Socialist Worker

Devs is a sci-fi thriller that asks ambitious questions

This major series, new to the BBC, treads some familiar ground—but it’s a good mix of standard sci-fi with a cultish, religious theme, writes Nick Clark

Issue No. 2700

The sinister, christ-like Forest

The sinister, christ-like Forest (Pic: BBC/FX Networks)


Already a hit in the US on streaming site Hulu, sci-fi thriller Devs is coming to the BBC.

In the woods of Silicon Valley, Amaya—a giant mysterious tech firm with links to the government—is conducting experiments that touch on human behaviour.

When Sergei disappears after joining Amaya’s ultra-secretive development department—or Devs—his partner Lily is drawn into a frightening search for the truth.

Shadowy organisations conducting dangerous, world-threatening experiments aren’t exactly a new concept to science fiction. But it’s done very well with some genuinely disturbing moments, a score to set you on edge, and an almost flawless script.

There are shades of Cambridge Analytica—the real-life company that claimed it could use data collected from the internet to predict and influence how people vote.

When we first meet Sergei, he’s working on a programme that can predict exactly the future movements of a living organism.

But Amaya is up to something far more profound—with a distinctly religious, cultish feel.

To start with there’s the giant statue of a child. It towers above the trees with arms raised and a facial expression that crosses wonder and fear.

This child’s face is everywhere like some twisted corporate motif, and the fact that no one seems to mind only makes it creepier. Then there’s the temple-like building deep in the woods where Devs do their work.

Inside it’s all a bit Star Trek. Outside, it’s a little bit Wicker Man.

And directing the shared purpose of this insular woodland community is the Christ-like chief executive Forest. He’s a long-haired, bearded man who talks of betrayal, ­forgiveness, absolution and destiny.

When Sergei suffers a violent reaction after figuring out Devs’ purpose, Forest confronts him with a devastating proposition—that the universe is deterministic. Everybody’s actions—and everything that happens—are already decided by the circumstances that led to them, and can’t be altered.

It’s a fatalistic understanding of the events of the past and future—and one with troubling moral implications for those of the present.

So it’s a bit suspect—but then Forest is someone who’s not to be trusted.

And as Lily investigates what happened to Sergei, maybe she might discover something much deeper.

BBC Two and Iplayer, 9pm 15 April

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Reviews
Thu 9 Apr 2020, 15:05 BST
Issue No. 2700
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