Devs Episode 1 And 2-Recap And Review- Determinism, Amaya, And The Predictive Past
Garland and FX/Hulu distill a bleak view of a near-future world full of tech inevitabilities through a cyber-noir mystery in a mesmerizing Devs Episode 1 and 2.
If you are a fan of Annihilation and Ex Machina you will love Devs. The F/X Hulu joint production dropped the first two episodes of its flagship series tonight. Genius requires effort and collaboration. Just as Amaya Corp. head Forest needs Katie, Lyndon, and Stewart, Alex Garland works hand in hand with a team of brilliant artists. Rob Hardy the cinematographer, Michelle Day Set Decorator, Andrew Whitehurst VFX, and Production Designer Mark Digby create a world that is a gorgeous claustrophobic nightmare. Devs Episode 1 and 2 prove Garland’s vision doesn’t just translate to the small screen, it redefines it.
Theirs is a world like our current one with everything from homelessness and the intellectual elite. Our young couple Sergei(Karl Glusman) and Lily(Sonoya Mizuna) work for Amaya Corporation. The tech company has a giant child statue on campus and a highly secretive internal group called Devs. That side group works in absolute privacy in an isolated place on Amaya’s property.
Forest, Parks and Rec’s Nick Offerman, who is so spectacularly off-brand and Picard’s Allison Pill are the CEO and COO of sorts. They are the calculated minds behind the high-level work happening at Amaya Corp. One half of the initial protagonist couple Sergei is an AI and predictive math specialist. The other half Lily is a software engineer. We first meet Sergei working on a simulation that almost perfectly mirrors a nematodes behavior.
The experiment falls apart at the 30-minute mark which could be very important moving forward. The implications stretch beyond future behavior but could also impact the past. Before we hardly get to know Sergei he is invited into the inner sanctum of Devs. Sergei reveals his true purpose within minutes of entering the cube. Forest demonstrates his leadership style in an ambiguous set of instructions to Sergei giving nothing away.
Amidst nervous vomiting and intense focus Sergei tells Katie if they prove their hypothesis it changes everything. She argues it changes nothing. And therein lies the rub to Devs. Everything is predetermined. Despite being able to predict behavior all we can do is view the past and watch as it changes the future. Voyeuristic to the point of impotence, Devs asks big questions in a vacuum.
Sergei’s role is purely causative. His shocking behavior after he is caught spying is only as important as the actions it puts into motion. His death also provides a glimpse into the enigmatic mind of Offerman’s Forest. He calmly watches as Kenton suffocates Sergei and yet offers absolution before doing so. Forest explains it is the nature versus nurture conundrum and he says Sergei was fated to be in this position. An earlier conversation with Sergei defines his philosophy in general. Forest is a pragmatist with a nihilistic bent. As we find out near the end of episode 2 that has something to do with a dead daughter. He couldn’t care less for business endeavors only her.
Philosophy and Story
Determinism is hot right now and you can hardly watch a sci-fi series without some mention of free will. Determinism is essentially the flip side of John Connor’s “There is no fate but what we make”. Basically, the future is an effect of the past. Prior causes make effects. It’s a simple if this then that scenario. If you want a deep dive on Determinism, Westworld Season 3 will be exploring this same concept in detail. Forest is suffering from guilt or grief and his work with Devs is obviously an extension of those emotions and whatever led to them. Whatever Devs is doing it is seeking to change some eventuality.
Devs Episode 1 and 2 are efficient in their storytelling. Despite the lingering shots of impeccable set design overlaid with The Insect’s Ben Salisbury’s and Geoff Barrows’ haunting soundtrack a lot of world-building takes place. Discordant notes that never quite resolve are complimented by chant-like melodies that hypnotize and bewilder. The grounds of Amaya Corp are as familiar as we would expect from a Google-type company yet with glaring differences. Unsettling uses of a giant statue of a little girl filled with wonder is strangely sad rather than inspirational. The secretive building which holds a quantum supercomputer is stark with touches of delicate cyberpunk instead of strictly utilitarian or entirely whimsical.
Cinematography by Rob Hardy is nothing short of stunning. Rippling, seemingly fluid cubes and deeply sad giant child statues that convey such all-consuming sorrow you wonder why it was built are just some of the touches. Mark Digby’s production design and Michelle Day sets are the visual representation of gravity. Wild, natural, and intense. A cacophony of machine and nature that shouldn’t exist.
