Devs: Episode 2
March 7, 2020 11:05 AM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Lily enlists ex-boyfriend Jamie's help to investigate Sergei's disappearance. She begins to question what she really knew about Sergei.
posted by octothorpe (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yeah that dude was clearly not Russian, everyone who has Russian(-speaking) friends knows they don't use eyes for their emojis. Pff.


So things are uh, getting weirder? But I'm kind of digging it.
posted by KTamas at 3:08 PM on March 7, 2020

I liked this episode much better; at least we got some motivation why the boyfriend was offed so quickly and I like the ex-boyfriend. The fight in the parking garage was pretty brutal and ugly and very unlike most movie/tv fights.

Not sure how I feel about Offerman's performance so far.
posted by octothorpe at 4:00 PM on March 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

This is definitely up there as the most Alex Garland thing that ever Garlanded, and I didn't even realise he was involved until the end of ep1. I think Nick Offerman is making a pretty good fist of it, given that he's got the nearly impossible character of Evil Woz.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 4:45 PM on March 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would have never watched it if I hadn't known it was a Garland joint. Not generally a fan of this kind of TV but for him I'll watch it.
posted by octothorpe at 4:49 PM on March 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

The cynical part of me felt like that choking/fight scene at the end was drawn out wayyyyyyy too long... I wanna say the words "in pornographic detail" feature in the directors notes in there somewhere. like coupled with the music looping it was just a bit too much you know? like they were wayy more into putting this scene together than I was watching it.. and I know what it's like to be choked out violently and against your will.

Nope on reflection: I still think whoever directed that got a "satisfaction" from it.

Otherwise I loved it tho. Can't wait for the next episode. It all looks so cool even the obvious CGI looks cool I think.
posted by some loser at 6:41 PM on March 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

"... and I know what it's like to be choked out violently and against your will."

The Russian agent's neck was broken. I thought the scene was well done both in its realistic brutality and in how it resolved.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:16 AM on March 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ah his neck was broken, that makes so much sense, it was not obvious to me from the scene and I was a bit confused.

(this is not sarcasm, I'm 100% sincere here.)
posted by KTamas at 12:57 AM on March 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also I personally like Offerman's performance, it's a very refreshing change from his PyRex persona.
posted by KTamas at 12:58 AM on March 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Never actually seen Offerman in anything although I'm familiar with who he is.
posted by octothorpe at 5:38 AM on March 8, 2020

"Ah his neck was broken, that makes so much sense, it was not obvious to me from the scene and I was a bit confused."

I rewatched the scene to understand how it played out. I was curious about the corporate security guy's background: did he have the training and experience for that kind of confrontation? He forced it, so he should have.

It seems unlikely to me, though, that the FSB agent would actually attack him like he did. Suspending my disbelief, I'll accept that he attempted a knifing. They grappled, the Russian had a choke hold on the American briefly, but the American stunned the Russian by forcing them to fall backward with all his weight slamming down on the Russian's chest. The American took that opportunity to use his legs to shove them both towards the vehicle behind them and then with the Russian's head wedged against the tire, he kept pushing until his neck broke.

He wasn't a match for the Russian, being considerably older, and he'd already been stabbed. But he had good situational awareness and used that to his advantage. All pretty believable, I think.

Narratively, I was surprised at that outcome. I expected the American to be killed, leaving the company down a man and the Russian and Lily to dance around each other and with the company. That's the obvious choice. I'm pleased with the unexpected.

I'm pretty skeptical of the strange idea that a quantum computer could prove the universe is deterministic at the macro scale. But I'm accepting it for now because the show may actually prove them wrong about this but, regardless, it's interesting to explore the idea of how people would behave when they are quite certain they have no free will and have predictions of their future actions to prove this.

Time-travel stories sometimes explore this; so did Arrival.

I'm going to confess something: I'm pretty skeptical of quantum computing. It's not like it's Fleischmann–Pons cold fusion—I think the theory is sound—but I think it's more like fusion in general: in practice it's incredibly difficult. But even worse. Much worse.

It certainly would be a very disruptive tech if realized at scale, though.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:28 AM on March 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Eh, it's not so much that quantum computing is impossible, as just the word quantum is now a buzzword for magic. Just the same way "nanotechnology was for the last two decades. It's the collision between real tech and massive hype.
posted by happyroach at 1:07 PM on March 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Honestly I thought the fight was filmed that way because they weren't crazy about the raw footage so they and made a post production decision to do it in slow motion and intersperse with it with other scenes.
posted by mark k at 12:07 AM on March 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

I did like the bit where Steward told Forest that 100% accurately modeling the whole universe was essentially impossible. because it is. I didn't so much dig looking at Jesus on the cross with a dramatic camera, because come on. If you're going to look way back into the past, at least solve a long-standing mystery, like "who was Shakespeare" or "what happened to Amelia Earhart."

