Alex Garland’s DEVS is a phenomenal piece of intelligent, mind-bending TV

Alex Garland, one of my top 5 writer/directors working today, has followed up his astounding films Ex Machina (2014) and Annihilation (2018) with a mind-bending sci-fi miniseries that is absolutely spectacular from beginning to end. When it comes to writing and directing high-concept, mind-bending sci-fi that requires you to think and touches on complex themes pertaining to reality, humanity and free will, there is no one better than Alex Garland.

Devs follows Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), a computer engineer who begins investigating a small division within her company that may be behind the disappearance of her boyfriend. For a story that begins on such a small scale, seeing where things end up by the end of the 8th episode makes me appreciate the miraculous world building and storytelling that Alex Garland has pulled off here. Fans of fast-paces storytelling may be better off looking elsewhere, but if you’re a fan of a slow burn, then this is the show for you. The story takes its time to unfold, feeding you and the characters bits of information that edge you closer to the finale while giving you time to digest every new detail and embrace the complex themes being handled.

Predictability is a theme that plays heavily into the story being told, yet at the same time, the story is incredibly unpredictable in its handling of predictable scenarios. Through clever foreshadowing, carefully planned cliffhangers and only drawing back the curtains just enough for you to get a taste of what’s going on, Alex Garland creates this edge-of-seat tension that lingers through the entire series. There isn’t a single moment to rest as the series has your mind constantly working and processing every new detail to try and piece together what will happen. There is a slow point in the series, once it hits episode five, where the progression of events takes a brief halt. During the episode, it feels a little jarring in terms of pace as you’ve just come off some pretty big moments. However, the content delivered, and the information learnt plays a role in enhancing the impact of last three episodes.

The home stretch of this series may be some of the best intelligent sci-fi I have ever witnessed. The final three episodes, if watched in succession, would have your heart pounding from the beginning right through to the last second. One thing, among many, that Alex Garland has executed flawlessly across all of his directorial projects is the climax. He has a clear vision of how the story is going to end, when it begins, and knows how to build everything in a film or series to a crescendo that also gives weight to every moment that happened in the past. On a storytelling level as well as a thematic level, Devs leaves you with a lot of ideas, pondering everything that just unfolded.

On a technical level, Devs is nothing short of spectacular. Garland teams up for a third time with cinematographer Rob Hardy, who delivers utterly flawless cinematography across every single scene. The symmetry and framing is absolutely stunning. Just like in Ex Machina and Annihilation, I regularly found myself looking at a shot and just thinking about how beautiful it looked. Combined with the set design of the Devs facility, this entire series is stunning. The colour palette may be different, but the overall aesthetic is very much in line with Ex Machina.

Garland also brings back Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury for a third collaboration to helm the score that gets increasingly more unsettling and haunting with each passing episode. The piercing and pounding score enhances the eerie tones surrounding the entire series and sucks you further in to the mystery and drama of every key moment.

When it comes to the performances, the series is led by a stellar ensemble with mesmerising performances from both Sonoya Mizuno and Nick Offerman. Sonoya Mizuno had a strong presence when she appeared in Ex Machina, but now the full extent of her acting talents are on show as she leads this series. She is effortlessly captivating in her performance as Lily, a character who is uncovering every piece of information as we learn it. She isn’t learning anything before us, nor are we learning anything before her. She’s a perfect representation of the audience’s place in the story and someone we can relate to and root for.

Then we have Nick Offerman who plays Forest, undoubtedly the most complex and captivating character in the series who is tied to everything that is going on. This is such a departure for Nick Offerman who has traded in his comedic roles for this very raw, gritty and emotionally driven performance. If this doesn’t win him an Emmy, then I don’t know what will as he is flawless across every scene. Every line of dialogue is delivered perfectly and he completely disappears into the role to the point where you can’t see the guy from Parks and Recreation anymore. It’s a riveting performance about a damaged man who has a lot more to him than just ‘the guy who runs devs’, as you learn through the series.

Outside of these two leads, supporting performances from Jin Ha (Jamie), Alison Pill (Katie), Zach Grenier (Kenton), Cailee Spaeny (Lyndon) and Stephen McKinley Henderson (Stewart) are all great and each bring something different to the series. I enjoyed watching every single character in the series as they really did all bring something valuable to the story.

In the end, Alex Garland has once again written and directed another brilliant piece of high-concept sci-fi that borders on being a masterpiece of the genre. He’s proven he can craft a riveting story over the course of eight episodes that continuously builds to a thrilling climax, touching on themes and ideas that will have your brain working the entire time, especially through the final three masterpiece episodes. I really want to write some sort of spoiler-filled piece about Devs and its ending, so that may show up at some point soon.

9.7/10

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