The following contains major spoilers for Devs episode 8.
Hello, TV partisans and Alex Garland neophytes. Welcome to your first “ending explained” of a Garland-penned story. Scared? You should be. The prolific sci-fi writer-turned mind-bending sci-fi director is known for the complex conclusions to his films like in Ex Machina and Annihilation. Now it’s television’s turn to feel a ping of confusion with the ending of Devs on FX on Hulu.
Like Ex Machina and Annihilation before it, the ending of Devs is somehow paradoxically simple and complicated. An ending definitively occurs but it’s not always clear what it all means or why all paths were determined to lead here. So let’s break it down together and figure out exactly what happens in Devs’ final episode.
What Have Forest and Katie Been Watching All This Time?
Devs presents a unique case right off the bat because no fewer than two of its lead characters have supposedly known the ending of the series this entire time…or at least they knew an ending.
In effect, the quantum computer at the center of Devs is a looking glass through time. Devs posits that if you know everything about one bit of data, you can know everything about the bit of data next to it…and then everything about the bit of data next to that, and again, and again, and again until you’ve effectively mapped out the timeline of reality in every temporal direction.
That’s been established well in advance of this finale as both Forest (Nick Offerman) and Katie (Allison Pill) have already revealed that they’ve used Devs to look into the future…or at least as far as they can into the future before the feed cuts out. So what exactly have they been seeing this whole time? Forest is nice enough to show Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) what they’ve been watching in its entirety. Of course he only does so because, having seen this event already, he knows it’s pointless to do anything else.
According to Devs, Lily has arrived at the facility to kill Forest and she will successfully do so with the handgun she took from Kenton. Lily will march Forest into the capsule supported by electromagnetic energy so that she can escort him to the statue of Amaya to be killed like how Forest killed Sergei. Once in the capsule, Forest will antagonize Lily and she will shoot him in the head. Unfortunately the bullet will also break the capsule and it will plummet to the ground, killing Lily and somehow breaking the Devs system.
If Forest and Katie knew that Forest, not just Lily, was going to die this whole time then why didn’t they do anything to stop it? The answer is quite simple. They are extremists when it comes to their belief in determinism. In an interview with Den of Geek before the finale, Garland compared the pair to religious zealots.
“No, they didn’t (try to interfere). And the reason they didn’t was because they took a position a bit like priests in religion. They didn’t challenge their belief, they just adhered to it. When I was writing it, I viewed Forest as a priest with doubt and Katie like a priest without doubt.”
These religious concepts carry over to the episode itself when Lily recalls something that Jamie told her.
“The problem with people who run tech companies is that they’re fanatics. They end up thinking they’re messiahs,” she tells Forest.
Forest doesn’t exactly disabuse her of that notion. In fact he doubles down on it with another bit of a religious language.
Deus Ex Machina
Right before they begin their final death march, Forest can’t help but share a sort of inside joke with Lily.
“I’ll tell you a secret, Lily. I’ve been wanting to tell someone for awhile. The name of the project is not Devs. The ‘v’ is Roman…so actually a ‘u’.”
The project is literally called “Deus”…a.k.a the Latin word for “God.”
This is a fun enough detail on its own and it seems to confirm Jamie’s theory that tech bros see themselves as deities. More than that, however, it’s an important Easter egg for the larger Alex Garland filmography. Recall that Garland’s directorial debut is called “Ex Machina.” That phrase, meaning “from the machine,” is the second part of an important plot device that you may have learned about in high school – the first part of the phrase being “Deus.”
Deus Ex Machina (or God from the machine) refers to a plot device in which a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly solved at a story’s end due to an unlikely or improbable source. The origin of the term dates back to Ancient Greek theater productions in which actors playing gods were brought on stage via a machine like a crane to fix everything.
This whole time the title of the show has secretly been completing the phrase “Deus Ex Machina” from two different Alex Garland projects.
