Devs Episode 5 Review

We learn just what Forest is fighting for, and just how much Katie sees, in a near-perfect episode of Devs.

Devs Episode 5
Photo: FX

This Devs review contains spoilers.

Devs Episode 5

We’ve reached the point of Devs that most justifies why Alex Garland must have opted for a television miniseries instead of another film: After establishing (often agonizingly slowly) his world, now he gets to play in it. This episode is devoted almost entirely to simulations from the past, and to three distinctive examples of the Devs’ polarizing multiverse interpretation. 

Adding another layer is that these “flashbacks” are not random; Katie is scrolling through the machine in order to build a narrative. We are watching her watch others who are unaware of the level to which they are being surveilled, while trying to glean what Katie finds in these moments. It’s a delightfully tricky way to experience the story.

But as we learned from Lyndon last week, these crystal-clear simulations are the product of combining infinitely variable versions of the same moment. What not even Katie, Everett interpretation fangirl that she is, is privy to is reserved solely for the viewers: infinitely branching worlds in action, in real-time.

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These scenes feel like a secret between us and Garland, the purest distillation of the argument he’s making for all of the potential in our universe. And one in particular is one of the best moments in television that I or you will see this year.

There’s the flashback to Katie herself as a grad student with a penchant for storming out of physics lectures in a dozen different directions. But we follow the Katie who Forest catches up with, whose tuition he offers to pay, who he lures with a shiny job for after graduation. It’s the most low-key of the episode’s three examples, juxtaposing this frustrated young woman’s mundane reactions: throwing her laptop case down, crying, calling someone… and receiving an emotional lifeline from a mysterious tech disruptor.

A little more complex is the episode’s cold open, in which varying combinations of Lily/Sergei and Lily/Jamie exist simultaneously in the same apartment, because of course Lily kept that place post-breakup (Bay Area real estate, am I right). As this sequence is bookended by shots of Lily lying catatonic in bed in the psychiatric ward, it could be read as her mind unspooling memories simultaneously—a metaphor for the ghosts of relationships that haunt our every movement and every space. Yet we know within the larger episode context that it’s the same as the Katie flashback: every possible scenario playing out at once.

But it’s the Forest scene that both makes the argument for the existence of a multiverse at work, and provides the most devastating illustration. While it was clear from the beginning that Forest lost Amaya far too soon, I never could have guessed how utterly cruel those circumstances might be. Standing at the end of his cul-de-sac, chatting amiably on the phone with his wife about something completely forgettable, only to watch her car get T-boned and their lives dashed away before his very eyes. Then the way that Offerman shouts “No!” with increasing violence as he staggers toward the wreckage, already knowing the answer despite the need to try and save them anyway.

Most of all, watching that same scenario play out around him with every single other outcome where they live. I confess, it took me a moment to catch on; when the car just missed him, I initially thought it was mirroring Lily almost getting run down on the highway after last week’s car accident. Then it clicked: No, this was that same gold Volvo, only in that universe it was a beat later. Every other glancing collision or near-miss plays out around Forest, but he is the one version of himself with the absolute shit luck to be stuck in the universe where Amaya and his wife died.

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So now we’re closer to understanding why he raged at Lyndon about his Amaya, and every hair on her head. Now we see how, despite his seeming callousness about everyone else involved with Devs, he is still mired in grief and self-loathing. Forest needs the universe to be deterministic, because even though one could argue that he was distracting his wife with his insistence on talking while she drove toward him—if those were the laws of his particular universe, then it wasn’t his fault. You could only have done what you did, he told Sergei in the pilot, yet he cannot tell himself that yet.

But how does the mouse experiment tie into all this? It would seem that the fledgling Devs team—this is established as a flashback, both because of Lyndon’s presence and because Katie is watching it in the present—took on as one of their first experiments seeing if they could create a simulation of everything on that table: the clock, the skull, the sugar cube. Once they could establish simulations of each of these objects, down to the molecular level, they could then extrapolate outward: the mouse, dead; then back to when the mouse was alive; then beyond that, to the living people observing the experiment. It’s all very eerie, but it’s not clear if the sketched-in projection of Forest was supposed to be a precursor to Jesus and Marilyn Monroe, or if this is an attempt to somehow figuratively reverse the effects of time.

