Devs ended its run this week, with Alex Garland's 8-part novel for television proving a dystopian take on too-powerful tech companies and their god complex. Sonoya Mizuno plays Lily, a programmer working for a tech company called Amaya. When her boyfriend and fellow programmer Sergei dies mysteriously, she suspects the CEO Forest (Nick Offerman) had him murdered and sets out to find the truth. Everything points to Devs, the top-secret project Forest and his chief designer Katie (Alison Pill) are developing.
Lily doesn't know that she's the focal point of the Devs project. Forest and Katie know she plays a major part in Devs' program to recreate simulations of past and future historical events. The implications of the program involve Quantum entanglement and the multiverse theory, but Forest has a much more personal reason for creating the project. I wish I could rave about this show like all the other reviewers have. You'd think they saw the Second Coming. All I saw was a pulpy Science Fiction show directed with abstract, avant-garde touches to make it look more important than it really is.
Forest is another tech genius who's a dangerous madman. He's driven by grief to develop a machine that can look into the past and the future. What he wants is to reunite with his dead daughter and wife, and he's willing to kill anyone that gets in his way. Or rather, he has his henchman Kenton (Zach Grenier) do it for him. But Forest isn't just any old villain. He's humane and empathetic. He likes people and wants them to like him, even though he knows they're going to die. He and his head of project Katie have used Devs to see the future and so don't feel responsible. These people were going to die anyway, so it's not their fault, even though they order it to happen. This makes them the most insidious bad guys currently on TV.
Devs Is Oh So Serious
Garland's directorial style suffers from what looks like Tarkovsky Syndrome. He's clearly a fan of Tarkovsky's movies and their languorous, somber tone. Devs is full of visual callbacks to Tarkovsky's movies. Characters stare into space with blank solemnity. There's a joylessness about everything. The climax even features a chorus in its soundtrack to hammer home the story's pretentions to quasi-religious significance. The pace is deliberate and slow so the viewer is forced to consider how somber and serious it all is. Or start looking at their phones for some funny cat memes.
Mizuno, who was completely different as an exuberant bride in Crazy Rich Asians, here plays Lily as stubbornly listless even before she's shattered by grief. I've seen people say she's a bad actress, but this was how she was directed. It's not her fault. Most of the key actors in this show act like they're sleepwalking through the story. Pill, who was twitchy and nervous in Star Trek: Picard, wanders through this show staring into space looking shellshocked. Or waiting for a chance to go take a nap. Offerman is the only one who injects his character with layers of complexity and nuance as he waits for destiny to play out.
This year seems to be Fatalistic Determinism Time. Like Damon Lindelof's Watchmen on HBO, Devs grapples with the notion that Time is immutable. Everything that is going to happen was already predetermined. Free will might not exist. Once again, Alan Moore, who explored this idea in the original Watchmen comic back in 1986, was ahead of the curve all along. Lindelof and Garland, who definitely read the comic, have now taken up the challenge of trying to answer the Determinism vs. Free Will question. By the end, Devs takes the easy way out without any real insight on the question. Do I have free will? Was I always going to watch Devs and write a review instead of play a game on the Xbox? In another universe, do I decide not to watch the show and finish replaying Doom? Or do I do neither in yet another timeline and just take a nap? Do I really care in the end? I suspect, in every universe, I don't.