“I have to say partly, for me, it was almost exactly as Forest presented it in the show. It’s like a private joke,” Garland says. “It just sort of made me laugh that these two projects were doing something like they’re two sides of the same coin.”
What’s interesting here is that neither Devs’ no Ex Machina’s endings are actually deus ex machinas. The full phrase, God from the machine, still applies to this Devs ending in a very interesting way though. For when it’s time for Forest and Lily to begin their danse macabre (more Latin!), viewers discover that Forest really may have made a God from a machine…and Lily plays an appropriately Biblical role in that burgeoning God’s mythology.
She Made a Choice
Forest and Katie are firm believers that destiny cannot be changed. Determinism means that everything that happens is preordained. Forest even spells it out in explicit terms for Lily before their endgame begins.
“The sense that you were participating in life was only an illusion,” Forest says.
That’s powerful, stark stuff. It’s also convincing, given everything that we’ve seen thus far. Devs has not been wrong yet. It knew that Sergei was a spy and Forest would have to kill him. It knew that Lily and Jamie would pay Forest and Katie a late night visit for answers. It knew that Lyndon would fall off that bridge. It even knew that Lily would endure a series of events so bizarre that she would be forced to come to Devs for one final confrontation, despite knowing that is the one place on Earth she shouldn’t go.
But then when it comes time to enact the final moment before Devs burns out, Lily does something remarkable: she makes a choice. She throws the gun away right before she enters the capsule. Forest and Katie are gobsmacked to say the least. Lily has defeated the system. More than that – she’s upset the natural order of reality. Can Devs really be Deus if it can’t foresee something as simple as Lily tossing her gun over a ledge?
The answer, as it turns out, is maybe. Because as we see next, events from that moment play out pretty much exactly as Forest foresaw to with one notable difference. In the absence of Lily making the capsule fall, Stewart makes sure it does instead. In what seems to be an incredibly unsafe design flaw, Stewart disables the electromagnetic system on the capsule and the capsule plummets to the ground as it was always supposed to.
The fall kills both Forest and Lily and their bodies even end up quite close to where they were originally predicted. Can you argue that the events of this finale support that reality is still ultimately deterministic?
“You absolutely could, that’s exactly right,” Garland says. “Once Lily does what she does, you could make the argument in some way you have the splitting of many worlds timeline. But you could also say that the universe is continuing to act [the same], and it is just refolding into a deterministic fate once Lily does her action.”
Whether or not the events at Devs prove that everything is preordained is up to debate. One thing that’s not, however, is that Lily did something important.
You Know What Happens to Messiahs, Right?
There’s a lot of messiah talk early in this episode.
“You know what happens to messiahs, right? They get resurrected.” Forest tells Lily.
Later on after Lily makes her choice, she echoes those words back to Forest with one notable change: “Forest, you know the thing about messiahs, don’t you? They’re false prophets.”
Forest seems to have the right of this one because at first glance, Lily would appear to be a messiah-eque figure since her consciousness will eventually be reawoken or “resurrected.” Not only that but the final position her body ends up in is quite Christ-like, with arms splayed out on either side.
But Katie has a different theory. After Lily and Forest die, Forest suddenly (and it is quite the sudden jump scare) wakes up inside the machine. He understandably has a few questions, starting with “what the fuck did Lily do?”
“She made a choice,” Katie says. “It’s why we could never see beyond this point. All her talk of God and messiahs and look who she turned out to be. She committed the original sin. Disobedience.”
Lily isn’t a messiah. She’s boring-old Adam and Eve. Simply put: she’s us. Later Forest will tell Lily that she’s special. But in reality she’s only special in the way that any of us are. We as a species are nothing if not disobedient. The deterministically dogmatic Forest and Katie are the exceptions.
The first thing that most people would do when told that they must follow a certain rule is to disobey that rule. So that’s what Lily did. The consequences for her ultimately remained the same. Reality and Deus still finished off her path for her. But her ability to make a choice did have a meaning. It shut off Devs’ predictive capabilities for Forest and Katie.
