Devs

3 out of 5

Created by: Alex Garland

covers season 1

Early in Devs, programmer Sergei (Karl Glusman) shows a demo of some behavioral prediction work he’d been doing to his boss at – and CEO of – tech company Amaya, Forest (Nick Offerman).  Forest is spoken of as a somewhat typical genius-type recluse, having turned Amaya into a catch-all company and now running a specialized group on a new super-secret project, onto which he invites Sergei on, as far as we know, the basis of his demo.

Sergei is walked past some super high tech security (and amazing and surreal production design) to meet this specialized group, and is given the vaguest of non-informational “sit down and start to work” intros by Katie (Alison Pill), Forest’s right-hand, and here is where Devs writer / director / creator Alex Garland tries to make good on the slow and off-kilter dialogue and tone he’d been using thus far: Sergei looks at his computer screen, his eyes go wide, and he asks others to make sure they’re know just what it is they’re doing.

And they do.  We don’t, yet, but it’s obviously something massive, and as we soon learn – spoilers for the first episode – big enough to kill over.

Sergei’s girlfriend and fellow Amaya programmer, Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), gets wrapped up in this when Sergei disappears and she presses for details, and for reasons.  She brings her ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha) into the mix when finding those details and reasons requires some of his hacking expertise.  There’s definitely a Mr. Robot veneer to this, trying to keep the tech seeming real, and then it’s all layered over with Garland’s ongoing interest in the crossover between technology and reality; lots of measured conversations on what defines reality, and the potential dangers of technology, occur.

But we’re kind of stuck behind a MacGuffin: Garland is toying with Devs as a thriller, with people gunning for Lily and Jamie as they dig deeper into matters surrounding this super-secret project and Forest’s company, but it’s not focused on being a thriller – Lily rather actively avoids taking this head-first route – and all of those hauntingly scored, camera-panned contemplative moments on artificial intelligence and other hot tech topics let us know that we’re going to have to get back around to whatever Sergei saw on that computer.  And we do, and it’s interesting, but – we’re about halfway through the series – extrapolating from this discovery, there’s much more to do, but to take things to an ending.

The general crypticness of the show, and its willing descents into sudden violence, make it intriguing, but not really compelling.  And the crypticness is false: it’s dressing up a rather common conversation in tech and sci-fi circles with open-ended questions and characters who take certain actions because they’re interesting within context of the show, rather than necessarily logical.  Every actor is impressive in their roles, but they all serve rather limited functions in the larger conversation – Garland gives them permissible motivations, but again, their actions are generally fueled more by what’s necessary to keep things going than anything that helps us connect with them.

It’s still worth a watch.  The visuals and score are fantastic, and Garland plays fair by letting us in on the “secret” early enough so that we an make a call as to whether or not to stick around, and also, I’d say, makes it apparent that the show isn’t intending to lead up to any life-changing twists, so the conclusion is what it is… which is rather thematically tied in to the series’ point of view as well.