Entertainment

Alex Garland's 'Devs' Is a Terrifying Take on Silicon Valley's God Complex

Nick Offerman and Sonoya Mizuno star in the cerebral new FX on Hulu miniseries from the ‘Ex Machina’ writer/director.
March 9, 2020, 5:28pm
'Devs' Is a Terrifying Take on Silicon Valley's God Complex
 FX Networks

The pilot of Devs, the new FX on Hulu tech-thriller miniseries from writer/director Alex Garland, introduces Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and her live-in boyfriend, Sergei (Karl Glusman), both engineers sometime in the near-future Bay Area working for the fictional corporation Amaya. Each morning, they leave their San Francisco apartment, step over the homeless man who stays on their building's stairwell and hop on a shuttle bus to the company’s campus, clearly modeled after Google or Facebook's sprawling offices. While other shows satirize Silicon Valley tropes like the stark class divide in the city and the idyllic office, this series follows the dark, unnerving underbelly of the tech world.

There's something noticeably amiss about the Amaya headquarters. Thanks to the menacing and frequently terrifying score from Portishead's Geoff Barrow and composer Ben Salisbury, there's a foreboding thrum under every shot of the workplace. An unsettling and bizarre skyscraper-like statue of a young girl also looms over the campus.

Amaya HQ from FX on Hulu's 'Devs'

The eerily lifelike structure is a totem to the company's namesake, the deceased daughter of its enigmatic and still-very much grieving founder Forest (Nick Offerman). As CEO of Amaya, he takes on the bizarre tropes and eccentricities of many Silicon Valley leaders, like an amalgamation of Elon Musk's faux-messiah and Mark Zuckerberg's dork everyman. He speaks in vague platitudes, he shovels lettuce into his mouth with his bare hands at meetings, he lives in a surprisingly modest house, he wears a uniform of an unkempt beard, hoodie, and jeans, but of course, he's hiding something sinister.

The first episode finds Sergei joining "Devs," the company's ultra-secretive development lab that's working on a project so high-clearance, he can never tell his partner what actually goes on in the lab. On his first day, something goes horribly awry and he disappears.

His disappearance—and subsequent death— sets Lily on a frantic search for what actually happened to her boyfriend. She's convinced the company (and Forest) has something to do with it. Her journey to unravel Sergei's disappearance sets her down a conspiratorial rabbit hole that features corporate cover-ups, sudoku apps that aren't what they seem, foreign spies, and a gigantic computer that can do things that would frighten any ethicist and even change the fabric of the universe.

Garland has consistently excelled at this tense and cerebral slow burn throughout his career. Writing the Danny Boyle-directed standouts like zombie nu-classic 28 Days Later, underrated space slasher Sunshine, and his own directorial efforts in the dystopian sci-fi of Ex Machina and Annihilation have solidified Garland as one of Hollywood's foremost genre experimentalists. It's this sensibility and penchant for dark atmospherics that make his work especially suited for longform TV.

"The thing I was most interested in was not the specific personality traits of any particular tech leader, but more the kind of messianic quality that is conferred upon them — by consumers, by the media and by their employees. It all has a slightly cult-y feel," Garland told the New York Times.

This is the bet FX is taking with their fledgling FX on Hulu branding, a collection of new shows found exclusively on the subscription streaming service. The first few episodes of Devs are strong enough to stand with the cable network's best offerings like The Americans or American Crime Story.

At its worst, Devs can feel like a composite of other "prestige" TV shows: its twist and turns are reminiscent of House of Cards, its spy subplot is straight out of The Americans, and one of its villains, the shocking violent Kenton (Zach Grenier), Amaya's head of security and fixer, is basically a less empathetic Mike from Breaking Bad. But Devs is engaging despite its occasionally derivative inclinations. Mizuno, who's on her third collaboration with Garland after excellent turns in Ex Machina and Annihilation, is pointed and convincing in her portrayal of Lily, as is Offerman's rendering of Forest, who takes his character's frustrating Silicon Valley stereotypes and turns them into something human and deeply flawed. On top of the stellar performances, which also include supporting characters in "Devs" coders Lyndon (Cailee Spaeny) and Stewart (Stephen McKinley Henderson).

It's a big ask to take time for eight episodes of near-future dystopia, and though it's sometimes confusing and meandering, it's worth letting this smart miniseries unfold at its own pace. Like so much of Garland's previous work, specifically the colorful anxiety of Annihilation and the tense pace of Ex Machina, Devs will stick with you.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.