From the opening moments of FX’s new miniseries Devs on Hulu, you are meant to feel uncomfortable. You are meant to get a sense of great unease from the discordant music to the general imagery. The first minute or so, before the opening credits, are a borderline-distressing watch even if you aren’t exactly sure why. It’s this feeling of intense foreboding like something bad has already happened in the world, our world, and it might even be going on right as we speak. What it is you aren’t sure, but I suppose that’s the point.
“But what am I actually doing here?”— Sergei
“I’m not going to tell you. I won’t need to.”— Forest
Such is the tone of Devs which puts you on your heels early, takes a little tiny break to get you comfortable again, and then hits you with the real shit. It’s not an easy hang, but good art isn’t always feel good and that’s where you really need to lean into this thing.
From a high level, Devs is a show about the tech industry. It centers around a company called Amaya run by Forest (Nick Offerman) which we are led to believe is a tech giant. Its logo is a young girl embodied by a giant statue that looms above their campus like a creepy-ass mascot. Her towering visage holds some meaning about the company’s presence and that doesn’t feel amazing. What Amaya does isn’t entirely clear to start except that they are knee-deep in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, probably search engines at a “low” level, and anything else you can think of when it comes to behemoth Silicon Valley ne’er do wells.
That’s the premise presupposed by director and showrunner Alex Garland and where he wants to start you off on this ride. Garland’s put together quite the body of creative work, penning The Beach which later turned into the Leonardo DiCaprio film that was met with mixed (bad) reviews. After that he really started making his Hollywood name writing the scripts for 28 Days Later and the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, two decidedly different tales of the future gone bad. He’s got experience writing about world’s that have gone off the rails.
Perhaps Garland’s closest comp to what we have here with Devs is Ex Machina, easily one of the best films of the last ten years and a hard look at moral quandaries behind artificial intelligence. That flick was a bottle movie wrapped in a psychothriller that left you guessing throughout. It explored the ills of what happens when great minds start running amok and what can happen when employees get caught in the wake of scientific progress gone awry. Or worse, when the general public is completely unaware of what limitless resources and intelligence can thrust on our world.
What Garland has created with Devs is something like an expansion on that idea, or to put it more simply: what happens when tech “geniuses” run out of control. Is it entirely accurate for 2020? I’m not sure, I don’t live in Silicon Valley. Does Devs feel like it could be happening “right now”? Hell yes. And that’s troubling.
Devs begins with Sergei (Karl Glusman) and Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), two Amaya employees who enjoy a “typical” tech existence with discussions about best brute force hacking practices, bus rides to the Amaya campus and the crushing weight of expectation about working for a dude who has nearly limitless tech power but also the misgivings of a social neophyte. They have what appears to be a usual existence in that they are vying for promotions, wanting to please the boss, and just mostly going to work like normal people.
Devs shifts quickly into a mystery, replete with questions both in this reality and maybe beyond it. If the show puts you on your heels early, it doesn’t really take its foot off the gas. It’s obvious how Garland feels about this world. Namely, he doesn’t like it. But it’s also clear that he understands it. That comes through in a lot of the tiny details around the work/life in a tech company and pressures associated with it.
When it comes to the “big bad” I suspect that part is layered. Garland doesn’t want you to think Forest’s character is in any way a tech savior. In fact, dude feels pretty lowdown. Yet that extra layer might not be a simple good/evil binary. There’s more to this story. A lot more. And that’s where Devs will make its bones.
In some ways, there are almost too many questions to answer in Devs. Who is Sergei? Who is Forest? What is Amaya? What are the stakes? One episode in and we aren’t totally sure yet, but rest assured this story is in good hands.
From a technical production level, Devs is shot like a movie. From a story standpoint, it’s a whodunnit at its core with implications well beyond the central mystery. This show isn’t for the faint of heart.
Like I said earlier Devs is not a comfortable watch, but that’s kind of the point. These big questions don’t have simple answers and Devs wants you to know that none of this comes easy. Like the employees of Amaya, if you want to know what’s going on, you’ll have to work for it.
Devs Review Score
Devs is available right now streaming on Hulu and weekly on the FX Network.