Deep into the wondrously weird and mind-bending limited series “Devs,” Character A tells Character B that in just a few minutes, Character B is going to do something insane and potentially life-ending.
Character B scoffs at this madness. Why would he do THAT?
A moment later, Character B is doing exactly what Character A predicted — and it makes perfect sense.
Sorry to be so cryptic, but I don’t even want to even hint at spoiling any of the richly satisfying if sometimes bat-bleep crazy twists and turns in this eight-part series from the fertile mind of writer-director Alex Garland of “Annihilation” and “Ex Machina” fame.
“Devs” is an “FX on Hulu” series, which means it’s an FX series but you can see it only if you have Hulu. The first two episodes will debut Thursday on Hulu, with one episode a week coming after that.
This is the kind of series that will either hook you from the get-go, or have you clicking on that “X” icon and bailing out early on. It’s an eclectic mix of sci-fi and mind games and love stories and murder mystery, with visual references to everything from Jesus Christ on the cross to Marilyn Monroe having sex with Arthur Miller, dialogue about the Fibonacci Sequence and whether or not the universe is deterministic and soundtrack selections ranging from “Guinevere” by Crosby, Stills & Nash to “Come Out,” a 1966 performance piece by Steve Reich.
It’s a deep dive into the twilight zone and at times I had to work hard to keep a grip on certain plot machinations — but Garland has a keen sense of timing when it comes to providing the answers to nagging questions just as we’re getting close to the point of frustration.
By the time the finale wraps up, no major mysteries remain. We might not love every explanation, every resolution, but it’s a whole lot better than remaining in the dark.
“Devs” stars Sonoya Mizuno (who did that mesmerizingly bizarre dance number with Oscar Isaac in “Ex Machina”) in a subtle and beautiful performance as Lilly Chan, a young software engineer with Amaya, a powerful and influential tech company in the San Francisco area. (The cinematography throughout is spectacular, with breathtaking shots of one of the most photogenic cities in movie and TV history.)
Amaya is located on the outskirts of the city, in a lush and majestic redwood forest. But even if you’re miles away, you can see the enormous and creepy statue of a little girl rising above the treetops. (It’s kind of like one of those Bob’s Big Boy statues, only about 100 times bigger.) That unnerving statue is the first sign there’s something unusual and foreboding about Amaya.
Lilly is in love with her co-worker Sergei (Karl Glusman), a Russian tech whiz who gets promoted to a coveted job in the mysterious Devs division of Amaya, where the best of the best work day and night on … something. Something big, something life-changing, something involving the ability to literally see the past and maybe even catch a glimpse of the unchangeable future.
“I wouldn’t say even the Devs team knows what the Devs team does,” says Amaya’s founder.
Sergei goes missing after his first day at Devs. Amaya’s chief of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), shows Lily video evidence of what happened to Sergei — but she isn’t buying it. Something’s not right. (Grenier’s fine work as the quietly menacing Kenton is reminiscent of Jonathan Banks as the cop turned hitman Mike in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.”)
This sets off a spider’s web of plot developments, as Lily enlists the help of her ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha), a computer security expert who’s still in love with her, to find out what really happened to Sergei and to uncover the true mission of Devs.
Nick Offerman breaks free of his familiar Ron Swanson deadpan comic actor persona with a strong dramatic performance as Forest, the mercurial genius who founded Amaya and skulks about the premises looking like a homeless person with his unkempt long hair, scruffy beard and wrinkled flannels. Alison Pill is equally effective as his lieutenant and love interest, Katie, who is almost always the smartest person in the room even when the room is filled with geniuses and has an almost sociopathic disregard for empathy.
Flashback sequences unlock the mystery of that statue and explain how Forest was transformed into an obsessed and perhaps unhinged megalomaniac. At times we see a character making a simple, almost unconscious decision to walk in one direction or stop on a staircase or continue a phone conversation — and we see multiple images of the same character making slightly different decisions. Sometimes the choice to zig instead of zag wouldn’t have mattered in the least. Sometimes a seemingly inconsequential deviation could have had a profound impact on events.
Time and again in “Devs,” free will clashes with fate. Even if you were shown exactly what will happen in the next minute, the next hour, the next day, is there anything you could do to alter that timeline?
Or maybe there’s another option. Time will tell, literally.