Alex Garland’s big tech thriller Devs returned to action this week with a slow burner of an episode, one that hinged on the mental state of Amaya encryption employee Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno). Opening on grainy projection images of Jesus Christ on the cross, the burning of a woman at the stake, Abraham Lincoln giving his famous Gettysburg address, and Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller having sex, Garland’s show, and Forest’s (Nick Offerman) company, has no problems taking its technology to the limits of its power and uses. The only two rules for the Devs wing in particular: don’t look back, only look forward; and they don’t invade privacy. It remains to be seen how long those rules will last.
Code 1: Big Tech Meets Big Politics
CEO Forest greets a visitor, flying into the Amaya campus by helicopter, a Senator (Janet Mock) on the subcommittee on technology oversight. Her main concern is the Devs wing, which Forest simply states is short for Development, though the politician wants more information. She lets Forest know that the masses “use you, they need you, but they don’t like you,” an admonishment on current social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook.
The Senator is listed as a two-episode character during this season of Devs so Forest hasn’t seen the last of her. Her introduction acts as a small, yet interesting introduction into the convergence of politics and technology, an aspect of Silicon Valley most people forget rather easily. As with Amaya, big tech has influence and weight outside of our phone screens, and the Senator reminds us of that.
Code 2: Back To Work
Lily Chan heads back to work at Amaya, following the apparent suicide of her boyfriend and fellow employee Sergei (Karl Glusman). She tells her two closest coworkers, including her friend Jen (Linnea Berthelsen), that she believes Sergei’s death was actually a murder and that there’s a cover-up going on related to the Russian government. Partly true, Lily is selling this idea, and it’s hard to tell if she’s acting for them or confiding in them. After Jen tells the other co-worker that this isn’t the first time Lily has had schizophrenic delusions, they collectively decide to seek help from Amaya’s security chief, Kenton (Zach Grenier).
Jen joins Lily in their chat with Kenton, who was (somewhat) busy talking to the Senator’s bodyguard about how boring both of their lives have become, one of several instances of comedy in the face of drama during this week’s episodes. Lily explains to Kenton, the man who did in fact murder Sergei and the Russian handler, that she thinks Sergei was killed by the Russians, and that she’s been through this before in Brooklyn, when her ex-boyfriend was killed after they both noticed irregularities in some of the code at their startup.
Again, it becomes difficult to tell if Lily is actually freaking out, or just hyping up the entire experience to get a reaction out of Kenton. She starts violently crying and dry heaving, unable to catch her breath, and deciding to storm out onto this high ledge just as Forest and the Senator are walking by. Just after Jen tells Kenton that Lily’s schizophrenic, he finds out she’s on the ledge and goes to literally talk her off the ledge. And boom, Jen steals a flashdrive of the security footage during Sergei’s suicide in Kenton’s office, as we learn Lily was lying through her teeth. They tricked Kenton and Forest into thinking Lily has become an unreliable source of information, while also giving themselves a chance to figure out what the hell happened to her boyfriend. Big time moves by Lily, who continually shows she will go to any lengths to investigate Sergei’s death.
Code 3: Effective Footage
Breaking back into her ex-boyfriend Jamie’s (Jin Ha) apartment, Lily doesn’t want to watch the video alone. Side note, Jamie really is going through the ringer on this one. He’s now watching the suicide video of the man that Lily left him for, and he certainly looks helpless anytime he’s in the same room as her. In a few days, he went from being completely detached from his ex-girlfriend to being right in the middle of a murder mystery. What a turnaround.
They watch together as Sergei lights himself on fire, but Jamie notices something odd within the flames: they look the same in every single frame. He realizes that the flames are just visual effects, manipulated to look real. The only logical conclusion follows: the dead body is real, but the suicide is fake. Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. Sergei was murdered. Episode three of Devs ends with the actual video of Kenton and Amaya employees setting up the fake suicide. The next three minutes become haunting to watch, as we see the lengths this tech company will go to in order to protect their secrets and stop the spread of information. Armed with this new information, Lily will look to continue her crusade in finding justice for Sergei, and if her recent behavior is any precursor, she will only find out more about Forest, about Devs, and about the power of big tech.
Michael Frank is a film critic and journalist based in Brooklyn. He thinks the Before trilogy should be in the Louvre and once bumped into John Oliver at brunch. He has bylines in RogerEbert, Film Inquiry, The Playlist, and AwardsWatch.