Devs: Episode 8
April 17, 2020 10:16 PM - Season 1, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Series finale: "The question is answered: is the Universe deterministic, a multi-verse, or something else?"
posted by Pronoiac (42 comments total)
 
...or is it?
posted by whir at 10:18 PM on April 17


I enjoyed this, and found the ending satisfying. I'm impressed they managed to pull it all off. I particularly enjoyed the V to U twist.
posted by simonw at 10:50 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


After the last episode my partner asked me what I thought could happen next, and I truthfully said, pretty much anything, I feel like they've built something that I trust. Even having said that I didn't expect this, it certainly ties in with his first film Ex Machine with the Deus change which made me laugh.
posted by Carillon at 10:56 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I didn't find the ending to be satisfying, other than Lily's decision to seek out Jamie. That was great.
However, she still knows Sergei is a spy, and that she'd been groomed, and that Homeless guy is in on it, so that break-up isn't going to be simple (although without Deus as a physical place to go, what would Sergei's objective be?)

She still has the traumatic memories of everything Kenton did to her, so she can't exactly happily got to Amaya every day and possibly be triggered by him.

I'm super disappointed in Stewart. He witnessed Lily's act of free will. He must have seen "the moment" almost as many times as Forrest and Katie did, and yet he chose to murder Lily rather than confront Forrest with the truth that his deterministic model is flawed. Lily would also know this in her new future, again, I think she'd be triggered knowing her murderer is walking the same campus, or city even if it is a simulation.

I liked the Deus reveal, and as speculative fiction about the "power" of quantum "magic" it was a cool show, but in the end its failings were the failing of all fiction that try to fool an audience into believing that there can be quantum "magic".
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:35 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


The idea that, had Forrest's wife and daughter not perished in that car crash, everything would be exactly the same except for Forrest's life - up to and including the events of the first day of the series, down to very specific details - is absurd. Lots of stuff - especially and particularly at Amaya - would be very different. The show had a cool premise but none of the mental firepower to actually explore the consequences of that premise in anything more than a flat, simplistic way.

IMO the show suffered from the length of its runtime. Like butter scraped over too much bread, there wasn't enough substance to fill the space. Too much time was spent belaboring Determinism 101. I love hearing Stephen Henderson recite poetry, but the second go-round served no purpose. Lots of style, too little substance. Fantastic cinematography and set pieces, but the same shots were repeated and abused until they had no impact. All of the best acting was done by secondary characters, with the leads reduced to one-note recitations of resignation or shell-shockedness. I very much want to see Nick Offerman in a drama not directed by Alex Garland. The same goes for Sonoya Mizuno.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:08 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


And can there please be a moratorium on Christ imagery? It is played out.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:10 AM on April 18 [10 favorites]


I'm looking forward to season 2.
posted by el io at 9:55 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


The idea that, had Forrest's wife and daughter not perished in that car crash, everything would be exactly the same except for Forrest's life - up to and including the events of the first day of the series, down to very specific details - is absurd

The many worlds theory says it would definitely have happened that way, at least in some of the universes. Forest even said he had Katie choose the “best” one for their “after-life”.
posted by sideshow at 10:57 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


I found the Christ imagery useful in that it separated the Devs crew, who thought they had created God -- and, therefore, could not help but do what they saw themselves doing in the future it showed -- from Lily, who never saw God in the machine and therefore retained her free will (or, at least, the ability to make a choice that it had not shown).

I was disappointed in Stewart's decision, but his reciting "The Second Coming" at the beginning told you where his mindset was.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 2:03 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


IMO the show suffered from the length of its runtime. Like butter scraped over too much bread, there wasn't enough substance to fill the space. Too much time was spent belaboring Determinism 101.

Agreed. And also the long, long lingering shots panning over something, like the city or the quantum computer at the core of DEVS. By the end I had started narrating them: "This elaborate model of a conceptual quantum computer is almost entirely computer-generated imagery! Watch how the camera slowly pans across it in incredibly realistic 4K brought to you by Samsung!"

For me, what ultimately ruined every one of their long arguments back-and-forth about determinism, was this:

- Do you and I live in a deterministic universe? It's a fascinating question, and impossible to know the answer for sure.
- Do Forest, Lily, and Katie live in a deterministic universe? YES. ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT QUESTION. Because they're fictional and the writers determine their fate.

I really wanted this show to be as brilliant as it looked, but it didn't quite measure up.
posted by mmoncur at 7:28 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


>Because they're fictional and the writers determine their fate.

