Alex Garland has a very clear brand, and one that I buy up with gusto. He tends to write science fiction as a mixture of awe and terror. Something new and unfathomable will always spark a mixture of “Wow” and “Oh no!” but Garland’s work makes it the central struggle. Elements of this showed up in his screenplays for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Sunshine. With his own directorial efforts, they came front and center. Ex Machina introduced the idea of a perfect AI, with ulterior motives; Annihilation showed us an entity that could warp our very existence. Now Garland is putting both of those ideas together for the haunting new TV miniseries Devs.
From the first two episodes—which premiere Thursday, March 5, on the new FX on Hulu channel on the streaming giant—it feels like Devs is the third part in this thematic trilogy. While it returns to the insanely advanced tech world explored in Ex Machina, it also touches on the metaphysics, quantum states, and existentialism of Annihilation. It’s not quite as apocalyptic, or at least not yet, but it weaves some truly heady and troubling ideas through its central mystery.
FX on Hulu
The story begins with computer genius couple Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei (Karl Glusman) who live together in San Francisco and both work for the massive Amaya tech company. Lily is in cyber encryption while Sergei heads an A.I. team. The head of Amaya is the seemingly zen, ultra hippie Forest (Nick Offerman) who named the company after his late daughter. He’s devoted to her memory; a picture of the young girl adorns all Amaya branding and the campus of the company features a truly giant, rather creepy statue of the girl. Its head and shoulders stand higher than the treeline.
After Sergei’s team impresses Forest with their latest breakthrough (involving A.I. matching the movement and thought patterns of nematodes), Forest invites Sergei to join Devs, Amaya’s mysterious experimental division. No one knows what Devs actually does, and no one is allowed to talk about it. It’s far from the main campus in a strange concrete building. At the center (which looks right out of Ex Machina‘s underground bunker), there’s a giant supercomputer. Forest tells Sergei nothing about what he’ll do there or what the division even does; he just asks the young man to read a particular code on a computer screen. He’ll understand.
FX on Hulu
And he does understand, even if we don’t. Glusman conveys the shock, amazement, and gut-wrenching cosmic implications of what that code could mean, though we don’t learn it. It’s clearly something monumental, earth-changing, but above all terrifying. And from there things take a turn. Sergei doesn’t come home and Lily is instantly worried. Evidence shows him running away, but Lily doesn’t quite buy it. Though Forest and Amaya’s head of security Kenton (Zach Grenier) seem helpful and concerned, Lily nevertheless begins to suspect something sinister at play. This leads her to contact her still-bitter ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha), another computer genius, to help find out what really happened to Sergei.
Garland keeps a very tense atmosphere throughout, often showing seemingly innocuous but oddly foreboding images in between scenes, just enough to make us worry. He trusts the audience to know more than our characters in some sense, which creates the Hitchcockian ideal of suspense. At the same time, he shows us some things without any context and they’re enthralling in their own way. This, at least in the first two episodes, manifests via Devs itself. We know it’s up to something, and Offerman and co-stars Alison Pill, Cailee Spaeny, and Stephen McKinley Henderson have some crazy scenes where we see crazy things and they talk about it like it’s normal. I can’t wait to find out what the heck all of that is about.
FX on Hulu
But that’s the beauty of Devs thus far; it’s instantly compelling, and because it’s only eight episodes, we know it’ll have an ending, satisfying or otherwise. Garland is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking storytellers today and now he has eight hours to play with. Each character we’ve met so far has a motive and an inner life and can breathe within the story. Right at the center of that we have Offerman playing a truly complex and odd figure, the show’s troubled guru figure. And Mizuno, the quintessential outsider determined to learn the truth, makes for an excellent and rootable protagonist. Discovering the truth of Devs will be a fun journey to take with her.
Devs absolutely slaps so far. Garland re-teams with cinematographer Rob Hardy (Ex Machina, Annihilation) to keep with the visual palate of those films, and composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow create some haunting, howling music as they did in the previous two Garland films. The addition of the new wave jazz group The Insects adds another sonic layer, helping to keep the audience on edge and ready to open their mind. And your mind will indeed be open.
FX on Hulu
Devs drops new episodes every Thursday on FX on Hulu and it’s a show we think you’ll want to stick with to the end. The answers are bound to expand your mind and wreck your soul.
Featured Image: FX on Hulu