“DEVS”, A BRUTAL SPIN ON ABUSE OF POWER
It’s a perfect example of fantasy imitating life in many aspects.
Science fiction is a hard genre because sometimes it can feel unreasonable. Some shows within this genre require viewers to watch with a certain amount of patience and openness. Devs is on of them. It’s ambitious, addressing an imagining of reality that is seldom discussed, but difficult to really display properly. So, in the past, it hasn’t been. For that reason, Devs stands in between greatness and frivolity.
Devs is a sci-fi series, largely focusing on Forest (Nick Offerman), an innovator and owner of Amaya, a tech development company in Silicon Valley. The show is about how his hold on to his past ends up being the catalyst for dangerous technology. The trouble starts with his family. They died because of a mistake he made and because he was unable to move on, he created a clandestine research team to help him fix things. Imagine the worst and still, it probably doesn’t even touch on what he’s able to achieve. Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno), a software engineer and employee of Forest, is called to investigate his department after the death of her boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) and uncovers this alarming project in the process. She ends up being one of many who are collateral damage in Forest’s selfish path.
Undoubtedly, the show is good. The CGI is just breath taking, so realistic and detailed, we may need to debate if creator Alex Garland knows something we don’t. Still, Devs has its faults. One of them being the horrible indie music used—a question of preference of course, and the heavy use of monologues in the show which at times, makes the film feel more like a play or a spoken word act than a TV series.
Still, it’s a perfect example of fantasy imitating life in many aspects. For one, it has an elephant in the room that is so easy to gloss over: The dichotomy between the white saviour complex and the actual pernicious effects of those who have this ideology and who are often narcissists with god complexes. Forest and his subordinate Katie (Alison Pill), are the epitome of abuse of power and insanity.
Throughout the series, they take away people’s agency, manipulate situations, and coerce others for their “greater good”. They are knowingly harmful but they continue to minimize their harmful behaviour, brushing off their choices as inevitable, and requiring others to accept their prescribed fates with warmth and acceptance. Nearing the end of the season, it’s especially distasteful and poignant when Chan finally discovers the truth about the Devs program with her ex Jamie (Jin Ha), when they visit Forest’s home. The entire discovery process is so punishing to watch because of how condescending Katie is to Chan during their exchange. At this point, Chan has experience trauma because of the actions of Forest and Katie still, she’s mostly composed when trying to seek the truth. She asks simple and clear questions only to be met with unnecessary aggression about her right to ask and even her right to her own reactions. The entire situation is absurd yet Forest and Katie call for Jamie and Lily to be cool. The disconnect of Katie and Forest is so sinister, it’s difficult to properly unravel it.
The show reminded me of something when I first watched it; it wasn’t quite a fresh take. At first, it had Orphan Black energy, dark ominous vibes and intense feelings of suspense that immediately forces viewers to eagerly binge. Slowly however, it transitioned to have more philosophical ideations, similar to those in The Matrix, presenting individual decisions as following two fixed paths, the path of free will and destiny, and then offering only unchangeable facts. Where Devs starts to wane, is the unnatural mediation on humour that sort of normalizes the madness and selfishness of Katie and Foster. At times the lengthy use of humour feels so ridiculous, it suggests that the series is satirical and yet, there’s too much affection and reprieve given to the two to truly be satire. Any examination of the two is superficial and immediately followed by a distraction.
Despite this, the cult like feel and malicious energy in the show is unbelievably enticing—especially at the beginning of the series. Lily is very likeable which is unfortunate because after Jamie, she is probably the most unlucky person in the series. In fact, everyone who isn’t in a position of power is unwillingly forced along the path of Katie and Foster and left damaged on the wayside. And so, this complete disregard for human life or the consequences of ones actions is almost in danger of overshadowing the very interesting details of the series and the question of wether free will is real. Devs inspires so many questions: Is life a simulation? If it is, is it better to know or not know? Without freewill is anything real and meaningful? If Lily represents anything, maybe she represents the marginalized individual that is unwillingly forced to fulfill the dreams of the crazy people in positions of power. Perhaps also, she represents the idea that ignorance is bliss and that knowledge can be a crippling punishment. And if anything, Forest is a reflection of power left unchecked.