Like a kid's show in the 80's!
posted by Catblack at 7:46 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


One thing I didn’t understand: while Forest and Lily were slowly dying in the vacuum between the inner and outer cube of DEVS / DEUS, why didn’t Katie pick up the gun and shoot out the glass doors on either side, flooding the chamber with air? (And just possibly killing Stewart for good measure). No-one has been able to see beyond this point. Even if Forest and Katie have fooled themselves into acting as if they are “running on tram-tracks”, neither of them has seen this exact outcome. If even they're complete believers in determinism, from their perspective they are free to improvise from the moment Lily throws away the gun, rather than feeling that they are doomed to repeat actions they’ve seen dozens of times.

While I didn’t like that it was only Lily who could “break destiny” for reasons that remained unexplained, I did enjoy the fact that the fall of the transfer cube was inevitable whatever her choices.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:17 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


This was a pretty big let down for me; the production quality was so good, but the plot and philosophy withered.
posted by porpoise at 10:35 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]


I just binged this entire series today (#quarantinelife, yo), and I dug it! Sure, it wasn't 100% philosophically rigorous, but what do you think you're watching, The Good Place?

(I've always wanted to see Alison Pill and Kristin Bell play combative sisters in something, but the scene in episode 5 or 6 where Katie is heckling the physics professor had serious Eleanor Shellstrop vibes.)

I'm not one to brag about guessing twists (I prefer not to guess them in advance) but when Sergei expressed horror at the code he saw on his screen in the super-top-secret lair, I indeed guessed it was either an algorithm that predicted the actions of the entire universe (á la the current season of Westworld) or code that proved the existing universe is a simulation (á la the Doctor Who episode "Extremis"). It's not that I'm smart, it's just that I watch too much science fiction and everything's been done before.

I'm a big fan of deterministic time travel movies for whatever reason, and this basically counts—I like the conceit of knowing where things end up and then seeing how you inexorably get there. (Ironically, I hate spoilers.) I appreciate that this series told us in episode 5 or whatever how Lily was going to die, and then she actually did die just as they told us, no Annie-Wilkes-triggering ass-pulls at the end.

HOWEVER, I agree that the ending was not that satisfying. Lily basically shattered the laws of the universe, and her reward was to... Get to live in a simulation, knowing that it's a simulation, but powerless to do anything she couldn't do in the real world except go back to her ex-boyfriend? (Who is certainly still the guy she decided she couldn't be with, since he didn't have the catalyst of stepping up to save Lily to snap him out of his puppy dog ways.) And all while knowing that other Lilys are suffering in much shittier universes.

I enjoyed the multiverse scenes with the superpositions of the characters at multiple times in the same location, but it became really powerful when we saw multiple Lindens falling from the dam as we panned up.

And while it was great to see San Francisco again—I lived there for almost 15 years, but moved away a while ago—some of those protracted aerial shots made me wonder if my Apple TV had gone into screensaver mode.

But seriously, I did enjoy it quite a bit.

One last thing: Lead actress Sonoya Mizuno is a frequent collaborator of Alex Garland's, having been in this, Ex Machina, and Annihilation. Interestingly (at least to me), the actress who played Amaya is her niece, by Sonoya's sister Miya Mizuno, who worked on Devs as a still photographer. And Mariya Mizuno is credited as Alex Garland's assistant. I'm not being snarky about nepotism, it's just interesting that so many Mizunos got to work on this film.
posted by ejs at 10:54 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]


Oh, also the scene when Forrest's wife and child are killed, and he runs through the intersection while other variations of the car crash play around him, was gut-punching.
posted by ejs at 11:08 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]


I binged this over the last few days and really enjoyed it. I don't normally watch sci-fi-type shows but I read a great interview with Nick Offerman in The Guardian, which made me want to watch it. A lot of the science/determinism talk went over my head, but I got the basic premise.

I thought Nick Offerman's performance was astonishing, and I agree with ejs that the car crash scene was gut-wrenching.

I thought Lily's character was flat though and I didn't have any emotional investment in her. I was more upset when Jamie was killed than when she plunged to her death in the elevator.

But if this comes back for another season I'll definitely watch it. I'm along for the ride, in the same way that I was fully on the bus with The Leftovers, which took me to places I could never have imagined.
posted by essexjan at 7:48 AM on April 19


Lily basically shattered the laws of the universe, and her reward was to... Get to live in a simulation, knowing that it's a simulation, but powerless to do anything she couldn't do in the real world except go back to her ex-boyfriend?

