Devs‘ narrative becomes bifurcated while deepening its scientific ideas.
This recap of Devs Season 1, Episode 5 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The double split-experiment, described in this episode, demonstrates a central tenant of quantum physics. Photos, fired towards a sensor through two slits in a barrier, appear as both a wave and a particle. Classical physics, laws believed to be true for hundreds of years, are not applicable on a microscopic level. Light can exist as both a wave and a particle, in more than one place at the same time.
Once you begin to observe the photons in action, something changes. Light only exists in one place, as a particle. “Observing the particle has changed it,” says the professor explaining this (side-note: I’m really not a physicist, but the Wikipedia page has a handy explanation and some neat videos). The act of looking at something fixes it into one place.
Katie, as a college student, rejects this idea. Offering an alternative, she explains that it is not that the particles change, but that the multiple existences noted earlier are actually different pathways: a multiverse. Katie compares it to a tree branching out; we only ever follow one branch, but others spring up, creating new worlds in the process.
As she leaves, we see the multitude of branches. Alex Garland’s camera pulls back into a wide shot where multiple exist across the steps of the building. These are the possible actions she could have taken; we just follow one of them. Katie is followed out by Forest, who offers to pay her tuition and to hire her after she graduates.
Despite her objection to the theory that an observer determines the events of the universe, Katie herself becomes the observer for all that we see. The episode takes place inside the screening room, where she watches scenes from the lives of our protagonist.
Katie watches Lilys and her father play go. At the father’s deathbed, he tells Lily, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” The expression refers to the flow of time; how the water and the man are always changing. But Katie has the power to cut across the stream; Devs is able to circumvent the linear flow of the river.
Devs is starting to feel like two separate shows. One is a conspiracy thriller and the other a thought-provoking tale about a man who pursues science to ease his guilt. Garland seems more interested in the latter but understands that without the former it can be off-putting. Still, I’m finding it hard to become invested in the Lily/Jamie narrative when it undercuts the former.
At the same time, I love the way that Lily’s story is being used to explore the same scientific concepts expressed above. Katie watches the fall of Lily and Jamie’s relationship and the blossoming of Lily and Sergei’s. An apartment fills with Lilys — multiple branches — and we begin to think about scenarios where the relationship has gone differently.
But no-one seems to be having more trouble merging the thriller with scientific inquiry then Kenton. As he tortures Jamie, he tells him that Lily’s situation is “cascading.” He compares it to the political situation of China in the 80s. When a cascade began, their response was to bring in tanks). “Everything’s containable,” he tells Jamie, “but only if you’re willing to do what it takes. You are a dissident, I am a tank.”
Later, that self-described tank tells Forest and Katie that he plans to kill Lily, whether they approve of it or not.
Back at Devs, we catch up with Stewart and Lyndon (remember the episode takes place in the screening room, Katie is not watching everything chronologically). They examine the microscopic molecules of objects placed in a lab. Forest asks them to zoom out — to focus on the macro.
The show flashes back to the death of Forest’s daughter. It’s a horrible car crash, where Forest feels responsible. Once again, Garland shows us within the frame other timelines where it never happened.
Now we know why Forest is so determined to, well, prove that the world is deterministic. If he’s correct, then he is not at fault for his actions. But if there are many worlds, then he is in the one where he did the wrong thing and suffered the consequences.
“I’m not sure you really understand what you’re doing here,” Katie tells him. “You put yourself on trial.”
“I’m a lawyer for the defense. Are you ready for my opening argument?”
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Cole Sansom is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based out of Philadelphia