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Series / Devs

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"The sense that you are participating in life was only ever an illusion. Life is just something we watch unfold."

Devs is a 2020 FX / Hulu science fiction thriller mini series written and directed by Alex Garland. It features Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Alison Pill, Zach Grenier, Stephen McKinley-Henderson, and Cailee Spaeny in its central cast.

Lily Chang (Mizuno) and her boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) are a happy couple living in Silicon Valley and working at tech giant Amaya, run by genius CEO Forest (Offerman). After Sergei is promoted to Amaya's secretive "Devs" division, a chain of events unfurls that leaves Lily questioning the nature of her relationship, the true mission of Amaya, and the very concept of free will.

Typical to a Garland project, Devs explores themes of Existential Horror through the use of Science Fiction tropes.

This series provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The series appears to be set in an indeterminate time in the future. Most of the technology shown is very similar to that of the present day with some fairly realistic advances.
  • Affluent Ascetic:
    • Forest is the CEO of the most powerful tech company in the world, but he lives in a simple, middle-class house and drives an old, mid-level family sedan. Even considering the ridiculous property values in Silicon Valley, he could afford far more, but he doesn't care about money. He's only interested in his work to resurrect his family in Deus.
    • Stewart is a prominent coder in Devs and so obviously receives a grand salary in addition to the expectation of a $10 million bonus at the project's completion. However, one late episode reveals that he lives in a tiny trailer parked on the side of the street in the slums. Given that he seems to spend almost all of his waking hours in the office, he likely doesn't feel the need for something more luxurious.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Lyndon and Stewart use the technology to watch Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller have sex. Katie even lampshades how they're basically using technology that essentially changes everything we know about existence to watch porn.
  • Anti-Villain: Forest. He's merciless in achieving his mission, but honestly regrets the actions he takes and is remarkably civil and sympathetic even toward the people he's tried to destroy.
  • Batman Gambit: Lily and Jen's plan to steal the security camera footage relies on quite a few things that are out of their control happening as they expect: If Kenton had not summoned them both into his office and then left Jen alone in his office while dealing with Lily without locking his computer, they would have failed.
  • Beauty Inversion: While Lily is always characterized as desirable, the show goes to some length to downplay the very glamorous Sonoya Mizuno's looks. Lily has a boyish hairstyle and wears almost uniformly casual and gender-neutral clothing.
  • Blood Knight: The senator's bodyguard laments taking his job because it lacks the action he enjoyed as a soldier. Kenton doesn't sympathize.
  • Book Ends: Of a soundtrack variety. Only the first and final episodes include "Regnantem Sempiterna" as performed by Jan Garbarek and the immortal Hilliard Ensemble.
  • Boom, Headshot!:
    • Kenton kills Jamie this way.
    • Lily kills Forest this way in the simulation.
  • The Chew Toy: Jamie. He's abruptly dumped by the woman he loves, roped into helping her avenge the guy she left him for (just as he's getting over her), is tortured by a racist psychopath for his trouble, then just as he thinks he's about to begin a new life with her again, he is unceremoniously murdered.
  • Cool Old Guy: Stewart. He's played by an actor in his seventies but he's witty, cultured, very intelligent and gets along very well with younger people, especially Lyndon.
  • Creepy Child: Not the child herself, exactly, but the gargantuan statue of Forest's daughter, Amaya, on the campus named after her is rather unsettling to look at for too long (as highlighted by the many lingering camera shots of its face).
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Kenton employs this on Jamie in order to intimidate him into silence. It doesn't work.
  • Cross-Cast Role: Lyndon is played by the female Cailee Spaeny. According to Alex Garland, the character is not trans but a cis male played by a female actress. Garland wanted the character to come across as youthful without casting an underage actor. Spaeny could easily pass for an adolescent boy in the role, though puzzlingly the character is stated to be 19, only a few years younger than Spaeny herself.
  • Death Faked for You: Sergei's death is faked for Lily after she becomes suspicious of his disappearance.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Sergei is set up to be the protagonist and is the focus of the first episode, but after his demise, the focus changes to his girlfriend, Lily.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Lily establishes that she's a smart cookie by besting her friend in reciting the Fibonacci sequence.
  • Existential Horror: The Devs system is able to not only project the past by extrapolating quantum particles, but project the future as well, casting serious doubt on the notion of free will. When Stewart pulls up a projection of the Devs viewing room one second into the future, his fellow programmers are terribly shaken. Earlier, Sergei has a panic attack and vomits from realizing the implications of Devs. By the end, Stewart doubts if his own reality is even "real."
  • Faux Affably Evil: Kenton.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The first projection the Devs system sees is the crucifixion of Jesus. Later, the Devs team surmises that Forest's latent hope for the system is that it will allow him to resurrect his daughter.
    • Pete, a run-of-the-mill homeless man, states defiantly that he isn't afraid of Kenton. Kenton's response is to wonder why. It turns out that Pete is an undercover agent who is as skilled in combat as Kenton is.
    • Forest and Kenton have a talk wherein Kenton suggests that he quit smoking. Forest replies that doing so makes no difference. This is likely because Forest knows that Kenton is going to die in a few days.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: It's implied in the simulation that the electromagnetic lift falls because of Lily's gunshot, but if you look carefully, you can see that Stewart shut off the magnetism in that version of events as well, so it was always his fault.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: When Sergei realizes what the Devs project is doing, his first reaction is to run to the bathroom and vomit. Later, Stewart is so shaken by the implications of Devs that he ends up murdering Forest and Lily in an effort to stop it.
  • A God Am I: Jamie reflects that tech magnates who end up with too much power believe themselves to be messiahs. When confronted with this, Forest makes no effort to deny it. In fact, he reveals that the V in "Devs" is actually the Roman counterpart for U, revealing the program's actual name to be "Deus."
