Devs-Raw on the Inside, Burnt on the Outside

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2020 at 00:03

Devs-All Bark and no Bite

Devs is an Alex Garland’s production. He was the director of Annihilation, Ex-Machina, and 28 Days Later, other films that question humanity’s role on the planet and in the universe. Devs asks us about the nature of reality. If you have seen the trailer, and thought, this show looks weird, square that to infinity and you will get close to how strange it really is.

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Garland’s central exploration of reality in Devs revolves around the idea of determinism, a concept my high school psychology teacher shared with me, us, back in the early 80s. The point is, the hypothesis of determinism isn’t new, it’s just not a theme of many major motion pictures. The other main theory he explores is the idea of multiverses, the questioning of reality itself. At times, this is fascinating, at other times, it is muddled and unscientific. That’s probably because no one has found a way to test the multiverse hypothesis, and scientists have only shown how it might be true in mathematical models.

Other than the protagonist, Lily Chan played by the compelling Sonoya Mizuno, the characters are played by average looking people, not models like in The Magicians, Expanse, and Grey’s Anatomy, not to mention the shows predicated on the hotness of their characters like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries. Good thing I didn’t mention them. I like looking at attractive casts, but not when it sacrifices acting talent. There are online entertainment magazines for that.

The acting ranges from capable to excellent throughout. The standouts are Alison Pill who plays Katie, the second in charge at Amaya (the umbrella company for the Devs division) and Jin Ha who plays Jamie, a cyber security expert and love interest of Lily. Many scenes are elevated by the presence of these two actors.

Nick Offerman lacks the complexity to play Forest, the megalomaniacal head of Amaya. Most of the time he seems in a daze like he did an all-nighter or was smoking pot before each scene. This daze could be interpreted as mystery, I suppose. However, it seems like Offerman didn’t know how to play the character. Forest is dictatorial, cruel, and damaged. Offerman doesn’t project the danger required to match the character’s actions. To be fair, Forest is a complicated, difficult role to play that few actors could play satisfactorily.

In contrast, Zach Grenier plays the head of Amaya security with frightening efficiency. When he appears on screen, you know something bad is in the offing.

Devs from bloody-disgusting.comPhoto from bloody-disgusting.com

Sonoya Mizuno does a decent job playing the protagonist, Lily Chan. However, everyone in the show talks about how brilliant Lily is, and I just don’t see it. We are supposed to believe it’s true because characters say it. They also tell Lily that she is so brave. Sure, but sometimes, she’s just foolhardy. The difficulty is in the predicament presented to Lily. She is set to end up in a time and place, that’s the story, but it is against the character’s strong and independent streak, and thus, doesn’t play as authentic.

The story takes place in the present or near future tech world. The show plays on our fear of tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and others. But what plays out at Devs is not more frightening than the surveillance state, data collecting, tracking, and dominance of the economy that the tech companies have now. There is no big scary payoff at the end of the show, although the set up in the first four episodes does frighten us and sets us up for a fantastic, amazing, and tragic, or at least revelatory, ending. That ending never arrives.

The sets are amazing to look at, and they give the show the tone that the acting and dialogue sometimes lacks. The music is fine, but the song interludes are terrible, even the use of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s song Genevieve. The songs didn’t fit the tone or theme of the show and they seemed to be put in because Garland, who directed each episode, liked them. Thankfully, the songs became less a part of the show as it neared the last episode.

There are a few other issues here. First, smart characters make obviously stupid choices. Moreover, the motivations of the characters are mysterious and not clear. That’s fine for the beginning, but when programmer Jackson makes a fateful decision at the end of the series, it is poorly explained. Moreover, there is nothing in his character up to that point that makes that choice clear. At least when another programmer, Lyndon, does something incredible in a later episode, we have a sense of what motivates the character. Then there was a technical gaff when describing something incredibly small. Jackson stated that he was looking at a particle on the atomic level, at x10^18 meters. That should have been x10^18. Small particles would be measured in negative exponents if it’s sub-atomic.

Rating: Matinee

I am sure millions will love this show and call it brilliant. I would have agreed about half-way through. However, the conclusion to Devs is not surprising nor satisfying. It’s not a bad watch, especially if you are into long pauses, staring, and discussing determinism and multiverse theories.

Tex Shelters



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