Lily didn't shatter the laws of the universe. Because she was not in a state of religious awe toward the machine, she was subject to the observer effect. Her seeing the simulation of her future changed that future, where the Devs team felt bound to adhere to the simulation they saw of theirs. (Like Lyndon in particular.)

She hasn't received a reward at the end. That's not Lily in the machine -- it's the complete simulation of her memories from the moment before she died. (Reminded me of Dixie in Neuromancer.) Forrest wanted himself simulated into the machine so that Katie could 'judge' (remember that conversation from a couple episodes prior) whether his wife's and daughter's deaths could have been avoided. The only question is whether they always planned to add Lily's memories to the simulation or that was a late decision Katie made after what Lily did.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 9:29 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]


It is not clear to me why Forest had to die to be simulated, unless that is merely because of his fealty to the Devs machine's predictions. Also wouldn't he have to be lying on that table with the sensors? That's how they "revived" the dead mouse.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:12 AM on April 19


I got the feeling they simulated the universe inside the machine based upon scanning those (6?) items. They should have used a bigger sample set of course.

I liked this show, but not sure if I want to embark on a rewatch with my wife, knowing what's going to happen. Though perhaps it will be nice to know the reasons the Forrest and Katie were doing the things they were doing in watching it again.
posted by Catblack at 12:06 PM on April 19


Forrest and Lily didn’t have to die to be simulated. DEUS was given the six objects to extrapolate the dead mouse, but we saw the extrapolation worked better than expected, spreading to encompass the whole room, and then explicitly Forrest. Everyone who has ever lived or ever will live are in the simulation—Forrest and Lily are just the only ones who have memories of their lives outside the simulation.
posted by ejs at 2:24 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]


The point at which the Deus system could no longer extrapolate the future came when Lily contradicted its prediction by exercising her free will and throwing away the gun, right?

And yet the Deus projection which Forrest showed her just before she marched him out of the viewing room had continued showing events right through to the point where the capsule crashed to the ground and Lily crawled out.

As Deus clearly managed to continue functioning for that minute or so after Lily's crucial determinism-busting action (ie throwing away the gun), then why not half an hour? Why not a day? Why not indefinitely? Lily's action in that moment was crucial to the show's whole premise, so it would have been nice to see the logic of the system's breakdown applied a bit more stringently here.

All that said, it was a great show overall and I enjoyed it a lot.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:43 PM on April 19


I dunno man I thought this show was pretty thoroughly beautiful and fascinating and emotionally resonant. I was reading along with some of the mefi comments on previous episodes as we tore through it the past few days and I just kept coming back to dan olson's video on annihilation and metaphor which I linked in the FanFare on that movie. spoilers for that movie if you watch it, but the key point I kept coming back to is that the concepts and objects in this show are not reality, they are metaphor. it is not ultimately worth discussing them as "real" objects past a certain point because they aren't real.

to me, at least, this was not really a show about quantum physics or many-worlds theories of the universe so much as it was a show about coping with loss and grief, what moving on vs. being stuck in regret looks and feels like to different people, and how impossibly large and incomprehensible and impassable and cruel the world can feel against your power to act within it

on somewhat of a side note, it was brilliant to have kenton be the primary and true "antagonist" in the traditional sense. he's effectively an agent of determinism, particularly in the penultimate episode where his behavior demonstrates how much less control someone has over any given situation than they might think, because their world is indirectly and very directly determined by nigh-infinite external factors and people and choices and circumstances.

I also loved the final grace note with Katie, who understands what the system has done and is doing, just wanting to let the lights stay on so that Forest can have his family back, even given all the implications. again, a sort of simultaneous letting go and holding on in the face of a great loss, both sides of a contradiction held in place. didn't forest have a line about something like that earlier in the series?