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Lyndon falls to his death, the actual impact is not shown, just a wide shot of his body lying still, with a streak of blood nearby.
  • The Heavy: Kenton, Amaya's head of security, is responsible for for eliminating any threats to Amaya.
  • Idiot Ball: Jen and Lily's plan requires Kenton, the head of security at a massive corporation who has just committed murder, to leave someone in his office alone with his computer unlocked.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Stewart and Lyndon get along very well despite the former being about fifty years older.
  • Karma Houdini: Zigzagged. Forest gets everything he wants in the end... but only in some versions of the simulation.
  • Murder by Inaction: The less generous interpretation of Forest and Katie's actions throughout the series, given that they've seen projections of everything that happens. They believe that it's literally impossible to prevent any of it, but Lily's later defiance of the machine's projection calls that into question.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Lily tries this to throw off Kenton. While it initially works, an evaluating psychiatrist later sees right through it. It also backfires on her, as it provides an opening to get rid of her by having her committed against her will.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Lily finds a password-protected program in Sergei's phone disguised as a Sudoku app, a game that Sergei hates.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: While the British Sonoya Mizuno's native English accent doesn't so much slip back in, her American accent sounds strange and fluctuates throughout the series.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Kenton is not a big fan of the Chinese, and he's not afraid to let multiple Chinese people know (on multiple occasions). This seems more to do with suspicions about their government than personal racism.
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure: Stewart repeatedly criticizes the devs team for creating the future while having little care for the past in terms of culture. Episode 7 has him reciting Philip Larkin's "Aubade"as well as William Butler Yeats' "The Second Coming"; Forest and Katie just assume it's all "Shakespeare".
  • Precision F-Strike: Kenton, upon seeing the "Fuck you" sign on Lily's window while trying to murder her, mutters, "Bitch." It happens to be the last thing he ever says.
  • The Reveal:
    • The secret project that the Devs team is working on is a machine that can allow its user to view any moment from the past and up to a certain point in the future.
    • The Devs project works by creating a simulation of the world inside it. This means that somewhere inside the simulation, a Devs team is also making their own Devs project with their own simulation, ad infinitum. Stewart takes this to mean that his own reality is a simulation, and it breaks him.
    • The Devs project is actually called "Deus". In addition to giving perfect simulations of the real world, it also allows brain uploading, effectively allowing resurrection.
  • Secret Identity: Pete, the homeless guy who sleeps on Lily's stoop, is actually working with Sergei and Anton for the Russian government.
  • Shout-Out: Lyndon appears in several scenes wearing a Primus T-shirt.
  • Take a Third Option: In episode 7, Pete saves Lily's life, he gives Lily two options: go to the CIA with the information she has on Devs, or go back to Hong Kong and never return to the USA. She decides to go to Devs instead.
  • Teen Genius: Lyndon is only nineteen and already an extremely skilled coder, able to work on and make pivotal advancements in a project and field where most of his colleagues have been working for longer than he's been alive.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: A case where the viewer doesn't even know that there is a plan until it's already worked. Only when Lily is already out on the ledge and Jen goes for the computer do we realise that they were working together.
  • Wham Episode: Episode 7. After six episodes of slow-burn narrative, gradual revelations, and monologuing, this episode features the deaths of three main characters, Lily giving into the idea that the future can't be changed, and the revelation that Pete actually works for the Russian secret service.
  • Wham Shot: Episode 2 reveals what the Devs team is working on it's a projection that allows anyone to see any point in the past. They show the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A couple of loose threads involving Kenton.
    • After he kills Sergei, there's a cover-up, as one would expect. But when he stabs Anton in the parking garage the incident is never referred to again in any way. Given that Anton was a higher-up Russian spy and that there was VERY likely to be some record of who entered and exited that parking garage, it seems like this should have triggered some investigation for Kenton to worry about! But this never came back. Lily never even found out that he died.
    • He goes pretty heavy on intimidating Jamie to try and scare him out of ever helping Lily again, despite having no clear proof of how much Jamie even knew to begin with. But what about Jen, who he did know Lily must have told a great deal to in order to get her assistance? She disappears entirely from the story at this point. Did he do anything to her?
  • Working with the Ex: Lily asks for Jamie's help in investigating Sergei's death. He rebuffs her initially before agreeing.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Jen tells Kenton that Lily has schizophrenia and was hospitalized after the death of her dad. Lily fakes a mental breakdown to lure Kenton out of his office so Jen can copy security cam footage of Sergei's faked suicide to a thumb drive.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The writers don't seem to realize how easy it is to recite the Fibonacci sequence. When Lily challenges her co-worker, they only make it to three-digit numbers before Lily's opponent falters, and the others are amazed that Lily can keep going. But figuring out the next Fibonacci number is very simple mental arithmetic: just add the number your opponent last said to the number you last said. You would expect that any elite coder at the most powerful tech company in the world would find it quite easy to add three-digit numbers together.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The various characters soon begin to believe this after they realize the full extent of the Devs project:
    • In episode 6, Lily is told by Katie that she will visit Amaya within 48 hours. While Lily initially resolves to disprove the prediction of the Devs machine, she ultimately decides to visit Amaya after Jamie is killed by Kenton.
    • Lyndon is easily convinced by Katie to climb over the railing of a dam to prove his belief in the Everett interpretation/many worlds theory that in some universes he lives and goes back to work in Amaya, and in others he dies, because Katie told him that he was going to do exactly that.
    • Zigzagged in the finale. Lily is shown the simulation of her final moments: she shoots Forest in the head, but this causes the electromagnetic lift to fail, killing her as well. In the real world, she tosses the gun as the lift's door closes, ensuring that she can't shoot Forest. However, Stewart disables the electromagnetic field, killing both Lily and Forest.