This Devs review contains spoilers.
Devs Episode 4
If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, would you do anything differently? is a conundrum that takes on newer and graver clarity during the current coronavirus pandemic. But in the world of Devs, the situation is as murky as one of the machine’s projections: It is Lily’s death that approaches in 48 hours, we learn from Katie catching Forest watching the future; and only those two know it. Lily, meanwhile, is resisting the urge to report Devs to the cops for Sergei’s murder in favor of returning to normal, unaware that she is heading toward—if we are to believe Forest’s grim pronouncements—an inevitable end.
That end is still obscured by, as Lyndon calls it, the blizzard of the projection, but it’s nonetheless a striking visual: Lily crawling on her stomach, dragging herself across… what looks maybe like snow? Or that might just be the imprint of her hand on whatever surface it is. Katie scolds Forest for accessing the future, as she has just evaded Stewart’s accusation of her doing exactly that; the junior staff seems to have no illusions about their bosses peeking ahead. Forest’s response highlights the breathtaking double standard at Devs: “They know not to break the rule. And they know we break the rule.”
Yes, without Forest—his will, his questions, undoubtedly his money—Devs would not exist. Yet he holds his employees to incredibly tricky expectations of loyalty, both before they even lay eyes on the machine and then once they’ve invested their own time and emotional energy into cracking its puzzle. He wants them to arrange the tea leaves, but only he and Katie are allowed to try and read them.
Yet Forest also seems to be having an existential crisis about this exclusive power, wondering if they could or should have some sort of effect on what they’ve already seen come to pass: “What if one minute into the future we see you folding your arms, and you say, ‘Fuck the future. I’m a magician. My magic breaks tram lines. I’m not going to fold my arms.’ You put your hands into pockets and keep them there til the clock runs out.”
Instead of trying out that radical magical experiment, Katie—calm, stalwart Katie—reassures him by imparting what must clearly be their own special mantra: “Cause precedes effect. Effect leads to cause. The future is fixed in exactly the same place as the past. The tram lines are real.”
Which is bad news for Lily, who finds Kenton lurking outside her apartment. He’d gone there looking for her and tried to get information out of Pete, who immediately sniffed out that something about this guy was Not Good. It’s weirdly sweet how protective Pete is of Lily, and speaks to them having something of a relationship (at least, on his end) since he effectively lives on her stoop. While his attachment to her might not be the healthiest, kudos to Garland for setting a show in San Francisco that acknowledges the homelessness crisis. There are probably a lot of Lilys who have their Petes.
Unfortunately, despite his earnest claims that he has Lily’s back, Pete can’t do much to stop her from going along with Kenton to her work-mandated psychiatrist appointment. At the doctor’s office, Lily is much less sure-footed in her false schizophrenia than she was in Kenton’s office, likely from being caught off-guard; so she fumbles together enough red flags to match her story without ever gaining control of the situation.
She also reveals a few bits of information about her family that might be real, or at least rooted in truth: Following the death of her father, an industrial engineer, when she was 10, her mother remarried, moved to Hong Kong, and effectively started a second family that Lily does not feel close to. (We saw this in the second episode, where she resisted suggestions to “come home” following Sergei’s death.) Lily does seem the type to throw all of herself into a few strong relationships, with partners and friends like Jen, and then to burn bridges when those relationships fall apart.
Yet she and Jamie seem to be reforming something. He let her sleep at his place after discovering that Devs had faked Sergei’s death; and while their morning conversation is sniping at each other about the cops and remembering all the bad parts of their relationship, it still has life to it. Their unfinished business is pushing to the surface, yet they’re also confiding in one another and growing closer as they uncover more layers to the conspiracy.
Speaking of: Kenton pays off the psychiatrist, who gives him the means to have Lily committed to an asylum. This he tells Lily on the drive there, prompting the very badass move of her grabbing the steering wheel and crashing them into the side of the highway. Garland’s two recent major works, Ex Machina and Annihilation, both took place in secluded bunkers or otherworldly areas; it’s fascinating to see how with Devs he utilizes the real world, like a busy San Francisco highway. That car crash, and Lily stumbling away in a ringing haze, was the most visceral moment of the series so far.
