“What am I actually doing here?” asks Karl Glusman’s Sergei, who is questioning the nature of his job in the Devs division, in the exclusive footage shown at the New York Comic Con panel for FX’s Devs.
“Just sit, read code, take your time and don’t worry. You’re gonna figure it out,” Nick Offerman’s Forest calmly says. “I know you will.”
Details about Alex Garland’s television debut are about as vague and secretive as Forest in the aforementioned clip, but after attending Saturday’s panel for the show at the Hammerstein Ballroom, one thing is startlingly clear: everyone should be very excited for Devs.
Devs is only the third project that sees Garland stepping behind the camera as a director, let alone as a writer and executive producer as well. If that seems hard to believe, it’s probably because across the first two movies that he helmed, the longtime Danny Boyle-collaborator has already cemented himself as one of the quintessential creative voices working in science fiction today.
2014’s Ex Machina adeptly grappled with questions surrounding free will and artificial intelligence, and 2018’s Annihilation proved his previous outing was no fluke, providing an eerie but beautiful portrait of self-destruction. While neither film was necessarily a breakout success during their box office runs, both won over critics and found their audiences, in a genre where intellectual, adult-targeted movie are a dying breed.
So what do we know about Devs? According to the panel, it’s an eight-episode limited series (all episodes are written and directed by Garland) that follows a team of software engineers and specialists working for a mysterious tech company, that may have ulterior motives.
Sonoya Mizuno’s Lily Chan is one of our protagonists who begins diving into a secret investigation of Amaya, along with Jin Ha’s Jamie, after her suspicions begin to get the best of her. It also sounds like our point-of-view character is software engineer Sergei, who is recruited into the Devs division of Amaya and works to predict the actions of a simple organism. Sergei’s work ties into that of the larger company in an undisclosed way.
The genesis of the show came from Garland’s love of science and fascination with the idea of determinism.
He said, “[Determinism] says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect, so nothing happens that isn’t the result of a prior cause. And that has all sorts of implications for us. One is it takes away free will, but it also means that if you had a computer powerful enough you would be able to use cause and effect and use determinism in order to not just predict the future, but also understand the past.”
Garland allied this idea with the emergence of quantum computing, even likening Dev’s fixation on processing power to Ex Machina’s fixation on advancements in artificial intelligence.
When asked, the writer-director put the core concept of the show into layman’s terms, “Nothing ever happens that is random or spontaneous.”
He later added that the show is about a bunch of things, including “the sometimes disturbing power of the tech companies” and “how strange it is to be us in the world.”
“It’s about how strange it is to be on a rock with a very thin layer of atmosphere around it, in this universe that works with these extremely off quantum mechanics. If you look into that stuff, it only gets stranger.”
Following the panel, Flickering Myth had the opportunity to speak to the show’s cast and crew during a roundtable interview. One reporter at the roundtable asked about a common thread in much of Garland’s work of the “the inability for people who are very close to each other to communicate,” to which the auteur replied that he feels like Devs does “the flip side” of that.
“All of the characters, in a weird way, are in love with another character,” he said. “The love could be romantic or it could be friendship or it could be a love that’s born from respect or whatever it happens to be, but everybody sort of has someone they love. This is not, in a weird way, about the lack of communication. I’ll tell you what it [is]. This is exactly what it is — this is a manifestation of a thing, which has really sort of stuck with me and influenced me.”
Garland then launched into a story about his daughter and a lesson that he taught her.
“My daughter hearing my worldview, this is when she was a very little girl, realized that in this sort of atheistic science-based view of the world, she said, literally said, ‘That then everything’s meaningless, so life is meaningless, you’re saying everything’s meaningless.’ And I said well no … Well no, because you mean something to me and I mean something to you, so you can see that there is definitely meaning within this universe. There is some meaning right there. And that’s what this show is an exploration of. What it does is in a way it takes everything away from us, right at the beginning of the show, and it says you’ve got no free will, everything you think you are you’re not and then gradually and steadily becomes more and more about how much people love each other within that state.”
FX’s Devs sounds just about as ambitious a TV project as any we’ll see in the near future. Unfortunately, those intrigued by Garland’s comments about the show will have to wait until spring 2020 to see how everything fits together.
The show also stars Zach Grenier (The Good Wife), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Lady Bird), Cailee Spaeny (Bad Times at the El Royale) and Alison Pill (Vice).