I need to rewatch this as soon as possible. it's gorgeous on top of everything else, luxuriant and paced with reverence to the world it has created, especially the magnificent long shots in which life just continues, still or vibrant as ever, despite the trauma (or happiness!) of the characters.
posted by Kybard at 6:10 PM on April 19 [6 favorites]




I guess what bothers me about this show, vs say The Leftovers, is that it goes out of its way to try and explain things, over and over and over, so that its failure to critically examine what it has been repeating ad nauseam feels like a failure. If you're going to work in metaphor, then explaining is going to be a detriment. I can imagine a version of this show where Katie's sacrifice of the man she loved to a virtual heaven with his dead family is beautiful and resonant, and where I feel for her. But she effectively killed Lyndon and was complicit in Sergei's murder and didn't seem to have much in the way of feelings about that, so I can't. She's a sociopath. There's no version of this story where Lily's entombment in the machine isn't some form of hell. And there was lots and lots and lots of science-speak, which kind of disqualifies the "it was just a metaphor, don't get hung up on the details" angle IMO.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:27 AM on April 20 [9 favorites]


I overall liked this show for its tone, though I found it was much easier for me to enjoy when I saved up a bunch of episodes and binge-watched them. This ending just didn't add up for me, though. Did I miss something? Stewart claims they have fixed the machine by building it on the many-worlds principle in the first place, yes? So in that case it should not be able to predict the future at all -- or rather, it should be able to predict a future, but there's no telling whether it will be the future that any particular instance of a character winds up in, rendering it useless for actual prediction.
posted by whir at 1:24 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I'll bet Mefi user clavdivs would have gotten/did get a kick out of the long-game joke Forest was playing with the name of the department.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:26 PM on April 20 [8 favorites]


There's no version of this story where Lily's entombment in the machine isn't some form of hell.

I also think we were meant to feel a bit horrified at the possibility that someone could simply turn off the computer, with the conversation between Katie and the Senator, where she asks her help to "keep it on."

If they have all their memories of prior events (which they went out of their way to say that they did), they have to live with the knowledge that not only are they at the mercy of a machine that embodies a program that just had its sideways elevator smashed to smithereens, but it's also at the mercy of people who are working on it -- and we saw hands change place so many times and people get killed and replaced. How do you enjoy even one minute of your life knowing that the entire thing depends on the stability of who they choose to hire? How do you live with the knowledge that your existence can be turned on and off again, any time?

But she effectively killed Lyndon and was complicit in Sergei's murder and didn't seem to have much in the way of feelings about that, so I can't. She's a sociopath.

Something I realized at the end -- she leaves Sergei so that he can go to his death, and chooses to be with Jamie instead (assuming, for just a sec, that there's some semblance of a moral life to be affirmed in Big Blue). Unless -- she knew that she changed the cause and effect of the situation by making Sergei nervous with her phone tampering, and he didn't get the job in the first place. This seems more likely to me, as it seems like she pushed not hard enough to expose anything, just to have him rattled a bit by mentioning the secret program. He would have been wondering if she knew about his secret spy life by virtue of having asked him about Sudoku.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:04 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


How do you live with the knowledge that your existence can be turned on and off again, any time?

Same way we do it in the real world, I suppose. After all, look at the way Forest's wife and daughter were killed - that was no less arbitrary than someone deciding to flip the off switch at Amaya, was it? We all live with the knowledge that our lives might unexpectedly end at any moment and the way we deal with that for the most part is simply by not thinking about it. We fill our minds with the small stuff of day-to-day life instead. I assume Forest and Lily's attitude within the simulation would be much the same.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:39 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Spaceman: in the virtual world, there is no Devs, so there is nothing for Sergei to steal and get murdered over. Presumably he was placed at Amaya to infiltrate the Devs program, which in this Devs-free universe makes no sense. That's what I mean by it being preposterous.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:06 PM on April 21


Grumpybear69: I think you may be mistaken there. In episode seven Stewart, explaining to the other developers why they suddenly feel uneasy, says: "“The box contains us. The box contains everything. And inside the box, there’s another box. Ad infinitum; ad nauseam. Uh oh.”

[I've taken that quote from the episode review here.]
posted by Paul Slade at 7:43 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Lily and Forrest are talking in the field where the Devs building was, and there was no building there. That’s why people are saying there is no Devs in the simulation.

I agree that Lily’s existence is basically hell. It might be Forrest’s heaven, but she’s supposed to do what? Continue being a programmer at his company after he destroyed her life and trapped her consciousness in a computer?

I can’t decide if this is action intentionally contradicting what the characters are saying, but their behavior was often at odds with the idea of determinism. Forrest and Katie especially were manipulating the other characters.

The reach definitely exceeded the grasp here, but it was beautiful and interesting. Terrible soundtrack, but I recognize that’s mostly a matter of personal preference.
posted by jeoc at 6:42 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


I cannot actually beleive that you guys went the whole season without clocking the credit for Forest’s daughter, the character Amaya. She is Sonoya Mizuno’s niece.

