Over the last few years, the name of Alex Garland has become synonymous with modern sci-fi, not only with his last two directorial features Ex Machina and Annihilation, but also as a screenwriter with such entries as 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd, and Never Let Me Go. Both through his words and now as a director, he has presented a plethora of thought-provoking ideas, from the potential future of AI to space travel to dystopian worlds to extraterrestrials.
When I heard that Garland was doing a sci-fi TV series, I couldn’t be more excited for what he would bring us. And with the first two episodes of Devs, it appears that excitement was warranted. He brings his now trademark directorial flourishes to an original story, presenting well-rounded characters, futuristic technology, and, for now at least, an aura of mystery to keep us invested. Let’s recap.
Devs begins with an otherworldly opening sequence; with glimpses of monolithic structures, bright lights, and out-of-focus characters, accompanied by some high-volume ambient music. It’s just enough to draw you in, before revealing our two central characters: they are Lily Chan (Garland regular Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei (Karl Glusman). Waking up together, the two soon engage in conversation about the day ahead: they both work at a computing company called Amaya, Sergei in AI, and Lily in programming. In just a few hours, Sergei is about to give a very important presentation about a project he had been working on.
Fast forward to the project itself. Sergei presents to the CEO of Amaya, Forest (a very bearded Nick Offerman) and Katie (Alison Pill) his latest development: the ability to predetermine the movements of a microorganism, even being able to predict 10 seconds into the future. The presentation is a success, leading to Forest’s promotion into Devs, a mysterious high-end sector of the company responsible for an as-of-yet undisclosed purpose.
Soon after we witness a rather intense interview with head of security Kenton (Zach Grenier), in which he questions both Sergei’s loyalties, being a native-born Russian, and Lily, being of Asian descent. Yet Sergei is welcomed in nonetheless, and after one last discussion of his future at the company with Lily, he moves forward to his new position.
Accompanied by Forest, Sergei heads to the isolated Devs building, a large structure separated from the rest of campus by a creepy forest. Once inside, prepare to be stunned. The Devs building may look impressive from the outside, but from the inside it’s even more remarkable. Bathed in gold and with rotating waves of sparkling lights, the place is almost like a technology palace, complete with the mysterious machine at the center powering it. It helps that the score during these moments is full of operatic voices and high-strung instruments, making it seem almost like a house of worship.
After a brief discussion, which consists of everything but what Sergei will actually be doing at his new position, he tries to settle down to his new station, though not before losing his nerve (but more on the reasoning for that in a bit). After a time, Sergei appears to understand what he is doing, and in discussing it with Katie, he states: “this changes everything.” Sergei leaves the Devs building late at night, but is soon confronted by Forest once again, who accuses Sergei of secretly recording the Devs code on his wristwatch. Kenton then jumps out of the bushes and suffocates him with a plastic bag while Forest reluctantly watches.
Later, Lily waits at home for Sergei to return. After passing the night, she grows concerned, and reports him missing to none other than head of security Kenton, the man who strangled him. Forest hears of the disappearance, and promises Lily he will do everything he can to find Sergei. They are able to see him on a security cam walking away from the Devs building before he disappears, raising more questions than answers. Later, Forest, clearly grief-stricken for his part in what happened, discusses it with Katie, who tells him he really had no choice.
Lily is not convinced that Sergei would simply walk away without contacting her. She attempts to restore his phone through a cloud backup, but then finds a Soduku game on his phone, which is password-protected. It is just the start of what should prove to be a complex puzzle. Lily goes to her ex-boyfriend Jamie for help cracking the password, but he refuses. She later on is called back to campus, only to see a video of Sergei lighting himself on fire. Devastated, the last shot we witness is of Lily seeing the scorched body for herself.
Highlights and Observances
-The cast of Devs is a standout, from the always-pleasant Nick Offerman, here playing a character completely lacking in his usual sense of humor but not without a sense of charm, to the chameleonic Sonoya Mizuno, here playing a rather subdued character, but one who you can tell is about to become centerstage after the loss of her boyfriend. Also, nice to see Stephen McKinley Henderson pop up at one point; hopefully he’ll have a much larger role going forward.
–Garland‘s bait-and-switch with Sergei at first seeming like the protagonist of the story is not something I saw coming, though also one I’m rather happy about. It’s almost an anti-fridging moment, which is nicely subversive.
-Forest’s conversation with Sergei outside the Devs building about humans being “deterministic” without a real sense of free will was insightful, setting up what should come to be one of the central themes of the series.
-The structure, including the gold towers outside, and first glimpse of the inside of the Devs building reminded me much of the end sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Dave comes to the monolith and then travels within it.
–Alex Garland has a knack for framing his characters, especially when it comes to their reflections, showing the duplicity of seeing someone as they appear on the outside as well as the self they are harboring within.
-First and foremost: What is the Devs project? What did Sergei mean by “this changes everything”, and Katie’s response of “actually, it changes nothing”? Also, what’s with the giant little girl structure outside the Amaya building?
-Did Forest know what Sergei was going to do? If so, why did he allow him to join the Devs program? What’s really going on here?
-How did Amaya recreate Sergei’s image both in him walking away from the Devs building and also lighting himself on fire?
-What will convince Lily that Amaya lied about what really happened to Sergei? Are they watching her to see what she does?
At any rate, onward!
