For the past few years, HBO’s Westworld has held the title of most thought-provoking TV show. Through an expansive universe, it explored ideas of consciousness, good and evil, human violence, reality, and our own mortality. With a focus on big tech in a futuristic world, Westworld caused viewers to constantly be thinking about its product, debating its episodes, and staying up way too late thinking about the wildest theories. After Episode 6, Devs has snatched up that title.
After its best episode of the season last week, Alex Garland’s Devs returned with Episode 6, a dialogue-heavy, tense offering of dramatic storytelling. Dissimilar from the HBO offering, Garland’s big tech examination doesn’t feel nearly as far off into the future. The characters look like people in our current world, unnamed (but easily inferred) leaders in the Silicon Valley bubble. This episode and this show don’t feature the violence or scale of Westworld, but the ideas are just as grand. Exploring themes of determinism, cause and effect, and the unlikelihood of our own free will, Garland’s drama trades action sequences for long monologues, futuristic worlds for simple front porches.
Code 1: Lyndon’s Won’t Go Away
Earlier in the season, a young programmer in the Devs program named Lyndon (Cailee Spaeny) got fired for her breakthrough with the system, by using something called the “other worlds” theory. This theory allows for the possibility of infinite universes, and thus infinite timelines. Following a pre-title introduction with Forest (Nick Offerman) playing in the flowers with his now-dead daughter and wife, Lyndon enters back into the fray. Positioned as the most talented coder in Devs outside of Forest’s right-hand gal Katie (Alison Pill), Lyndon never felt like she was truly leaving the world Garland constructed.
Lyndon visits her good friend and fellow Devs programmer, Stewart (Stephen McKinley Henderson) in his trailer, which is an odd choice to say the least for someone making the money of a Devs programmer. She expresses her interest in returning to Devs. She’s pissed at Forest, at Amaya, and about her termination. Lyndon thinks that Forest is (most likely) using the system to resurrect his daughter, or give himself some absolution in the process. Her anger remains, but her worry looks to be growing.
“Do you want something as powerful as Devs in the hands of someone crazy?”
Code 2: Jamie and Forest
The majority of this sixth installment takes place at Forest’s home, though. After waking up at a motel in Napa, a city I didn’t believe had motels, Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) and Jamie (Jin Ha) decide to head back into San Francisco. They drive straight to Forest’s home in the middle of the night. He’s expecting them, and he welcomes them in, even offering juice and chilled water. Katie is there with him, and the four people split up in conversation, with Jamie and Forest going outside to sit on the porch, while Katie and Lily hash out a much more serious talk at the dining room table.
The conversation between Forest and Jamie starts slow, as the ladder is skeptical of the former’s openness and apparent kindness. Forest doesn’t know him, though, and he doesn’t even know his name. It’s revealed that he was unaware of Kenton’s tortuous visit in the previous visit, even asking what happened to Jamie’s bandaged hand. Nick Offerman continues to amaze as the tech CEO with a shattered past and a sense of omniscience. As Jamie states talking to him, “You let things happen. You just observe from the sidelines.”
The two men talk about love and loss. Forest even says, “You know my loss. Everyone does. I don’t know yours.” At times, his dialogue feels written by a poetry book, in positive and negative senses of that idea. Jamie talks about losing Lily, without ever saying her name. He talks of “losing a girl, losing a girl, and the future you thought you had.” It’s a beautiful scene of forced bonding, the moments when you’re compelled to talk to someone, simply because you’re together. Jamie and Forest have more in common than they realize.
They even throw the old frisbee around, just like Forest used to do with his daughter.
Code 3: Lily and Katie
In the kitchen, Katie and Lily start chatting about Devs, the program and the institution. We learn that Katie is sleeping with Forest, even complying with the label of his girlfriend. “He’s vulnerable and he needs someone,” she says. “I like that someone to be me.” For a character as cold as Katie to say that line, it shook me.
Likely the best scene for both Alison Pill and Sonoya Mizuno, it’s a dialogue that takes up the most time in the episode. Katie attempts to explain Devs through the question of determinism. “Do things ever happen without a reason?” In her eyes, the answer is no, and this is the true nature of Devs, a predictive machine that shows you the past, the present, and the future with visualization of these times. After a few examples, Lily gets it, though.
Katie presents something new for both Lily and the audiences: Devs can only see up to a certain point in the future. After that, the visualization becomes pure static, a point that has grown closer and never extended. That fixed point where the future can’t be seen or predicted happens to be 21 hours away, and Lily is involved. The Amaya employee is a part of an unknown event, a total breakdown of the laws of the universe. No one understands or knows what this event will be, or what will happen, or how Lily is involved. It gives the show a mystery and a ticking clock.
Understandably, Lily reacts with anger, calling Katie delusional and calling Devs a load of bullshit. As she and Jamie leave, head of Amaya security and resident bad guy Kenton (Zach Grenier) watches on. Back at the apartment, Lily even invites Jamie to stay in her bed for the night.
The last scene in the episode turns back to Forest and Katie, who are laying in bed and talking about their two visitors. Actually, they’re gushing about them, about their heart, their intelligence, and their shared strength. Forest and Katie then turn to one another, and tell each other that they’re “fairly deep in like with you.” A sweet ending to an episode with massive implications, and some of the best television I’ve seen in 2020.
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.