Emerging as one of the last decade’s most innovative storytellers, Alex Garland burst onto the scene with visceral sci-fi thrillers like Ex Machina and Annihilation. Now he’s back with another mind-boggling look at the dark side of technology, eight-part miniseries Devs.
Set mostly in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the show documents the disappearance of A.I. coder Sergei (Karl Glusman) soon after he’s assigned a new role in quantum computing company Amaya’s mysterious ‘Devs’ division. Unhappy with the explanation provided – he burned himself alive – Sergei’s girlfriend Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) investigates, which takes her down the murky road of industrial espionage.
Clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Garland crafts a hauntingly beautiful meditation on humanity that’s slow to unfurl but dense with meaning. Elsewhere, Garland’s visual world-building shows he’s a fan of Blade Runner too. Take the towering Amaya sculpture that overlooks the company premises for instance, which looks like it’s been ripped straight out of Ridley Scott’s futuristic metropolis.
In a TV landscape littered with intellectual epics – HBO’s Westworld is currently ruling the airwaves – do we really need another story set in a dystopian underworld? Perhaps Devs’ greatest asset is its stellar cast – which includes Parks and Recreation favourite Nick Offerman. He plays Forest – the CEO of Amaya and a man with “more money than God”, according to his head of security. The actor’s typically laconic delivery is something to savour, while it’s fun to see Garland tapping into the character’s messiah complex by literally framing him with a halo above his head in one shot.
Aside from the talented faces on show, philosophical boffins will have a field day here, with the concept of universal determinism (cause and effect, in layman’s terms) explored throughout the series. In one example, Forest and his sinister pals pull long shifts in order to break untouched ground, where their goal is to calculate future events before they’ve occurred. But Minority Report this is not, as Devs’ heart lies in its ideas and imagery, rather than expensive blockbuster action scenes.
Much like Garland’s previous work, Devs will mess with your marbles and maybe even chill you to your bones. Similarly to Kubrick, Garland enjoys ambiguity and making the viewer work things out for themselves. That’s definitely worth remembering as you make your way through his latest tech-fuelled puzzle.