Episode 2 starts off right where we left 1. “Sergei’s” scorched body is examined, and we witness Lily’s increasing sorrow at his loss. Then, we witness a conversation between Lily and Forest, discussing her current situation and that she could take as much time off as she needs to as a result. Forest also discusses his own past, including the loss of his daughter Amaya (which explains both the company name and the giant structure behind it).
Lily then calls her mother in Hong Kong, reassuring her that she is fine despite the loss, and that she is spending time with friends, even as the camera pans out and shows her completely alone. She tries the Soduku password again, but is met with another failure. Desperate for answers, Lily travels to her ex-boyfriend Jamie’s house, amusingly gaining access via the fire escape. There, Jamie finally relents and agrees to help after hearing what happened. They discover that the app has links to Russia, and that Sergei was likely a Russian spy.
Next, we see Forest engage in a conversation outside of his home with Kenton, in which Kenton describes Forest’s lifestyle as somewhat meek, especially given his financial wealth. Forest insists that he’s not holding onto the past, once again bringing up the idea of following his “tram-lines” that he had discussed earlier with Sergei. Next, we witness Katie, Stewart (Henderson‘s character) and Lyndon (Cailee Spaeny) watching a wall of shimmering purple and white specks, which soon transforms into the outline of an image. It appears to be Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross, which they gleefully watch.
Lily has successfully hacked Sergei’s phone with Jamie’s help, and she sees messages he had been sending to an unknown source. She replies to them, and the contact tells her to meet him on the Golden Gate bridge the following morning. While there, the man, who Sergei was working for, tells Lily what she needs to hear: that Sergei didn’t kill himself. He also states that Lily could work with them if she wanted to know more, saying that she could put a sign by her window if she wished to proceed. Suddenly, we witness Kenton standing around the corner, who had witnessed the whole conversation. Uh-oh!
We then rejoin the group in the purple static room. Forest has now joined them, and he claims that, though they were able to see a 2000-year-old projection, it’s not clear enough. He then empties the room, and watches another projection: his deceased daughter blowing bubbles. It’s a quietly tender moment.
Next, we see Jamie waiting outside of Lily’s apartment building. After briefly talking to Pete, the hobo that regularly hangs out outside her building, he sees Lily, and they go up to her place. He then tells Lily that, knowing her, she would probably be curious about the mysterious app on Sergei’s phone. He tells her that it’s a bad idea to proceed further, and she agrees.
Our final scene has Kenton confronting the Russian that Lily had met with earlier, telling him to back off with Lily or her life could be in danger. The Russian calls BS, claiming that Kenton is just using her as leverage. The two subsequently engage in a tussle, resulting in Kenton emerging victorious. The episode ends with Lily indeed sticking a sign outside her window: though one that bluntly states: “Fuck you!”
Highlights and Observances
-After the fast pace of the first episode, this one notably slows things down a bit, letting us get to know these characters and their stories a bit more. It also opens up a lot more plot points and characters, including the heightened role of the ex-boyfriend Jamie, and the role of Henderson‘s character Stewart.
-Forest’s scenes are a particular highlight, showing how he grasps with the loss of his daughter and how it influences his current decisions. It makes him much more sympathetic, especially given his role in the past episode, though there is at least some concern that the show will use that as a crutch for his character moving forward.
-Pete, the guy who hangs outside of Lily’s apartment building, is a fun recurring character, especially in his last exchange with Jamie. Hopefully we’ll see more of him moving forward.
-The initial discussion in the purple static room scene is fantastic, including at first a discussion of boomers vs the new generation, exemplified by Stewart and Lyndon. Stewart claims that the new generation claims to be “woke” but is actually clueless, considering their lack of knowledge of history and even past musical artists.
-Speaking of which, the establishing shot of that scene is spectacular, including witnessing the silhouette of Kaite, whose outline appears almost villainous. And the room itself is a sight to see, as it gracefully hovers above a gold-plated room within the Devs building.
-Excellent use of the song “Congregation” by Low, both in the episode’s opening where we see the scorched body of “Sergei” and in the conclusion, when the two men fight and Lily posts her sign. I especially like this line in the lyrics: “The implication is its own device.” Looking forward to the choice of songs in future episodes.
-The fighting scene comes across as unfortunately comical at moments, as the slow motion somewhat obscures the intensity of it. Kenton surprisingly emerging triumphant, though, spells something significant as the series proceeds.
-We’re given a little more insight into the Devs program in this episode, including the idea of past projections, but still what are they really trying to accomplish?
-Is there something more to what Forest is doing than just the loss of his daughter?
-What’s with Pete, the homeless man who lives outside of Lily’s building? Does he have a more significant role than just comic relief?
-What will happen on the Russian side now that they lost an operative?
-Will Lily eventually come around and decide to delve further into her boyfriend’s murder?
To conclude, both episode 1 and 2 of Devs start the show off in an intriguing way. It introduces characters and storylines that can only get more interesting as the series progresses. Hopefully, the show will answer the many questions it has presented so far, and can end in typical Alex Garland fashion by making us question our lives as human beings. Stay tuned for more episode recaps and reviews as the series progresses!
What are your thoughts on the first two episodes of Devs? Are you a fan of Alex Garland’s work? Let us know in the comments below!
Devs airs weekly on Thursdays on Hulu. The first two episodes are streaming now.
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