The Afterlife and Lyndon’s Principle
Even though Lily’s choice disrupted Devs, Forest and Katie remain confident that the machine they created is still essentially God.
“Then it is Deus,” Forest says upon awakening.
“It is Deus,” Katie says, concurring with Forest. “Within itself, the system is all knowing and all powerful. But only on Lyndon’s principle.”
One of the biggest questions (and perhaps issues) in the Devs finale is exactly how Forest’s, and later Lily’s, consciousness end up inside Devs. Since Devs can effectively extrapolate out every moment of existence, it stands to reason that every human beings’ consciousness might reside within the machine at all times. Who knows though!
One thing that Katie makes clear, however, is that Devs is Deus…but only within itself. It’s a god within the machine, not a god from the machine. That’s likely how Forest and Lily’s consciousnesses are able to exist inside of it. Have its predictive capabilities been forever destroyed by Lily’s choice? That’s unclear. What is clear though is that it needs Lyndon’s principle to remain a god and maintain its own world.
Here’s where things get a bit squirrely. In an answer earlier about Lily’s choice, Garland mentioned the “many worlds timeline.” This is in reference to “Lyndon’s principle” from earlier in the season. When images from the past produced by Devs were grainy, Lyndon decided to fix it. He did so by allowing Devs to incorporate data not only from this world, but from every possible universe.
The show posits that we live in a world of multiple universes. Devs can follow the path of any one particle to the next, creating its rich tapestry of reality: past, present, and future. But that tapestry is flawed and aesthetically unpleasing. To make it prettier, Lyndon lets the machine glean information from other possible universes. Because data isn’t inert – it’s a living, breathing thing. Choices that we make or circumstances that the world experiences create a whole new chain of data, as do the choices and circumstances not experienced, creating new unseen universes. By incorporating data from those unseen universes, Lyndon was able to make Devs’ interpretation of our own universe clearer.
Forest was furious about this whole thing of course. This project for him was a way to be with his daughter Amaya again…not another version of Amaya from some unknown universe. Even if one strand of hair on her head was different it was an unacceptable violation.
In the finale, Forest sings a different tune. He has no other choice. He can only live within Devs’ messy world, which incorporates data from multiple worlds, or cease to exist.
Forest and Lily reawake in Devs-world to live out their days however they choose. Lily begins her reality back in her home with Sergei two days ago. The pair arrive at Amaya just like they did in the real world. This time though, Lily is aware of Sergei’s treachery and breaks up with him. That’s when she seeks out Forest for some answers.
Suffice it to say, Forest’s answers aren’t that conclusive. He says, in full:
“We are now living in many worlds. In this world, the two of us get to live in paradise with the ones we love. In other worlds it will be closer to hell. For those other, harder lives we have to lead, I thought knowledge would help. I don’t know if that’s right but it’s the choice I made. Just thought I’d exercise a little free will. Smile! We lucked out. This life is one of the good ones.”
What it means for Forest and Lily to live in many worlds is unclear. It’s established that Lyndon’s principle relies on many worlds, so there must exist many versions of Lily and Forest inside Devs. The show further suggests that as it shows Lily and Forest have the same conversation in multiple different perspectives and lightings.
This life is indeed one of the good ones, with Forest reunited with his family and Lily getting another chance with Jamie. But will they have to live out many other possible lifetimes as well? Or are those being lived out right now by other versions of themselves? Was Forest able to choose or was he taking a leap of faith? Only Deus knows.
What Comes Next?
Not a Devs season 2, that’s for sure. This show has been described as a limited series the whole way through and this finale does nothing to suggest that another installment could be on the horizon.
And that’s alright. For as the finale reveals, Katie is working on finding funding for Devs from Janet Mock’s unnamed Senator character. All the predicting and prognosticating is over. The only thing left is to keep the lights on so that Forest and Lily can live out their digital afterlives. Hopefully it’s nothing but “San Junipero” style bliss for them from here on out.