As I noted in one of my first posts in the show threads, while I didn’t work for a wacky tech company with a forested suburban campus in Silly Valley led by a psychopath, I had the closest experience to it one would want. I liked the show, overall, and I very much enjoyed the anti-tech industry editorial perspective. More portrayals of overempowered nutjobs, please!
posted by mwhybark at 11:04 PM on April 25


Continue being a programmer

She is never described as being a programmer. She is “in crypto”, which one might reasonably impute to include programming skills, but it is Jamie who does the hacking she needs.
posted by mwhybark at 11:07 PM on April 25


... not a lot of crossover between this thread and the Trek threads, but Katie was played by Allison Pill, who was and looks to continue as a series regular in Picard, and her character there can reasonably be characterized as a skilled cyberneticist who has acted in psychopathic ways. So basically Katie, but Dr. Jurati.
posted by mwhybark at 11:12 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Interestingly (at least to me), the actress who played Amaya is her niece, by Sonoya's sister Miya Mizuno, who worked on Devs as a still photographer. And Mariya Mizuno is credited as Alex Garland's assistant. I'm not being snarky about nepotism, it's just interesting that so many Mizunos got to work on this film.
posted by ejs at 10:54 PM on April 18 [3 favorites +] [!]


oops! that’ll larn me to post before reading the last thread.
posted by mwhybark at 11:15 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


She is never described as being a programmer.
Yep that is definitely the most salient thing to take away from my comment, thanks.

After a few days of reflection, I find I'm feeling bad for Katie. Ultimately, Devs is a cult, and it's a cult with small aims (reunite this one dude with his daughter, or maybe more precisely, help him feel like culpable for her death). And she has spent her life and brilliance enabling this cult. And now what?

I dislike the way the primary female characters are so oriented around the men in their lives. Lily's big change following her transition to the "afterlife" is to swap out boyfriends, apparently. And I get it - Jamie showed up for her in a big way. But what does she want for herself?

This is a show with pretensions toward big ideas, but the characters' motivations are very simple or obscure and it makes it feel weirdly hollow.
posted by jeoc at 7:04 AM on April 26 [7 favorites]


Can anyone explain why the computer needs to be left on? The computer seems to work by starting with some seed and then quickly simulating outward and forward and backward in time, for thousands or millions of years, until the entire spacetime chunk is finished. If we believe that simulated people have subjective experiences, then once the spacetime chunk has been simulated, the simulated person has experienced their entire lifetime. So why would the computer need to keep running after finishing its first sweep?
posted by chortly at 7:33 PM on April 26 [3 favorites]


You just gave me Permutation City flashbacks.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 9:29 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


That's a third of the shortlist of reading recommendations I'm making at anyone who dug what Devs was reaching for (not really grasping, IMO; the landing didn't stick it at all for me):

"Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom" by Ted Chiang -- a novella that does a much better job of looking at what "choice" and "morality" even mean in a many-worlds branching reality.

"What's Expected of Us" also by Ted Chiang -- very short story laser-focused on the nature of people not just intellectually suspecting and 'knowing' that free will is illusion, but being replicably, undeniably shown they do not have it.

"Permutation City" by Greg Egan -- novel that goes even deeper and much weirder about the nature of "simulated" consciousness by not just sort of stopping at the "but what if it can be simulated??" level but continuing to dig into what that means, not just for consciousness but for "reality" as well.
posted by Drastic at 7:35 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


Stewart claims they have fixed the machine by building it on the many-worlds principle in the first place, yes? So in that case it should not be able to predict the future at all -- or rather, it should be able to predict a future, but there's no telling whether it will be the future that any particular instance of a character winds up in, rendering it useless for actual prediction.

Well, that’s exactly what happens! The computer is able to confidently predict the future up until Lily’s death (though it doesn’t realize that it’s not predicting it accurately). After that, the variances become so great that it’s not able to predict any one future, and shows only static.
posted by ejs at 10:16 PM on April 28


How is it that (Forest and Lily having seemingly entered the Simulation Afterlife on the day of Sergei’s presentation) Amaya is the same age she was on the day of the car crash, not the age she would’ve been at this point in time?

I mean, I know that answer to that question, but I don’t like it much.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 2:53 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


I otherwise really enjoyed this show, though. It had a few familiar flavours (I wouldn’t be surprised if Homecoming and Russian Doll were influences, for example) but also felt entirely fresh and new.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 2:58 PM on April 30


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