Alex Garland’s latest project follows in the footsteps of his most daring cinema—Ex Machina and Annihilation, bringing to life a new philosophical dilemma. Over eight carefully considered episodes, DEVS takes its time to tackle determinism and the implications of the many worlds theory.
Sergei (Karl Glusman), a programmer at successful tech company Amaya, pitches an experiment to his boss, Forest (Nick Offerman). In it, he evidences that he can begin to predict the movements of a simple nematode worm, looking ahead in time to see where it will go. Almost immediately, Sergei is whisked away, promoted to the mysterious Devs division, a golden cage of secrets that few ever get the chance to see.
When Sergei goes missing, his partner Lily (Soraya Mizuno) goes down a rabbit hole to find out why. Enlisting her hacker ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha), she uncovers a case of industrial espionage. But before she understands the depth of her situation, the story morphs into something far more terrifying, eclipsing life and death with more pressing matters about the nature of the universe.
The world of DEVS is striking and claustrophobic, though it takes place in San Francisco, this story is very insular, orbiting the company and its employees. A spectral statue of Amaya, Forest’s daughter and key motivation looms eerily overhead. Time loses meaning as day and night blur together, with the verdant campus lit by strange halos.
Heightening this sense of avoiding natural order, the Devs division is like its own character. Blocking out any natural light, the lab itself floats within a hazy circuit board of pulsing lights, held up by an electromagnetic field. The feeling of being within a beating heart is at odds with the sharpness of the glassy cube, and this disorientation is amplified by its stubborn refusal to comply with gravity.
The dialogue may be seen as blunt and overly technical, leading to somewhat detached performances that minimise sympathy towards the characters; but as with Garland’s other work, not wholly relating to them aligns with his vision. Their incomprehensibility fits with the notion that nobody can be truly understood and provides space for hidden depths we’ll never know. Intriguing in their own ways, each character is merely a chess piece on a board that slowly reveals itself. Personalities like that of Devs scientists Katie (the incredible Alison Pill), Stewart (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Lyndon (Cailee Spaeny) are gradually realised, and only within the context of the bigger picture.
Each person becomes a parable, piecing together Devs’ warped microcosm of the outside world. The eclectic soundtrack is hypnotic, acoustic tunes aligned with ancient prayers, alongside instrumentals of gentle theramins, flutes, and electric organs. Combining this with religious imagery and flashes of the Fibonacci spiral within the opening credits, DEVS plays its central theme on many levels: that a tech genius could play God, reading and recreating the multiverse within his own image. Actualising theories of quantum physics is captivating, even in simple scenarios, leaving the viewer with much to consider as the story unwinds.
DEVS relies on a delicate balance of realism and suspending disbelief, a controversial process that may win or lose audiences depending on their dedication. Perhaps we needed a whole episode of the lecture by Liz Carr’s professor to fully grasp the science but nonetheless, it is a mesmerising piece of television as the criss-crossing of a few destinies and desires builds up a technological tapestry of human nature.
DEVS is available to stream now on BBC iPlayer and Hulu
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.