DEVS is the latest project from visionary writer/director Alex Garland (Annihilation) which centers around Lily, a computer engineer, whose boyfriend goes missing, leading her to believe that the company they work for is involved. The eight-part limited series, which will air on FX for Hulu, stars Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Jin Ha (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert), Alison Pill (Star Trek: Picard), Zach Grenier (The Good Fight), Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Lady Bird), and Karl Glusman (The Neon Demon).
The series opens in the not-so-distant future of Silicon Valley where we meet Sergei (Karl Glusman), an AI coder, and his significant other Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), a computer engineer, who both work for the tech giant, Amaya. After receiving a promotion to work at the secret Devs division of Amaya, Sergei goes missing. Soon after, Lily begins to suspect that his departure may not be what it seems and embarks on a pursuit to uncover the truth about Devs and the zen-like albeit charismatic CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman). With the help of her ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha), Lily begins to put the pieces together in regards to Sergei’s disappearance as well as the secrets surrounding whatever is taking place at Devs.
DEVS deals with a lot of themes that can be hard to grapple with, such as predestination, quantum physics, supposed conspiracies, and my favorite, grief. However, at its core, it’s a show about the lengths people will go to get back their loved ones. It’s a smart sci-fi thriller that may be convoluted at times in its description and explanation of things but still manages to speak in enough layman terms for those of us who need it (like myself). Luckily, there’s enough information for the viewer to be able to understand what’s going on and the implications and consequences that our characters must endure. Furthermore, this series challenged me to not only look at where the advancement of technology is going but how it can potentially impact our lives, both positive and negative.
I personally found DEVS to be a visual masterpiece with imagery that is just as emotionally moving as it is striking. If you’re familiar with Garland’s past work, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s apparent that a lot of time and effort went into the production design needed to bring this show to life. Whether it’s the brightly lit rings positioned around the trees, the orange/yellow/red color palette of the building that holds Devs or the giant statue of Amaya, the production of this show is beyond astounding. It feels futuristic but not in an unfathomable way. A lot of the visuals, whether abstract or not, correspond, in one way or another, to the themes presented. I don’t want to give too much away, but I would suggest honing in on some of the more abstract iconographies that unfold further into the series. Additionally, the musical score, which changes rapidly from episode to episode, is both haunting and exhilarating. It pushes along the narrative in a way that heightens the viewing experience through the use of different musical instruments composed to elicit strong emotional reactions from the viewer. Even now writing this, I can hear some of the more intense, hypnotizing bass sounds as well as the high-pitch, frenetic noises that enveloped me during moments of crucial revelations.
As for the acting, one of my favorite things about this show is how some of the characters challenged me to look at them differently, most notably Forest. Played by Nick Offerman, Forest is the founder/CEO of Amaya, though his physical appearance gives off a “man of the woods” vibe rather than “tech giant.” If you asked me if he was the villain, I don’t think I could give a definitive response. On the surface, yes, he is, but I can also understand why he’s making some of the choices that he is. As for Sonoya Mizuno, who plays Lily, this is her third collaboration with Alex Garland, having been in both Ex Machina and Annihilation. I had a hard time connecting with Lily and I think that had to do with her lack of emotional responses. The way in which she spoke was very monotonous and clinical, which kept me at a distance. I would have liked more warmth from her but a part of me wonders if this was an interpretation of characteristics related to those in the tech/engineering field. Alison Pill portrays Katie, a genius quantum physicist as well as Forest’s indispensable right-hand woman. Throughout the series, her performance was the one that left me the most unnerved. She’s even more detached than Lily is which makes me wonder how it’s possible for people to be so robotic in their emotional responses. Lastly, I need to mention Jin Ha, who plays Lily’s ex-boyfriend Jamie, a cybersecurity specialist who ends up helping Lily to solve the disappearance of her boyfriend. Having still not recovered from their breakup, Jamie struggles in the beginning with his desire to help Lily, but when danger presents itself, he realizes that she can’t go on this path alone.
As for additional characters, I have to make mention of a few. Zach Grenier plays Kenton, head of security at Amaya. In the simplest terms, this man will stop at nothing to keep the secrets of Amaya contained, no matter what. There were many times where I fantasized punching him square in the throat because he was so corrupt in his actions. I don’t mean this in a negative way, it’s actually a testament of how well his performance was, making him one of the best characters in the series. Lyndon and Stewart, played by Cailee Spaeny and Stephen McKinley Henderson, respectively, are two of the brilliant employees that work within the secret Devs facility. I didn’t fully understand a lot of what they were doing in regards to their research, but the chemistry between the two, and how they played off one another, was one of the highlights of the show. We, as the viewer, are kept at a distance when we first meet them in the lab, but as the show progresses, we get a deeper look into their personalities. This is true for some of the other characters as well, as we get more insight into their lives, and for some, their past. Because of this, I think it helps in giving the viewer a more well-rounded look at the characters not only as employees but as human beings as well.
DEVS undoubtedly has a lot of appeal, even if there are moments that might leave people scratching their heads in confusion. Garland is one of the most unique filmmakers out there, with a stylish and creative vision that is brilliantly used to bring about themes and concepts that should be talked about more often. As I mentioned earlier in my review, there is going to be a lot of technical information and terms that people may have a hard time digesting but don’t let that take away from the overall experience that the series offers. I promise the majority of it will all come together in the end. Plus, there’s enough background info related to certain characters that are expanded upon the further into the series you get which helps in clarifying things without it being spoonfed. In all, DEVS is a remarkable study on loss and grief that illustrates how emotional attachment and technological advancements can cause dangerous implications when in the hands of the wrong person. Prepare to find out the lengths you’ll go when DEVS premieres exclusively on FX on Hulu March 5th.
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