In the second episode of Alex Garland’s eight-episode miniseries, Devs, we see Forest (Nick Offerman) drive home. His car is very ordinary and so is his simple suburban house. You wouldn’t know by looking at either that Forest is the CEO of Amaya, a huge tech company — the world leader in quantum computing by a long distance. He is nothing like his analogue Nathan (played by Oscar Issac) in Garland’s Ex Machina with his resplendent, sprawling home and ego to match. The opulence is reserved instead for his workplace with its modern campus, over which looms the ridiculously large statue of a little girl, who is also the mascot of the company and appears everywhere from ads to walls to screensavers.
This little girl also looms over Forest’s life. She’s Amaya, his deceased daughter. And her death drives him to, well, develop the super-secret division after which the series is named. Forest believes the universe is deterministic — every effect has a cause which can be predicted if data on all the variables is available and given enough computing power, one can see both into the past and the future. The Devs team, headed by Katie (Alison Pill), is responsible for making this a reality.
Lily Chan (Garland regular Sonoya Mizuno) is an employee in a different division of Amaya, who unwittingly becomes embroiled in an escalating series of events when her boyfriend, Sergei, gets recruited into Devs and goes missing on his first day.Garland, who is credited as creator, writer, and director, is a master of creating mood. The series takes its time to unfold but is never less than absorbing. Each episode begins with a vignette — composed largely of scenes to come — that sets the tone. The production design deserves special mention, particularly for the incredible looking complex that houses the Devs team. It’s such a pity this cannot be watched on the big screen; the overall production quality matches that of a big-budget film.
The show’s mood is also amplified by the brilliant music provided by Ben Salisbury, The Insects, and Geoff Barrow. The score really is so good, I’d watch Devs for that alone. Luckily, there’s writing to match. Garland started out as a novelist and his ability to tell a compelling story really shows here. While I can’t say I understood the entirety of the concepts discussed, I still appreciated the lack of clunky exposition and the obvious research that has gone into the script. Garland has previously said that people who truly understand the concepts he deals with might find his work puerile since he comes at them from a layman’s point of view. Not being one of these people, however, I only found everything interesting. The idea of a deterministic universe where there is no free will is both a bit unnerving and intriguing.
Another thing the show gets right is the casting. The main performers are uniformly good, but I was especially surprised by Offerman. Having only known him as Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation, it was quite a change to see him play this messianic tech genius.
But aside from one familiar giggle, it was only Forest I saw on screen. What I also appreciated was the casting, albeit in minor roles, of trans actor Janet Mock and double amputee Aimee Mullins, as well the choice to have a female actor (Cailee Spaeny) play a cis male role. Even more appreciable was the fact that none of these felt token; I didn’t even realise these casting choices until I looked up the cast to write this piece.
The finale of Devs, which has been streaming on Hotstar, will be out today and I look forward to it both eagerly and with a tinge of sadness. The latter because this is a close-ended series with no possibility of an extension. But, in a way, that’s as it should be. As Philip Larkin’s Aubade — which is quoted on the show — reminds us, all things that have being must end. And this applies to a series just as much as human life.