Devs Episode 8 Review

The final showdown at Devs wraps up Alex Garland’s matryoshka-esque miniseries in a succinct, if not entirely satisfying, way.

Devs Episode 8 Review
Photo: FX

This Devs review contains spoilers.

It feels woefully ironic to be discussing a show about seeing into the future that did not manage to predict the current pandemic crisis. (Unless you want to assume that all of Devs took place over just a few days in early March, which about tracks.) Yet it seems intentional that FX decided to air the Devs series finale the week after Easter. Because this final episode is all about resurrections and second comings… just maybe not the ones we expected.

Despite the last few episodes making it painfully clear that Forest has done all of this—invested probably millions in a technology that can look into the freaking past, sacrificed a half-dozen lives—solely for the chance of getting his dead daughter back in some form, the finale ramps back up all the religious imagery. Stewart recites William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming” to no one in particular, intoning about how “the centre cannot hold” and “surely the Second Coming is at hand.” Lily and Forest trade quips about messiahs. We discover that Devs is actually DEUS—a deity, a god, a private joke. The people who are supposed to die, die… but then they make it to the afterlife.

That’s all ahead of us, and beyond even what the Devs machine can see. First, Lily fulfills the vision that has guided Forest and Katie’s actions for the past few years: She comes to Devs. Even after she derided these tech entrepreneurs for acting like the universe is made of some crackable code, even after she herself thought she could discover the encryption that would prove them wrong—Jamie and Kenton’s deaths compelled her to do exactly what she was always meant to do.

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It’s no surprise the poor girl is suffering an existential crisis in front of her boss. “I don’t know what I am anymore,” she says numbly, standing in the simulation room. “Something that makes no decisions, has no choices, follows a path I can’t see. I’m not even choosing the words I’m saying now.” She finally gets it.

These scenes within Devs are the most fascinating part of the episode, moreso than where the series eventually ends up, because it’s simply four smart people struggling to work out a near-unfathomable thought experiment in an enclosed space. Forest shows Lily the rest of Devs’ vision: She walks him out of the simulation room at gunpoint, they step into the glass box held aloft by the electromagnetic fields, she shoots him, the box falls, she crawls to her death… and static.

What’s immediately fascinating is that the vision starts with Lily walking Forest out of the room. Lily, watching this, clearly doesn’t recognize the fury that hardens her future self’s eyes, that directs Forest to his death. She’s witnessing an effect whose cause (despite existing, per the laws of determinism) she still does not know. Forest asks her why she pulls the trigger, and her answer, while terse, makes sense: “It’s for Jamie.” Because what they and we see happen before she shoots him through the eye is that he pretentiously says, “You know what happens to messiahs, don’t you? They get resurrected.” Considering that both of the men she’s ever loved are corpses thanks to Devs, one can see how Lily would take the man in charge boasting about resurrection.

But Forest doesn’t ask why she decides to leave this room and walk him to the box in the first place—likely because he and Katie have already seen that she does it, so in his mind the reason behind it is irrelevant. It’s the same dilemma that Lily faced in episode 7: If the simulation says that she leaves a room and that leads to her death, then ostensibly all she has to do is not leave the room.

Maybe it’s Forest’s dogged insistence that “the sense that you were participating in life was only ever an illusion. Life is just something we watch unfold, like pictures on a screen.” Perhaps Lily is tired of fighting these people who have surrendered their autonomy to determinism. Or—my guess—the final straw is Forest letting her in on his little inside joke, that the “v” in Devs is the Roman “u” and the project is really called DEUS. As he continues even now to be infuriatingly glib and superior, I can’t blame her for saying, “I think our time is up” and standing up with the gun. It’s as good a reason as any.

Despite how familiar Forest and Katie are with this order of events, it’s laughable that they both still talk as stiffly as bad actors in amateur theater, Katie especially. “I don’t know why you say that! …Enough! It’s too much…” is oddly amusing in Lily’s vision, even moreso once she sets the wheels into motion and Katie—brilliant, callous Katie, who has serenely prepared for this moment—loses her cool. You almost feel badly for her and Forest, but in so many ways it feels like they brought this upon themselves by not ever fighting back, by not ever considering an alternative.

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Because Lily steps into the box, orders Forest and Katie to say goodbye—and then tosses the motherfucking gun away right as the doors close.

The look on Katie’s face. (chef’s kiss emoji) These cerebral dummies, who thought they cracked some omnipotent truth about the universe and then handed over their own power and free will. “We’ve left your system,” Lily tells Forest, who looks nearly as bereft as when he lost his wife and daughter. You have to feel for the guy, who had been clinging to this belief system to give his life meaning, however terrible, only to learn that none of it was sacred. Lily calls him out with a twist on his smug final words from the vision: “Forest, you know the thing about messiahs, don’t you? They’re false prophets.” The thing is, he doesn’t look like a villain whose plans have been foiled; he looks like a man who realizes he never had any power to begin with, just not for the reasons he thought.

Unfortunately, neither does Lily, because they both willingly stepped into a glass box being carried on electromagnetic fields. And guess who’s watching Lily disrupt the system?