But! This show is promising, and since it is a limited series I will commit to it.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:15 AM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I checked this out, mostly because it looked pretty and because Alex Garland has been involved in some things I loved (Dredd, Sunshine) and some things I have no idea how I felt about them because they were so obtuse (Annihilation, which was incredibly intriguing and beautiful but even after watching it twice, I don't know if I liked it or disliked it). I still haven't seen Ex Machina but it's on my perpetual "I should make myself watch this" list.

And I'm just as bewildered about this as I am with Annihilation and frustrated the way I was with my beloved Sunshine. I thought for sure that the young Russian dude would be the central character, but instead it's an Asian woman, which is super cool, and I'm liking her ex-boyfriend a lot. But the dialog is so deliberately, coyly cryptic around the company and the computer stuff that it drives me batshit, like in that conversation between Alison Pill and Nick Offerman in the field with all these referents that mean nothing because we don't know what "that" or "these" or "it" is. My attention keeps wandering, though, so maybe I'm just missing key information.

I'm not a science person and don't have any understanding of what they're talking about--I don't understand the deterministic stuff at all, I generally don't get what is happening on this project or computer (what even a quantum computer is or means), and I was completely confused by how code making someone puke relates to...going back in time, I guess, to watch Jesus being crucified? Like...what.

(Do love Stewart, though, and he seems to be the only real human at Amaya, the only one who acts like people do and isn't staring at everything with weird vacant eyes and being creepy.)

Is it some big secret to the universe and Sergei didn't know what he was signing up for? How is...time traveling cameras to watch historical events revealing the secrets of the universe? I just honestly don't understand, I'm enough, I guess. I'm curious to see where her story goes, so I'll keep watching, but I honestly don't know what I'm actually watching and judging by how cryptic Garland is, not confident I'll ever understand.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:47 AM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

The idea is that a sufficiently large quantum computer (a computer that uses quantum physics to calculate things which a conventional computer could never manage in any practical time frame), composed of enough qubits, would be able to model real-world physics in sufficient detail in a practical amount of time, such that by its predictions of the future and its representation of past events being accurate, proves that the universe is deterministic at human-scale and most particularly that human behavior itself is deterministic and there is no such thing as free will.

Thus, human behavior results from the interaction between biology and environment, which in turn is chemistry and mechanics, which is itself just particle physics set into motion at the beginning of the universe.

While quantum physics itself is or isn't determistic depending upon philosophical interpretation (true in real life), presumably because quantum computing exploits counterintuitive aspects of quantum physics to be time-efficient for certain kinds of otherwise intractable calculations, modeling of real-world physical systems can achieve high accuracy over very long time-periods with tolerable levels of "variance" from real-world behavior. Much detail at small scale is elided or uncertain, but surprisingly somehow at human scale and above the model is complete and accurate, even over long time periods. Therefore, it's possible somehow to account for present conditions at some location and to extrapolate forward or backward from that moment in time to predict the future or reconstruct the past. That this is so proves that free will does not exist.

Presumably, the code for this application implies all this, causing someone to freak-out when they surmise this by examining it.

Determinism versus free will is a philosophical argument that has taken many, many forms since antiquity. Aristotle's universe was deterministic, a universe set in motion by a "prime mover" (for some ultimate purpose). Calvinism is a form of Protestantism that asserts that the universe is deterministic. All of this has always been of concern only to philosophers and theologians because the truth of this has been untestable and, anyway, we feel quite certain we have free will. It takes someone very, very sure of their deterministic worldview to really internalize the implications of it; not many people have done so. But what if there were a machine that could predict the future? A machine that could accurately predict your future actions and prove that you actually have no free will at all? How would that affect you? How would that affect society?

This is a new science-fictional approach to a very old idea. It's a way to force characters into an extreme existential crisis.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2020 [10 favorites]

Not sure how I feel about Offerman's performance so far.

Offerman was on Late Show and expressed that he isn't into technology, so the role was more fantasy-based than "technology" based.

I like seeing Offerman try something new. He's the reason I'm giving the show a chance.

Kind of liking the Fringe-esque aspect of the show. The acting and storytelling is kind of compelling. But the science is pure fantasy.

As for determinism, that begs the question of how determinism could lead to someone trying to "break" determinism by predicting the future - then acting on it. Because, you know they're gonna want to. But determinism is based on linear time, so the introduction of deterministic future events being known by a sentient prior to the event changes the deterministic cascade.

Paradoxy- handwavy- but fun to think about.


I was fine with the costuming/ characterization in Mr. Robot, but this makes me feel old and disconnected with wealthy (actually) intelligent millennial (or younger) urban tech people - as depicted in this show.
posted by porpoise at 9:31 PM on March 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

"But determinism is based on linear time, so the introduction of deterministic future events being known by a sentient prior to the event changes the deterministic cascade."

