Devs Episode 7 Review
Devs’ penultimate episode perfectly illustrates the show’s central theme.
This Devs review contains spoilers.
Devs Episode 7
I think we can all agree that the clear winner of this week’s Devs is Pete (PETE!), with poor Lyndon as the loser. Even though this penultimate episode focuses on how to get Lily to Devs, as predicted—or foretold, or, simply, told—by Katie last week, she isn’t the only player on the board. Other pens have to be rolled, so to speak, to fulfill the requirements for this final confrontation that was always going to happen.
Yet at the start of the episode, that seems like the most utterly unlikely outcome. After all, the problem is deceptively simple: Katie says Lily will show up at Devs. Lily says she won’t. All she has to do is stay put, safe in her apartment, and not go somewhere. What could possibly make her do otherwise?
You might say Kenton, but you would be only half right. Yes, Devs’ head of security was feeling sorely left out after peeping on Forest and Katie’s double date with Lily and Jamie last week, so he’s taken it upon himself to infiltrate her building and eliminate the problem. Maybe, if pressed, he would have claimed he was just helping keep the tram lines going; but really he felt slighted, jealous of these two let in on secrets that the tech folks withheld from him.
Jamie’s death feels like a callback to that odd sequence from an earlier episode in which he went to the effort of tidying up his apartment, only for, the moment he slammed the door, a shelf to come crashing down from his wall. It might simply have been a metaphor for this poor guy’s life to never entirely be together; but I couldn’t help but think of it again when he’s lingering in his old kitchen. If he hadn’t paused at the mug with a photo of Sergei and Lily, and especially if he hadn’t taken the extra effort to slice a lemon for Lily’s glass of water, he might not have been standing right in front of the door when Kenton came through with the silencer.
But that’s what Devs overall, and Katie in particular, argues: Jamie didn’t change his fate because of a beat of hesitation, nor because of a sweet gesture. His fate was always set; he was always going to be Kenton’s victim, and a canary in the coalmine for Lily. She gets just enough warning to hide in the bedroom: to open up the window so Kenton thinks that she escaped, to distract him enough to break a lamp over his head in the hopes of knocking him out.
And even then! It’s not just the little “fuck you” she gets on him with the note; the open window allows secret Russian spy Pete to climb straight up into Lily’s bedroom and kill Kenton before he can murder Lily.
Why does the pen roll? Because it’s pushed. Even when the stakes are so much more vital, the same principle applies. Every effect has a predetermined cause. Everything happens for a reason. It’s so great.
Our man Pete! Turns out Sergei had a bodyguard living undercover as their amiable homeless guy, which explains his almost intrusive focus on their comings and goings. This is one of my favorite twists on television this year, because it completely suckered me. Alex Garland shrewdly uses an issue so prevalent—San Francisco’s homelessness crisis—that we don’t think twice about it, and so Pete hides in plain sight. And can we talk about the poetic justice of Kenton getting strangled by a Russian?
But where things get really fascinating, and which challenge what we just witnessed, is Pete and Lily’s brief, bloody heart-to-heart. His mission, he explains, was to watch and protect Sergei; then to watch Lily. Not to protect, but he has been so struck by her strength and her fight that he couldn’t let Kenton murder her. (I have to imagine that part of that attachment also came from the fact that Lily was the only person to actually treat him like a human being.)
Pete made a choice, and that’s a problem. Not necessarily for Devs; he doesn’t know about any of that. But right now, it forces Lily out of this apartment. She can either go to the CIA, subject herself to all manner of interrogation in the hopes of proving her innocence; or flee to Hong Kong.
“The life you once had is gone,” Pete tells her before disappearing. “The choice you have is about the life you have next.” Neither option presents her with a full life, so Lily chooses to see this one through to the end by—you guessed it—going to Devs armed with Kenton’s silencer.
Now, here’s the big question: Did Katie know that this was what would send Lily to them? Today is showtime for her and Forest, as they reveal that they have lived through this day hundreds of times. It seems that he doesn’t know every single specific, as he asks for her direction on a few steps; he has outsourced even the terrible act of knowing everything to his second-in-command slash girlfriend.
There’s a joke here about emotional labor that would land better if I actually sympathized with Katie, because she quickly proves herself to be one cold bitch where Lyndon is concerned. “There’s that whole thing” with the young ex-Devs employee, Forest reminds her, which is a hell of a way to say “You have to trick Lyndon into killing himself so that he doesn’t interfere with the rest of this.”
I can’t speak for how Katie felt, living through something she had already seen countless times, but the Lyndon conversation is even better on a second watch. She uses his fervor for Devs against him, tricking him into talking himself into becoming a martyr for his beliefs. But only a martyr in some worlds, she manipulates him into thinking; because there will also be worlds in which he proves himself by balancing on the railing of the Crystal Springs Dam, and is welcomed back to Devs, triumphant like Jesus after facing down the Devil in the desert.
Except that in yet another gorgeous multiverse sequence, there is not a single iteration in which Lyndon doesn’t fall. Katie knows this, and she lets him do it anyway. It is breathtaking to watch Alison Pill crack Katie’s usual neutral facade enough to smile along with Lyndon, to coax and even tease him into posing like Jesus on the cross, knowing that he’s always been dead.
Maybe if Lyndon had made it back to Devs, Stewart wouldn’t seem to be so desperate. We learn that while Forest and Katie were hanging out at home, Stewart has somewhat taken over the lab—at least enough to have applied Lyndon’s multiverse theory to the machine, and to preside over it with the rest of the Devs team. While they are astonished, Stewart has slipped from awe into bleak existential dread, pronouncing that what they watch through the machine is reality, and they are the simulation.
Yet these scenes didn’t entirely land for me. Something about Stewart showing the Devs folks (to whom viewers have no emotional connection) a projection one second in the future just brings to mind Spaceballs’ meta gag on the same device. When he starts intoning about how “[t]he box contains us,” it just feels melodramatic: “The box contains everything. And inside the box, there is another box. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Uh oh.”
More effective is his quoting of Philip Larkin’s poem “Aubade,” and his frustration that Forest not only doesn’t recognize it, but doesn’t even make the effort of guessing. It’s classic Forest, who can afford to have others think for him; and Stewart is completely justified in criticizing his boss: “Such big decisions being made about our future by people who know so little about our past.” Maybe that’s what prompts Forest to watch a cavewoman go through her life via the simulation; but that feels like too little, too late, when he and Katie are stubbornly looking ahead to a fixed point in the future.
I briefly felt the shame that Forest should have, at having to look up both “Aubade” and the audio piece that plays in the cold open: composer Steve Reich’s “Come Out,” which plays on a loop one quote from one of the Harlem Six. To be honest, I’m not sure what, if anything, it has to do with Devs barreling toward its conclusion. But combining “Come Out” with “Aubade” and what I assume is the cave people’s language of hums and breaths, creates a similar aural collage reminding us of the art and suffering of humanity that all occurred before—well, before whatever will soon occur.
Has Lily proven that she’s just as reverse engineerable as any other element of the universe? Is anyone at Devs sane anymore, or have they all cracked? Next week is the series finale; and even though Katie and Forest already know how it’s going to turn out, this series has proven that the best part is in how.