But, back to that secret bunker: Lyndon has solved Forest’s problem! The Devs team had previously been operating by the de Broglie-Bohm theory of deterministic thinking—that is, in believing that the universe operates on all events having a cause, as Katie reassured Forest, rather than operating on randomness. Your humble reviewer will confess that she got lost once Lyndon started namedropping theories, but found it easiest to follow when Lyndon basically threw all of those out the window.
Rather than trying to focus on this projection in this universe, Lyndon turned to the many-worlds (or Everett) interpretation: there are infinite universes in which all possible quantum outcomes are realized. That means instead of sorting through the machine’s radio static for a single soundwave, Lyndon combined all possible soundwaves together and got a crystal-clear projection of Jesus on the cross talking to God in Aramaic.
Forest is not happy—not even when Lyndon points out that this application is still deterministic, because everything that can happen, will happen. Yet as Forest points out, every time they run the projection they’ll get a slightly different outcome—which might be so unnoticeable as an extra hair on Jesus’ head, but could also be wildly different. Before he’s even uttered her name, it’s clear that he doesn’t give a fig about the number of hairs on Jesus’ head; it’s about there being a different Amaya. Not his Amaya.
Yet again, Devs reminds us that this experiment, this entire miniseries, lives and dies on Forest’s whims. He is a grieving father pouring his financial and technological resources into somehow resurrecting his dead daughter, yet nothing will make up for that loss. Short of time travel—and it’s clear that the machine cannot do that—he will never return to the daughter he knew.
So instead, he fires Lyndon for a brilliant and more importantly creative discovery and all but threatens the poor kid’s life. Lyndon is, understandably, devastated; a $10 million severance package means nothing if he got to basically stare at the Holy Grail and now must spend the rest of his young life acting as if he doesn’t even believe it exists. Plus, our short-lived boomer/zoomer duo of Stewart and Lyndon has to be broken up, with the older man begging the wunderkind to take Forest’s veiled threat to heart.
This is the part of the miniseries where I wish we spent all of our time within Devs. Because watching a second employee be forcibly removed from the premises (albeit under different circumstances) in as many days has to do a number on morale. Yet the crowd who watch this brutal exchange are just extras, more proof of Forest’s limitless resources. Lyndon may have figured out a solution, but everyone else will just shrug and go back to work fulfilling Forest’s ridiculous and probably impossible requests.
Everyone except Katie, who in her no-bullshit way applies Lyndon’s algorithm to lightwaves and leaves Forest confronted with a video of Amaya blowing bubbles that’s clearer than any memory he could ever hope to have of her. For all of his insistence on it not being his Amaya, that one move might be enough to convince Forest. (And why was Katie able to get away with it?)
Escaping Kenton convinces Lily to finally call the cops, but unfortunately her fears about Devs being less tech company and more mob seem to have been realized: The next morning, two cops arrive to arrest her, along with the psychiatrist who claims she’s had a psychotic break… and Kenton. As Lily is dragged away kicking and screaming, Kenton advances on poor Jamie and then, in a chilling shot, slowly pulls down the blinds on his apartment.
As a side note, one visual that stuck with me earlier in the episode, yet I’m not sure if it had any meaning beyond the moment: Jamie cleaning his apartment before work, only for his shelf to fall the moment he slams the door. The impetus for that cleaning spree seems to be erasing all sign of Lily having stayed there, but was the point that Jamie making that extra decision to linger before work affected when the shelf fell? It’s not like it posed any danger to him, but it’s treated as a significant moment. Obviously it’s not the key to Devs’ entire mystery, but it was such an odd little quantum outcome that stuck with me on both watches.
We are halfway through Devs, and shit is starting to get real. This episode establishes a ticking clock on Lily’s life, and raises interesting questions about why Forest and Katie are aware of her death; but Lily’s actual plot with the doctor and the car accident felt like, well, detours on the way to a larger story. And Lyndon’s discovery, while thrilling, highlighted just how frustrating and myopic Forest’s agenda is. Like the machine, I want to see things get clearer instead of swimming through more hazy potential plotlines.
To that end: Is this the last we’ve seen of Lyndon? Katie must know more than she lets on, but what does that actually mean? And how will Lily get from a psych ward to her final, ignominious moments?