TV

Devs

What happens when the old rules, or the old morality, no longer apply?

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Alex Garland's work has often been preoccupied with the question: What happens when the old rules, and the old morality, no longer apply? From the anarchic backpacker camp of The Beach to the lawless authoritarianism of the zombie apocalypse in 28 Days Later, Garland has frequently chronicled the rise of amorality in the absence of social order.

His latest is Devs, an eight-episode streaming series he wrote and directed for FX on Hulu. The show is set at Amaya, a Bay Area tech company that has secretly developed a system to mathematically model all of time, projecting the past—and possibly the future.

Its founder, Forest (a scraggly, harrowed Nick Offerman), believes in a completely deterministic world in which cause and effect effectively erase free will. The tram lines of time run but can never be altered. That nihilistic view ends up excusing all sorts of moral travesty: After all, if the past and future are already set, no one has any blame. It's a dark vision of a world beyond moral culpability and a reminder of the importance to healthy human cultures of the belief in individual choice and responsibility.

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  1. Can I choose whether or not to watch it? If I “change my mind”, did I really?

  2. “That nihilistic view ends up excusing all sorts of moral travesty: After all, if the past and future are already set, no one has any blame. It’s a dark vision of a world beyond moral culpability and a reminder of the importance to healthy human cultures of the belief in individual choice and responsibility.”

    Nihilism doesn’t exist in a world with no free will. There are no moral travesties in a world with no free will. There is no blame. The vision is not dark, it simply is. If there is no free will, a “belief” in individual choice is not “important”, it is simply a programmed psychological feature.

    1. I knew you were going to say that.

    2. Determinism is an easy to turn into an excuse to do whatever you want. I once heard Sam Harris explain his version of it, I believe it was on a Rubin Report from a few years ago. He used it to both excuse pedophiles behavior and say that it was the reason we needed the state to take and redistribute wealth. It’s an interesting thing to think about, but making it a mainstream philosophy will just end up as another reason people will think that they don’t need to have any personal responsibility. It’s too easy of an out.

      Despite basically being an 8 hour commercial for determinism, Devs was excellent.

  3. “The tram lines of time run but can never be altered.”

    There once was a man who said, “damn!”
    I cannot but think that I am
    A creature that moves
    In predestinate grooves
    In fact, not a bus, but a tram

    /Attributed to Maurice Hare

  4. So, a complex mathematical model that some believe justifies a deterministic (and fatalistic) plan for humanity. Where have I heard that before?

    1. Any macroeconomics. My guess is you mean epidemiology, but it still sounds like macroeconomics to me.

      Also, Asimov’s Foundation series. All the cool geek kids loved it, but I couldn’t get past the rigid determinism.

      1. “I couldn’t get past the rigid determinism”

        SPOILER ALERT: The determinism breaks down later in the series.

        1. Yeah, it isn’t determinism when you need a bunch of people behind the scenes tweaking influential humans to guide psychohistory in a particular direction.

  5. Where’s the rest of the review? That’s it, three paragraphs? I mean seriously, this review barely counts as a blurb.

  6. I watched the whole thing, and I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but don’t expect Ex Machina quality.

    You target your film for the audience in question. The reason Cardi B doesn’t sound like Bach is because Bach was writing for a specialized audience and Cardi B was targeting 14-24 year olds.

    The reason Star Trek stops the action so that Kirk (or any subsequent captain) can explain in words what’s happening and why is because the show was targeted to a general audience–and half of those people watching have below average IQs. If the captain or the engineer or whomever didn’t explain what was going on and why, half the audience wouldn’t understand it just from context.

    Ex Machina was made for a specialized audience that doesn’t need things explained to them. Devs is constantly stopping so that the characters will explain things to each other than the characters themselves, as well as half the people in the audience, already know. If you’re cool enough to see past that, it’s a fun ride.

    I should say this guy’s efforts in this way have been spectacular in the past–he’s targeted general audiences with better things in the past. Dredd (2012) was fantastic! I”m thinking Disney wanted him to do something for Hulu that was even more accessible than that.

    1. To say this is for a general audience is a bit of a stretch. It was incredibly esoteric to the point where I felt like maybe he should have been reigned in a little more. I think the over explaining is probably more of a function of needing to fill 8 hours when you probably could do it in 4 – 6. But the slow, trance-like pacing and atmosphere is arguably the best part of the series.

    2. I really don’t understand why they never made a sequel to Dredd…2012, not Stallone’s garbage heap…

      1. I like the camp of Stallone’s version as opposed to the other. Then again, I don’t take comic. books seriously.

  7. Was it inevitable that the series Dev would suck?

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