This Devs review contains spoilers.
Devs Episode 3
We may not yet know all of what is happening behind the scenes of Devs, but at the start of the third episode a stern Katie outlines two strict rules: “We don’t look forward, we only look back. We don’t invade privacy.” The latter seems to set Amaya apart from other tech companies, ethical enough to not use their powers to invade private citizens’ lives. But the former… implies that that power is terrifying.
The fact that this conversation takes place because Katie caught Stewart and Lyndon watching Marilyn Monroe have sex with Arthur Miller (of course Marilyn is on top, and looks to be performing even then) distracts from the machine’s great and terrible potential. Instead, theirs is a specific, even cheeky conversation about a particular moment in time—Katie rolling her eyes at the machine as excuse for homemade porn, and Stewart defending that two humans having sex (even if they are famous) is as unremarkable to the universe as breathing.
It’s unclear if Stewart would be similarly underwhelmed by the other images we glimpsed in the cold open: a caveperson painting their handprint on a stone wall; the Emancipation Proclamation, Joan of Arc burning at the stake… Lily putting up the “fuck you” sign for Anton just the night before. These visuals are presented without commentary, but they demonstrate a frustration I had with the series on first watch and couldn’t articulate until I saw these scenes again: The machine’s projections into the past merely confirm that which we already know from historical records. Even though that early montage is both visually and aurally blurry, there are enough universally recognizable signifiers—Jesus’ crown of thorns, Abraham Lincoln’s beard, Joan of Arc’s haircut—to confirm these figures for viewers. Nothing that the Devs team observes in this episode contradicts what humanity already knows of its history. It seems odd that there would be no revelations nor earth-shattering discoveries regarding past events.
If the Devs team has access to the entirety of human history, wouldn’t it seem more likely that they would look back in order to answer burning questions and solve cultural mysteries? The closest we get is Lyndon fact-checking the grassy knoll; Lee Harvey Oswald did, indeed, do it.
The point, it would seem, is to provide clear enough confirmations of past events to prove that the machine is legitimate. Despite Katie’s insistence, looking forward would seem to be the intention for future applications of the machine. And Stewart’s scoffing implies that they at least believe Katie is already breaking her own rule.
Speaking of, Forest is purposefully vague with Laine, a visiting senator, when she demands to know what Amaya is working on with no government oversight. “We’re using our quantum system to develop a prediction algorithm” is his exasperating response, followed up by a similarly superior non-answer about whether it will rain tomorrow (“Doesn’t look like it”) that makes it clear that he doesn’t take anyone else’s concerns seriously. While the senator rhetorically asks if the fate of America is trivial to Forest, it’s clear that that is exactly the case. Amaya has shoved all its tech competitors out of the market and is operating beyond government control, all to fulfill Forest’s singular plan. And so long as he continues to donate to Laine’s campaign, she’ll take those half-explanations and figure out how she might be able to benefit from Amaya’s quantum futures.
Even witnessing one of Amaya’s employees standing on a ledge, supposedly suicidal, isn’t enough to discourage Laine’s support. Because that’s where Lily comes in on this episode: Despite Forest telling her to take as much bereavement leave as needed, she’s back at Amaya quickly enough to make her supervisor Anya (Aimee Mullins) and friend Jen (Linnea Berthelsen) worry about her well-being. Lily seems to confirm that anxiety when she confides in the two about conspiracy theories involving the government and larger forces possibly faking Sergei’s death. When they escalate the situation to Kenton, Lily suddenly begins spiraling into a panic attack involving Fibonacci sequences and something that happened in Brooklyn—and next thing you know, she’s on the ledge outside Kenton’s office, staring down at Forest and co. on the ground.
Kenton talks her down, in a way that is almost gentle considering last episode we watched him ruthlessly snap the neck of the Russian operative he’s just heard Lily babble about. As Forest’s muscle who nonetheless is smart enough to clean up after himself, Kenton seems to have been let in on some of the bigger picture. He knows there are “tram lines” to maintain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Forest were only keeping him updated on a need-to-know basis. What’s interesting is how Forest scolds Kenton about the Lily incident: “That was very close. It nearly fucked the universe.” Kenton is the one to remind him about tram lines, even if he doesn’t know what it would mean for the universe to be fucked.
While Kenton is distracted, Jen does her own bit of spywork and copies some data from his computer onto a flash drive. Because it turns out that she and Lily were in on their own plan from Lily’s first steps back onto Amaya’s campus: Lily would act erratic, Jen would back it up with whispers about schizophrenic episodes, and together they would grab the security footage from the night of Sergei’s supposed death. The sequence in which the two, driving back to San Francisco, burst out in relieved laughter was wonderfully shot: initially nonverbal, these two women of color telegraphing to one another can you believe we actually got away with it? Still, it was an extreme gamble in order to get information that we the viewers already knew, and could wind up backfiring for Lily.
Despite Kenton’s belief that they can weaponize Lily’s supposed schizophrenic diagnosis against her, she doesn’t seem worried. She got what she needed from Amaya and doesn’t appear eager to return anytime soon. What she gains from that charade involves climbing back through poor Jamie’s window and begging for his help; at least she has enough self-awareness to acknowledge it when he says, “You want us to watch the man you left me for burn himself to death. That’s transcendently weird, Lily.”
Weirder still is the discovery that the footage of Sergei setting himself on fire was doctored—specifically, someone copy-and-pasted the same digital flames, which is easy enough to spot once Jamie keeps pausing and replaying the footage. It’s the kind of dumb human error that brings to mind Jamie’s example of doctors who smoke from the prior episode, which in turn described Sergei not updating his encrypted communication app for four years. Could the folks at Amaya be so arrogant as to think no one would notice their shoddy VFX? Was this a mistake from non-programmer Kenton, who otherwise seems so fastidious when he’s actually dealing with flesh-and-blood targets?
At any rate, Lily gets an answer: The body is real. The suicide is fake. Sergei is still dead, but he was murdered. Lily has caught up to what we viewers saw in the pilot, but she doesn’t seem to have a next move in mind yet. Instead, the episode ends on the cool shot of Kenton and other Amaya co-conspirators dragging Sergei’s corpse out to the courtyard and staging his self-immolation… except that it’s rewound. It’s a fitting bookend to the episode’s opening visual, of the caveperson’s handprint—looking backwards before we, inevitably, continue ahead.
More than one shot in this episode features Katie, alone in Devs, staring at the golden glow of the machine. Is she looking ahead when she told the others not to? And what is she seeing?