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Devs spins a Silicon Valley murder mystery into something unsettling and strange

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The director of Annihilation and Ex Machina is back with a thriller that takes aim at tech unicorns

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Devs is not a show that’s out to confuse you. The miniseries — which is billed as an FX show but airs exclusively on Hulu — bears a lot of the hallmarks of extremely cerebral, puzzle-box television. There is strange imagery: a massive, towering statue of a young girl delighted at the forests around her. Redwoods surrounded by LED halos. Rooms full of pulsing, warm orange lights, as if they were alive. Characters who talk around things and are forthright about little. But as heavy as the atmosphere is, the show isn’t out to lose you. Instead, it wants you on its side. It’s dispassionate but angry. Maybe you should be, too.

Despite its preference for aesthetics over clarity, the plot of Devs is a simple one: Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) is a computer engineer who works for Amaya, a tech company that works, vaguely, in “quantum computing.” She, like most Amaya employees, works in the public-facing side of the company, which seems successful and highly regarded, even if it’s unclear what it actually does. The real action at Amaya is in Devs, a top-secret division of the company in a building few have even seen.

The show begins when Lily’s boyfriend, Sergei, is selected to join Devs. When Sergei is suspected of trying to steal company secrets, he is killed. Amaya says it’s suicide, and Lily suspects foul play. Devs is about the cat-and-mouse game that follows, as Lily tries to pin down what Fores (Nick Offerman), Amaya’s mysterious CEO, is actually up to.

This throughline gives Devs a nice momentum, making it the kind of understated sci-fi thriller that creator Alex Garland has become known for. Of course, there’s more going on — what the Devs unit actually does is a big part of the story — but answers come early, and Devs spends most of its time contemplating what the answers it gives you might mean.

As a result of all this, Devs clearly favors plot over character, making it an easy show to bounce off of if you aren’t willing to buy in completely. That’s perhaps the biggest hurdle to clear. Devs is a show you need to be all-in on. It’s worth it, mostly. It’s made to contemplate the new world order where the government is held in sway by tech companies that are allowed to operate inscrutably and without oversight, using their immense power to pursue whatever they want. It’s sharply critical but not openly. Depending on how you like your science fiction, you may want the show to have more teeth than it ultimately does.

Even if it doesn’t go as far as it could, Devs has a tight focus that makes it hypnotic, engrossing television, easy to slip into for an hour at a time or binge all at once if you wait. This is fitting. Much like the real-life tech companies it critiques, the show is about building a reality alongside but apart from the world most people live in, one that it shuttles people in and out of on private chartered buses where rules don’t matter and everyone is encouraged to think of themselves as god-king of a digital universe. For the few scenes set in San Francisco proper, the “real world” appears alien and wrong.

This is the lure of Silicon Valley: like Rapture, the objectivist paradise of the BioShock video games, it’s a place sheltered from consequence by wealth and power where the privileged wield their newfound power without restraint. Devs is most effective when it makes the scope of that power clear, in scenes where developers admire their handiwork, sequestered deep within their own private utopia. What a perfect place for a nightmare.

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