That doesn’t seem like too much to ask as a reward for being MDR Team Refiner of the Quarter.
Just a few strawberries or blueberries would have livened things up a bit. And no need to stick to sweet, either; there are plenty of savory options. Give the guy some hummus, for crying out loud. Running around those maze-like hallways makes a person hungry!
Count to five, Dave.
Breathe . . .
Go to your happy place . . .
Or they could have just given Dylan a copy of The Global Vegan Waffle Cookbook so he could pick out his favorite waffle/topping pairing. The later portions of the book would have given them ideas for hosting an even better waffle party. Which brings us to our next few points.
How long had those waffles been sitting there? One of the points of a well-hosted waffle party is that freshly-baked (or at least freshly reheated/toasted) waffles are available. They can lose some of their crispness and firmness after being out of the iron for several minutes, which is no laughing matter.
Eating waffles alone?
Although Dylan wasn’t alone for the entire event (he got some very lively surprises that we won’t give away here), why was he eating his waffles alone? It would have been much more festive if he had been able to enjoy them with his co-workers. Waffle parties are supposed to be connective events. Dylan got to enjoy his waffles in a frickin’ haunted house. With a disturbing bust of the company founder staring at him.
Why do waffles need accompanying entertainment?
What was up with that highly unusual entertainment? What did that have to do with waffles? Was the show implying that waffles on their own are not sufficient for an ultimate reward? If the waffles had been of higher quality, and had more creative toppings, all that frolicking and gyrating would have been completely unnecessary.
Yes, I’ve read some of the takes on the symbolism of it, and how it ties into the philosophical doctrine of Lumon. It fits with the sinister nature of Lumon that they would take something as awesome as a waffle party and twist it to meet their own cultish brainwashing needs.
Building upon what creator Dan Erickson and Director Ben Stiller explain in the above-linked article, one could extract more macro-level symbolism regarding how sexual intimacy is often framed as a reward for conventional success in our competitive culture and, in the process of being utilized as a motivator, gets distorted in various ways.
Okay, I realized I just threw another heavy thought into the mix of an otherwise mostly lighthearted post. I’ll give you a moment to digest that before moving on.
Leaving a waffle party early?
In most cases, rushing out of a real-world waffle party would be absurd. No one would even consider doing such a thing. There’s no groovier place to be. Sure, Dylan had an important mission to complete, but he didn’t hang around very long after finishing his waffles. That shows how much room there was for improvement with this particular waffle party.
Now that I think about it more, perhaps that’s why Dylan and his co-workers used the waffle party as an opportunity to take an important step in their secret plot: They knew that no one would expect someone to rush out of a waffle party early. Fortunately for them, the party was so bizarre that Dylan had an easy time leaving.
To be fair, because Dylan has previously won Refiner of the Quarter, it is likely that he has experienced previous waffle parties, which may have affected his enthusiasm.
A Really Weird Coincidence
Sidebar: A number of years ago, the late and great Dylan from Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary served as the spokescow for the Global Vegan Waffle Party. It’s a fun coincidence that the first character shown earning a waffle party on Severance is also named Dylan. There’s your trivia tidbit for the day.
Hosting Severance Waffle Parties
Severance was recently approved for a second season. A visitor to the Facebook Vegan Waffles page recently shared with me that they’re considering hosting a waffle party for the season two premiere. I told them I thought that sounded like a really fun idea! If you host one, and decide to make it vegan, feel free to post about it on the Vegan Waffles Facebook page.
Perhaps in the near future there will be weekly gatherings where people eat vegan waffles and watch Severance.
Severance is an interesting and entertaining show, and I was very excited by the waffle party concept. But as someone who has hosted many real-world waffle parties, I believe Lumon has much room for improvement. That’s okay, though, because I plan to continue hosting my own waffle parties. I wholeheartedly invite you to do the same!