A thought-provoking start to an exciting new series that raises a lot of questions but keeps its narrative clear and engaging.
This recap of Devs Season 1, Episode 1 contains spoilers.
It’s only about two-thirds of the way through the opening episode of FX’s new show Devs when the show’s thematic concerns become more than subtext. Forest, the shadowing (and hairy) Silicon Valley CEO played by Nick Offerman appears in the woods to deliver a soliloquy to a traitorous employee. “The universe is deterministic,” he states, but we believe we have free will because “the tram-lines are invisible.”
Sergei, who has been caught attempting to steal Forest’s code, looks confused. Forest tells him that this was always going to happen; “this is absolution.” For a moment it seems like Sergei is free. But he is soon ambushed and suffocated with a plastic bag.
Such is the Silicon Valley tech lifestyle! Alex Garland (who directed each episode) begins Devs Episode 1 with a montage of life in the Bay Area; people having picnics are contrasted with homeless people; monk-like chants give way to smooth saxophone music. This is a land of contrasts.
The first two-thirds of Devs Episode 1 concern Sergei (Karl Glusman), who is a scientist at Amaya, Forest’s company. His project: to predict the behavior of living organisms. Sergei’s model can foresee the movements of a nematode ten seconds into the future, but after thirty seconds, prediction becomes difficult. Forest is impressed but dislikes the possibility that there is a multiverse where Sergei’s predictions are correct. He invites Sergei to join “Devs”.
He undergoes an intense (and racist) security screening, and Forest walks him towards whatever “Devs” is. The entrance is a bizarre structure (I cannot even begin to describe it, so I’m eager to see what is written in the script). It has a “lead faraday shield” and many other touches to ensure that nothing can get in or out.
The interior of the lab is gorgeous (the set design on this show is something else), and once inside, Forest explains the work conditions. In true Silicon Valley style, he is expected to work for as much of his time as he can. As for his job, Forest provides no answers: “I won’t tell you, I don’t need to.”
After watching code flash on the screen for some time, he suddenly gets up, as if nauseous. Katie (Allison Pill) is watching him and comes over. “Does the code work?” he asks, saying that it “changes everything?” Katie responds “If it’s true, it changes nothing. that’s the point.” What could it be? Something to do with life? Does the code replicate the deterministic path of the universe?
Sergei decides to take it (in a “James Bond wristwatch”) and leave, leading to the scene described above.
The rest of Devs Season 1, Episode 1 concerns Lily, Sergei’s girlfriend (who seems to be our protagonist going forward). Noticing Sergei hasn’t come home yet, she goes to the security guard. Security footage shows Sergei leaving the area, but little else. She tries to access his phone’s data, noticing that he recently used the Sudoku app, but for some reason, she can’t log in.
Lily runs into an ex-boyfriend, Jamie (Jin Ha), who laments that she seemed so successful, with her job at Amaya, that he felt left behind. She asks him for help breaking into Sergei’s phone, but he rebuffs her. Devs is starting to feel like Garland’s last movie, Annihilation (which I highly recommend), which concerns a scientist whose spouse has gone missing. But unlike Oscar Issac’s character in that film, we know what happened to Sergei.
..or do we?
Later, Lily is ushered back to the security room. She is shown footage of Sergei making his way to the giant doll statue (yes, this is a thing that exists within the show), and dousing himself with gasoline. She runs out to the statue, to see a charred corpse.
It’s horrible; Lily’s pain is visceral. But we know that this is not what happened. Sergei didn’t die this way (if he even is dead). So why go to the effort of staging such a dramatic death? It seems like a sure-fire way to push Lily to discover what Sergei found out.
Devs Episode 1 raises a lot of questions: Do we have free will? Is subjectivity an illusion? What is “devs?” Who was Sergei planning to send the code to? What is Forest’s goal? Why is there a giant baby in the woods?
I’m excited for the rest of the season to play out, as those questions will surely be explored (in particular I’m interested in the latter). So far there are a lot of confusing science terms, but the narrative is so clear that it remains engaging, with the exception of the odd scene that will probably click into place sooner or later.
- The scene with the homeless person at the door works wonders to ground the show in the economic reality of the Bay Area, which has one of the highest rates of Homelessness in the US. The excesses of tech companies don’t come without large cost for the people in the area.
- The name of Forest’s company, “Amaya,” has its roots in words for both “Mother” and “end.” Seems like they’re concerned with getting to the root of life… and death.
- Amaya is really giving off Lost vibes; although I guess you could say the Dharma Institute was really the first tech start-up.
- Among other Annihilation parallels; both Lily and Sergei are not too dissimilar from how Natalie Portman and Oscar Issac look in that film; the charred corpse at the end of the episode reminded me of the conclusion of the Lighthouse scene; the use of Security footage; and the journey to the Devs lab is not unlike the shimmer. Alex Garland clearly has an interest in using heavy-sci-fi to ask questions about ourselves, using romantic partnerships as a driving narrative force. And for good reason!
- We get some insight into Forest’s life during a conversation with Katie (Allison Pill) about the human desire to believe in irrational things. Katie uses the example of a child being hurt, which she suddenly apologizes for. Tragic backstory alert!
- Please can someone make a gif of Nick Offerman munching on leaves!
- Thanks for joining me in this exciting new series. I’ll try and recaps up as soon as episodes air, but please forgive me if they’re not always day-of.
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Cole Sansom is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based out of Philadelphia