A particularly effective reflection scene between Katie and Forest showcases the strange mix of materials. Coupled with an insightful bit of dialogue delivered by Pill who is able to convey deep truth with a nearly affectless performance it is thoughtful and scary. She is the polar opposite of Forest. Katie believes humans are magical thinkers. We are hardwired to look for answers when there aren’t any. To Quixotically tilt at windmills instead of accepting the inevitable. Forest certainly seems to embody that. He doesn’t see himself this way however, because of his myopic personal focus.
In addition to the soundtrack, the overall sound design is effective. Clicks and clanks of keyboards that sound more like an insect hive than an office bring a sense of unease. Garland is adept at collaborating with his team to produce this uneasy, undefinable quality. A quiet beat, while Lily has a disembodied conversation with her mother, makes anyone question just how connected we really are. Moments like this are fantastic at driving the mood of paranoia and loneliness.
Clearly we are playing on stereotypes. Forest looks slovenly and munches on microgreens during Sergei’s presentation. Sergei is a Russian American and Lily a Chinese American. Within the top-level installation are a young genius Lyndon(Cailee Spaeny) and the older wiser Stewart(Stephen McKinley Henderson). The dynamic between the older and younger coder is the most endearing of the pairs. Curiously, Katie and Kenton who are the two most emotionless are the most interesting. These characters are placeholders who are designed to allow the story to extend from. As such the character’s reaction to the story is more important than the plot itself. This well-crafted choice is a hallmark of Garland’s direction.
The Big Questions
As more of the secret work Devs is doing comes out two chilling pixilated visions appear. They look to be the crucifixion of Christ and Forest’s daughter. These visions of the past raise questions about what they are really trying to achieve. Are they trying to prove the existence of God, predict the future, or raise the dead? Forest’s secretive use of the system is a big indicator that this program is for personal use first and foremost.
An interesting conversation between Anton, Sergei’s Russian handler, and Kenton is a straight indictment on the American condition. Are virtuous reasons enough to justify abhorrent actions? At times Americans choose to act as a hegemony to right wrongs or protect interests. Hypocrisy and irony are necessary to keep the paternalistic machine moving. Therefore, it is very likely Forest views his actions in the same light. In any case, he will not need to worry about Anton as Kenton killed him and Lily refused the Russian advances.
Whether Lily believes Forest and Kenton’s story about Sergei’s suicide is irrelevant. She doesn’t trust the Russian and knows something isn’t right about Sergei’s death. She is right to trust no one as something happened to Sergei and someone burned themselves alive. Whether Sergei survived the suffocation or a look-alike was used something happened and there is a burned body to prove it. A deep fake or something stranger we will have to wait to find out.
Between the subterfuge of Russian spies and jealous ex-boyfriends, there is the heart Devs. What secret is Forest willing to kill to protect and how far will Lily and her reluctant ally Jamie(Jin Ha) go to uncover it? In just two episodes the world-building is complete and main players introduced. Devs is everything we have come to expect from Garland and this will be the series everyone is talking about. New episodes will drop each Thursday at midnight ET and be sure to come back weekly for our ongoing coverage.
- In a series that is as existential as Devs, ring lights surrounding the trees serve to reiterate a message. Garland has embraced this type of theme in many of his films before. Technology isn’t bad, it is the nature of the user that provides the malicious use. Trees a universal stand-in for nature are devoid of malice. Therefore nature represents purity.
- It is brilliant to use a plastic grocery bag to kill Sergei in such an environmentally friendly and natural setting. Amaya uses glass bottles of water exclusively yet a plastic bag is Kenton’s weapon of choice because it speaks to who Security Expert Kenton(Zach Grenier) is. Using the bag is calculated and practical. It does give new meaning to the phrase reduce, reuse, recycle.
- Amaya is a discontinued web browser with open source editing and the last changes and updates were made in 2013. Additionally, Amaya means mother city, the end and night rain. These are all curious things to name your tech company. Is it as simple as naming the company after his deceased daughter?
- Whatever is happening in Devs it is beyond top secret. Forest has employed gold mesh, lead Faraday Cages, and a vacuum-sealed air gap. Obviously, the security of the information is of the highest importance.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.