Devs (2020)

SCORE: 4/5

Devs is an outstanding 8-part mini-series with a conservative slant on FX, that I highly recommend to Dissident Rightists. The series, which plays like an extended episode of Black Mirror, is written and directed by Alex Garland, one of the more talented and interesting figures making films today. From his novel The Beach (which was turned into a pretty good movie with Leo Dicaprio) to the excellent film Ex Machina (2014) to the enthralling film Annihilation (2018), Garland has demonstrated a flair for embedding deep philosophical conundrums into his films, particularly philosophy of mind. Garland also often engages critiques of utopianism, especially technology utopianism and the accompanying ethos of accelerationism that we see saturating our culture, all within a cinematography that is part Kubrick, part Nolan, part Fincher.

Fans of corporate espionage flicks (e.g., The Parallax View) will enjoy Devs. The show plays to our current fears and anxieties about Silicon Valley, of their wildly outsized and growing power over our lives (internationally), a power with too little oversight, where the massive wealth involved inoculates itself by campaign contributions to both parties, ensuring oversight is minimized.

In Devs, the fictional company Amaya, is clearly modeled on Google, with its sprawling high-tech corporate campus nestled within a forest of redwoods outside of SF. As with Google, company buses pick up employees in downtown SF each morning, hustling them in comfort to their workplace. In the process, we see San Francisco as a shithole (e.g., litter; homeless people on doorsteps) and as a harbinger for the rest of the country in due time: a small elite class living in high-security, rarified bubbles… and then everyone else.

Nick Offerman (of all people) is terrific as Forest, the joyless and obsessive founder and head of Amaya. A mouthpiece for the implicit (and sometimes explicit) ethos of Big Tech as the altruistic visionary gods of a new age, Forest expresses contempt for both patriotism and national borders. The show’s religious symbolism accentuates both the Jesus complex and the sense of being quasi-gods, that Big Tech can exude. The underrated Zach Grenier (who folks will remember as Ed Norton’s office boss in Fight Club) plays Kenton, the resourceful and merciless head of security at Amaya.

There is at least one overt jab at Wokeness, and the de-sexualization of the show’s female characters is most interesting. As the show’s protagonist, the actress Sonoya Mizuno – who was the highly sexualized AI robot Kyoko in Ex Machina – here has a plain, boyish look. A similarly desexualized (and completely androgynized) Cailee Spaeny plays Lyndon, a Woke millennial Devs team member who we can’t figure out is male or female.

In Devs, we get suspense and thriller qualities, including subplots involving Russian spies, and passing references to an ascendant China. But the prevailing theme of the show is the playful philosophical speculation about various quantum theories of mind/existence, and paradoxical idealized imaginings of where it all might go, and what a quantum computing endpoint might be. There are references to Roger Penrose and the Wheeler interpretation (multiverse). There are discussions of free will vs determinism, as well as simulation theory (whether we might be information in a higher-level simulation).

While the tail end of the third act is a bit disappointing, the journey there is absolutely terrific.

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