There's not a paradox. By definition, determinism disallows free will. If you learn your future, you were always going to learn your future. If you learn you will make a decision, you'll make that decision even if you try not to. Determinism is virtually incomprehensible to us because our cognition's understanding of itself assumes free will. But it isn't logically required.

This weirdness is an ancient concept because people have always attempted to know the future or thought that prophecy was possible. But if prophecy is possible, then what happens when decisions are made based upon prophecy? Well, Sophocles explores this with Oedipus Rex. Implicit in prophecy is this incompatibility with free will.

For the most part, ancient and pre-technological cultures viewed prophecy and agency through the lens of fate—which we can think of as a teleological influence. Some kind of higher being guaranteeing that a particular outcome is achieved. This view tends to assume some human self-willed agency, but sees it as equaled and exceeded by fate. The incompatibility in this scheme is not as overt, but it's there when you look closely. Thus you get stories like Oedipus's or Cassandra's: a doomed struggle against fate.

With the rise of scientific empiricism and the reductionism that followed, determinism proper reached its apotheosis at the turn of the twentieth century. Here, with classical physics, we find Aristotle's mechanistic universe updated. Aristotle saw the universe something like an orrery; by the nineteenth century the analogy was made to a clockwork. At this point, there was no ambiguity at all—that free will was merely an illusion was inescapable. We had atoms and chemistry and biology; where in this clockwork ticking is room for choice?

People have been grappling with the implications of this kind of determinism for a long time now. Einstein's physics is deterministic and, more to the point, relativity allows for a closed timelike curve. Science fiction writers have investigated the inevitable frustrations of time-travel in a deterministic universe as a way to avoid the usual paradoxes of time travel. And, like I mentioned, relativity doesn't prohibit this. So in this way modern science fiction has repeatedly recapitulated Sophocles.

There's no proof free will exists. Our experience of the world is that it does, but the same can be said about the experience of a character in a novel. The only refuge for free will in modern science has been quantum physics, which in different philosophical interpretations asserts that the universe is inherently non-deterministic or even that consciousness itself forces the deterministic waveform to collapse indeterministically. Alternatively, you can argue that both chaos and complexity make it as a practical matter impossible to falsify free will or predict the future.

This show seems to want it both ways: that the weirdness of quantum mechanics exploited by quantum computing leaps over that practical chaotic/complexity barrier and makes true prophecy and past reconstruction possible, which by logical necessity would unambiguously prove that free will doesn't exist.

That's the part I think is questionable science—that particular leap—but otherwise the show has been relatively realistic in its philosophy, science, and technology. The idea that everything in the universe, including us, are metaphorical gears in a giant clockwork and that therefore free will is an illusion is completely valid. That a mind could become self-aware of this and simultaneously experience the feeling of having free even while it's demonstrated that it doesn't is not a logical contradiction. It would be a cognitive contradiction and it well might "break" the consciousness, but that wouldnt mean it wasn't true—only that it can't be experienced as being true.

The show seems to be exploring the ways in which an awareness of the lack of free will could cause such failures, both of personhood and society.

I don't think it's necessarily true that this would require a technology such as depicted in the show. It very well could be the case that it's possible to become convinced of this by argument and contemplation, or by circumstance, and a consequent insanity follows.

Alternatively, perhaps it's possible for a mind to fully internalize the "truth" of a complete lack of agency and not become insane—whatever "insane" is. I can't imagine this—but then, if I could, I'd have already done it. So of course I can't imagine this.

In short, none of this is nonsensical. These are ideas with an ancient, respectable lineage that are, even in today's scientific context, still entirely valid. Could a quantum computer be built that does what the show depicts? In that, I think the show is fanciful. But only that.

Sorry for the length. This is in my wheelhouse.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:01 PM on March 13, 2020 [9 favorites]

If you see your future, you will see a future in which you saw your future, and you will see the consequences of you having seen that. If you have decided (or been determined) to do the opposite of what you see your future self do, what will you see?

Fun tv show btw.
posted by joeyh at 10:10 PM on March 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

After the first episode, I'd thought maybe they were aware they were in a simulation, and the Machine a peephole I got the universe running the simulation.
After this: dunno. I'd think windows into multiverses, but I doubt that based on someone disregarding them in the first ep, and it looked like they know how the security dude will die. I'd think there's a lot of mysteries in the past century to resolve before trying to go back to Jesus.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:00 AM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a teenager in the 90s I had a fantasy that is very similar to this show, with me in the Offerman role. I feel like a lot of the backwards projection scene is pretty much ripped from my imagination. But, being a fantasy and not an interesting drama, my fantasy was a lot flatter emotionally, and stupider generally.

The security guy seems extremely derivative of Mike Erhmantraut from the Breaking Badiverse, but I'm OK with it.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 4:43 PM on March 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

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