For me it was a miss, mostly because there is so much else to focus on and learn about in this episode. This experiment is one of the memories that Katie revisits, but she also creepily scans through the greatest hits from Lily and Sergei’s relationship: their meet-cute at Amaya (with Sergei’s “it is what it is” wisdom), their first “I love you”s, and poor Jamie going through the oh-so-relatable experience of seeing your ex’s new social media photos with their current partner.

It’s all very invasive, and unclear whether this is all new information for Katie, or just for the viewer’s sake. It’s very unbalancing, considering how we got to see the multiverse moments that Katie would have killed for. Now, these and especially the memories of Lily’s childhood with her father feel like some narrative bone that Katie, or Garland, is throwing without much regard for what it actually accomplishes within this miniseries.

Perhaps it’s a metaphor for modern surveillance, for the notion that ostensibly these memories should only belong to Lily, yet a high-ranking tech employee can scroll through them just like a Facebook feed. The Go games that Lily and her father clearly held sacred become more evidence for Katie that Lily is someone who is good at thinking ahead. Her father’s dying words to her—“No man steps in the same river twice. Because it is not the same river. And he is not the same man.”—seem like they should be some key for Lily, but what use is a key that someone else has already seen?

What Katie does confirm for all of us is that Lily spends her final moments crawling across Devs’ gold-battered floor. This disquieting vision seems to bring her a measure of peace, which makes me wonder exactly what Katie’s endgame is. It’s disturbing to know how Lily dies when she’s still catatonic in a psych ward.

It might be my own particular sticking point, but benching Lily kept this episode from being flawless. If Lily’s fate is to be at Devs, then why does it matter how she spent the preceding, say, 12 hours? This just seemed an excuse to keep her out of the present action in favor of filling in the blanks of the past.

That said, doing so devoted much more interesting screentime to—and I hate myself anew for saying it, but—Kenton. This episode is probably the best we will ever understand him, and the man is still an enigma. By no means is he sympathetic, but he at least makes more sense: “Everything’s containable, but only if you’re willing to do what it takes,” is how he explains his ethos to Jamie. “I’m willing to do what it takes.”

That means nearly drowning Jamie to put fear in him, and breaking his finger to make that fear stick. Yet that doesn’t mean that Kenton is one hundred percent devoted to Devs’ cause; a few scenes later, he informs Forest and Katie in no uncertain terms that he will not go to jail for the murders, cover-ups, and torture he has done for their tram lines. Kenton is one of the series’ most fascinating characters in that initially he comes across as hired muscle, and both he and his employers seem content for him to act as Devs’ resident thug. Yet where he previously seemed to have made his peace with not being let in on Forest and Katie’s endgame, now he chafes at Katie meeting his threats with placid responses like “It’s not in your power to kill Lily Chan.” Suddenly Kenton is realizing just how much these two know-it-alls have been keeping him contained.

Then there’s Jamie, who should have skipped town the moment Kenton left his apartment. Instead, he asks his father to move his family out of town for a week, then goes to spring Lily from the psych ward. It’s an admirable move, especially considering how Jin Ha played Jamie’s shellshocked terror in the Kenton scenes, but I’m not sure it entirely tracks. Is he really that in love with Lily, and/or so invested in bringing down the company she works for, that he’ll be the hero instead of saving himself?

Unfortunately, Jamie and Lily’s actions in this episode feel like they were more narratively motivated than character-driven. But maybe that’s the point. With three episodes left, they—or, at least, she—have to make it to a specific point in time and space. More and more, they seem like pawns in a game—or like the poor mouse in Katie and Forest’s experiment, extrapolating inward and outward but always under the microscope.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5