TV Review: Alex Garland’s Devs
Plot: A young software engineer, Lily Chan, investigates the secretive development division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in Silicon Valley, which she believes is behind the murder of her boyfriend.
Review: Alex Garland is on a roll. Between EX MACHINA and ANNIHILATION as a director, 28 DAYS LATER, DREDD, NEVER LET ME KNOW, and SUNSHINE as a screenwriter as well as THE BEACH as a novelist, Garland has created quite the resume for himself. With the acclaim his two directorial efforts have landed him, Garland has made the jump to the small screen for his next project, the event series DEVS. Written, produced, and directed by Garland, DEVS represents the perfect blend of his love of science, his intricate character-based storytelling, and the long format that only television could offer. The result is an ambitious and complicated series that will command the attention of audiences and leave them puzzled in the best possible way.
After an ad campaign that gave virtually no plot details about what DEVS actually is, the series debuts with an aura of mystery and a cast of relative unknowns aside from Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman in a dramatic role alongside Sonoya Mizuno (EX MACHINA) and Allison Pill (Star Trek Picard). What is clear is that Alex Garland has not missed a beat in moving to television as every frame of this show looks as cinematic as his feature films. And much like EX MACHINA, it offers a terrifying glimpse at the darker side of technology. There is also a mystery within the show that the characters must solve as well as the mystery that is the show itself. Both of these are the same question: what is DEVS?
If you are familiar with Alex Garland‘s work, you should be prepared for this to be a challenging experience to watch. DEVS is very deliberately paced with haunting visuals, time shifts in the narrative, and a lot of talking. Actually, there is almost as much talking as there is silence as the camera work of cinematographer Rob Hardy, Garland’s DP on both EX MACHINA as well as ANNIHILATION, lingers over the San Francisco cityscape as much as it does the compound of tech company Amaya and it’s founder Forest (Nick Offerman). There is the creepy ass statue of a young girl that looms large over the serene natural forest that represents the quantum technology that Amaya is building. It is at once natural and unnatural and DEVS revels in that juxtaposition of science fiction’s horrors and beauty.
Each episode of DEVS was written and directed by Garland which gives this a uniform feel in line with his other projects but DEVS is also distinct from his other works. Yes, this series furthers Garland’s explorations of what technology is capable of, for better or worse, but the story also benefits from a larger cast of characters, each of whom gets the chance to shine. Offerman is stellar in a departure from his Ron Swanson brand of deadpan humor but the star here is Sonoya Mizuno. Having also appeared in Cary Fukunaga‘s similarly challenging Maniac, Mizuno is given so much more to do here than her brief stints in EX MACHINA and LA LA LAND. As she delves into what Devs is actually doing, she unravels the mystery as much as she unravels as a character. Allison Pill is also doing great work here as Katie, another DEVS employee.
If you notice, I haven’t said much about the plot because after watching the entire eight episode series I am at once stunned and still trying to unpack what I just watched. Like FX’s Legion, there is a lot going on in DEVS and it will take multiple viewings to get all of the layers that Garland has put together. Unlike J.J. Abrams‘ mystery box approach, Alex Garland gives us a mystery and a box but doesn’t spend time unpacking them for us. DEVS is not a fun show from the standpoint that the tone is very somber throughout and rarely cracks a joke or even a smile. Still, it is one of the smartest science fiction stories I have seen in a long time. Vaguely set in the future with technology that is just barely out of the realm of possibility today, DEVS could just be a thriller set in the world of high tech. Unlike comedies like Silicon Valley, this is one company you would not want to work for.
DEVS is not going to appeal to mass audiences but it certainly will appeal to fans of shows like HBO’s Westworld. This is a scary show and one that will require your full attention and then some but it is so worth the journey. It also continues to show that the best filmmakers working today can do so much with the event series format. This is not an eight hour movie or an eight hour event series but rather a longform story. Novels, films, and now television, Alex Garland is proving that he can command any medium. DEVS will haunt you long after you finish it and the fact you cannot binge all eight episodes at once means you will savor each twist and turn as the mystery unfolds over the next two months. Get ready for one of the best shows of 2020.
DEVS premieres March 5th on FX on Hulu.