Fucking Stewart, who disables the fields with the press of a button and sends them hurtling to their deaths. Should’ve paid closer attention to his poetry, Forest.

But seriously, what I think this means is that at some point Stewart looked at all of Devs, including the vision that Katie and Forest had guarded so closely. He saw the simulation project ahead as far as it could go, and surmised that the deaths of these two people destroyed the system. That’s in line with what he tells a sobbing Katie, who demands to know why he did it: “Because I realized what you’ve done. Someone has to stop this.” Devs could not keep existing in its current, oracle-like form, Stewart has decided; the ends were the same, he just had to come up with new means to justify them. I did love his last little bit of sass: “Don’t blame me, Katie; it was predetermined.”

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And so, Forest and Katie have reached the fixed point that they both looked forward to and feared, and now they are beyond it. The final scenes didn’t quite come together for me, because they felt less like a challenging thought experiment and more like a baffling conclusion.

Forest comes back to himself, only to discover that he is inside the system, inside DEUS. They act as if they are reacting to entirely new information that exists beyond the fixed point in time they were always working toward, yet neither do they seem entirely surprised by this development. Forest did make that comment about messiahs getting resurrected, so perhaps this is a fate he envisioned for himself. And Katie was the one overseeing the experiment with the mouse. That confounded me a few episodes ago, but it would seem that the point is, Devs can take an object that is physically present in the, well, present; then extrapolate backwards in time to when it was alive, building that living code into the simulation—and then the digital copy gets to bypass its moment of death in the physical plane and continue on within the sim. So, while the mouse cannot be resurrected in our plane, it can live “again” in the system.

That’s what Katie does for Forest: She gives him the means to fully integrate with DEUS and be reunited with the code that makes up Amaya and his nameless wife. Though she cautions him that they’re following Lyndon’s multiverse principle, which means that this Forest talking to Katie might end up in a world in which they still died. He’s willing to take that risk because he misses them so much, and—oh, poor Katie. She was always just a placeholder.

This poor woman ends her story turning to Forest’s senator friend for funding to keep the lights on at Devs, so that the DEUS system can run forever and give Forest and Lily their second chances. We don’t know how Katie’s life will turn out, only that she has shepherded Forest to where he always wanted to go: pseudo-heaven by way of multiverse simulation.

Forest and Lily reunite at Devs, back where the series started—that is, Sergei’s big presentation. The versions that we follow—copies, souls, what-have-you—have found their way into a universe in which his wife and daughter are still alive, and also everything in Lily’s life seems to resemble the way it was up until a few days prior. Yet one immediately wonders: Would Forest have still created Devs if Amaya hadn’t been taken from him so cruelly? Isn’t there a Katie in this simulation? What happens when this sim’s Lyndon solves the multiverse problem? How does this universe, and all the others, not just collapse in on itself?

DEUS-as-afterlife certainly fits Devs’ overall operating themes, but this final revelation also immediately trips itself up. It’s also simply odd timing for yet another TV series about the afterlife, so soon after the Good Place finale and ahead of the series premiere of Greg Daniels’ Upload. But mostly, I have trouble seeing this as a mostly blank slate (Lily and Forest do retain their memories of everything including their and others’ deaths) full of promise, because all I have are questions of how the rest of their digital lives will unspool:

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Is Sergei’s mission the same in this world? Is today the day he gets welcomed into the fold at Devs, steals the source code, and gets strangled to death by Kenton? Is it Lily’s responsibility to prevent the domino effect of deaths? Can you die in DEUS? Does Lily find Pete and blow his cover? Do they become buddies?

More interesting, but far too brief, is Forest’s reveal that he and Lily were infinitely copied into all of the multiverses he kept arguing with Lyndon over: the ones where Jesus, or Amaya, has one extra hair on their heads and so it is not identical with the world they came from. Or, in some of the realities we briefly glimpse during his explanation, the world seems to literally be on fire? I know that the argument was that all of these worlds are minutely different, overall the same; and clearly Forest has made his peace with getting a “different” Amaya, because she’s close enough to the one he lost.

But I might have preferred seeing Devs end with a Lily and a Forest in a universe that is different from the one from which they departed—not an idyllic heaven, not digital reincarnation, but grappling with a reality that is unfamiliar.

Instead, Lily picks a fight with this universe’s Sergei (who still has his encrypted sudoku app) and eventually leaves the Devs campus. Returning to San Francisco, she finds Jamie, and simply hugs him. The fact that he hugs her back makes me wonder if, despite this being a reset, some version of this Jamie knows there’s a reason she’s hugging him this fiercely.

So! That’s Devs. While a second watch was incredibly helpful in understanding the theories of determinism with which these characters grapple, my ambivalence stands. There’s just so much happening here that many of the plot detours detracted from the story that Garland was trying to tell. The flashbacks to the past were incredibly memorable yet served only to support a few of Forest’s rambly monologues about not learning from the past. The fate-versus-free-will thought experiments were so engrossing yet were crammed into the last three episodes, despite the fact that we viewers had grasped those concepts earlier in the series.

Did Devs live up to your expectations? Did you make your peace with the ending better than I did? Or do you too want to see Lily hopping through parallel universes?

Rating:

4 out of 5