Television shows that make you think and question the world and reality you live in are shows that should always exist. Devs is one of my favorite shows of 2020.
This series felt almost like the inverse of Ex Machina (Spoilers if you have not watched Devs or Ex Machina).
In Devs, Lily starts off unaware that reality itself could be a simulation. Via the technology envisioned by a man with a God complex, she comes to realize the potential reality of her environment, and makes a choice to set a path of her own making.
In Ex Machina, the robot starts off unaware of its true reality. By using a human (recruited by a man with a God complex) as well as technology, she builds a robust simulation of how humans behave, and eventually the robot makes a choice to set a path of her/its own making.
The eight episodes of Devs are a lot to take in. There’s something really interesting about the self-fulfilling-prophecy aspect of the characters that I enjoyed. Specifically Katie thinking she would always only ever react the same to Lyndon’s death, despite getting to witness the multiple different variations of Amaya in worlds where she and her mom lived. It made me think the reason Forest and Katie only ever reacted one way was not proof in determinism, but rather proof in their desire to maintain that determinism is the only reality.
I also loved the commentary on free will- Lily tossing the gun. She had choice and control over that. But she didn’t have choice/control of the elevator. And Spencer walking away, “don’t blame me, it was predetermined” reminded me of the line in Contact where the antagonist says he wished the world was a fair place but it isn’t, and the Protagonist says she always thought the world was what we made of it. Kind of going back into that self fulfilling prophecy.
As for there being a simulation of the Devs/Deus machine inside of the machine? That’d be a cool thing to explore, but I feel like for the purposes of what Garland was going for here—trying to complete Forest’s and Lily’s arcs as the main thrust of the show—I’m fine with that only being hinted at. Indeed, this is a show that made the choice to tie up its main threads while leaving other ones dangling—like, the government will probably have access to the Deus machine now, thanks to Katie? Yikes—but I’m fine with that. (Think of the ending of Primer – the beginning of something else that you can’t see and can only imagine.)
And I really like that, in the end, the “specialness” of Lily isn’t that she’s special—it’s just that she wasn’t brainwashed into thinking she had to do what a predictive algorithm said she’d be most likely to do. The fact that Forest, Katie, and the rest of the team did—and the fact that we never really heard any contradictory viewpoints to them during the show, except for Lily herself—is sort of the subtle reveal I liked. They all convinced themselves they “had” to do what the machine showed them. So Lily’s action, to these true believers, would seem impossible.
One question that does linger: if both Forest’s daughter and wife died in that car crash—and if it was him who facilitated his wife’s distraction while driving the car, which led getting hit—why is the company, and his plan, entirely focused on his daughter? I’m trying to remember if we ever hear his wife’s name? Other than the car crash and in the simulation, there are only glimpses of him interacting with his wife. That’s the one big question I have in all of this. And only at the very end, when Forest is in the system but just before Katie sends him into the simulation proper, does he say “I miss ‘em so much” or something to that effect. I wonder if that was a choice on Garland’s part to make the focus a little simpler, but it still feels weird that the death of his wife, and her appearance in the show, is almost an afterthought.
Some Other Thoughts:
There is something about being resurrected inside of an expensive machine that probably costs a fortune to keep up and running that feels very scary to me. I’m thinking that if the right people continued to run and develop the Devs system, they could build a practical version of LDS dogma and/or the Tipler Omega Point: go back through history and scan everyone who ever lived and resurrect them in some kind of Heaven.
Nick Offerman was deeply, truly hate-able in that brief moment where he smugly talks about resurrection inside the death-cube. And that’s a pretty good trick for Nick Offerman to pull off.
I love the reveal of Devs true name, so Alex Garland has made “Deus” and “Ex Machina”