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The Many Worlds of Alex Garland's 'Devs'

In true form, Garland leaves us lingering with the implications of a many-worlds reality ringing in our ears.

Pat Riley
Pat Riley
3 min read
The Many Worlds of Alex Garland's 'Devs'

Friends of mine have been telling me to watch Devs for months. After blowing through Alex Garland's mini-series this past weekend, I was questioning my own free will as I continued to watch episode after episode. Time slipped by and I absorbed the entire miniseries in two sittings. I'm happy to report that Gardland's latest lived up to my expectations.

From the jump, Devs is visually stunning and psychological exhilarating.  In signature Garland fashion, the clean technical lines of man made architecture are set against a lush natural backdrop of northern California redwoods. The sound design is eerie and on point, and the characters feel immediately familiar and believable to anyone who has worked in tech or visited the Bay Area. The god-like tech executive is present again with a unique twist on the cliche. Nick Offerman offers an oddly humble character who is driven by loss rather than ambition, pride, or control. The tech executive's raw and determined efficiency is still on full display however. In an early scene we witness him fueling himself by shoving raw lettuce into his mouth during an engineering meeting in a fashion that seemed oddly believable.

And while the murder mystery, Russian spies, and corporate espionage gets the blood pumping, it's clear that Devs aims to take viewers a little deeper into some more philosophical territory. The show wastes no time before jumping into questions around determinism, quantum computing, and free will.

What's in the box?

Weaved thoughtfully in between the action, the series does a good job at exposing quantum principles without ever leaving the viewers head spinning. Characters break down concepts in simple terms and expose enough theory for those curious to do their homework after the credits role. In one scene, a professor succinctly outlines the basic concepts of the double-slit experiment, only to dangle competing interpretations such as the Von Neumann–Wigner interpretation vs Everett's many worlds interpretation in front of eager viewers eager to dive a little deeper.

The technological progress in devs is often contrasted again a heavy religious backdrop. The lab in which the devs program operate feels like an ancient Egyptian temple. The ornate intricacy of the quantum lab borrows heavily from islamic art history. The ever present halos often make their presence known in each episode and surround various elements, whether it be the branching trees of the campus or the messiah like characters tinkering with reality and performing scientific miracles.

Halos, halos everywhere.

In contrast to Garlands earlier works, Devs ends on a high note. The Deus Ex Machina plot mechanism at the end is half expected but still warmly received. Despite the dark overtones throughout the majority of the show finale of Devs left me feeling rather optimistic. Rather than warn us about about the possible timelines in which technology goes rampant and our creations destroy us, Devs give us another branching timeline to follow. In this path, we can harness technology to help shape our reality and help us adapt to some of life's hardest realities.

Garland leaves us lingering with the implications of a many-worlds reality ringing in our ears. In a universe where everything is technically possible, we still aren't excused from making a conscious choice on how to use that technology to chart a path forward for humanity. Should we create our own universes and and own realities to bring joy and fulfillment to ourselves and other people. And even if it turns out that we don't have free will, it doesn't excuse us from making the right choices, at the right moments.

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