Ex Machina's Alex Garland Lifted the Curtain on FX's Devs at NYCC

Sonoya Mizuno is lead character Lily in FX’s Devs.
Image: FX

Director Alex Garland’s (Ex Machina, Annihilation) latest project is headed to television rather than theaters. Up until now, we didn’t have much to go on in terms of what FX’s Devs was actually about—but thanks to a big coming out panel at New York Comic Con this past weekend, we’re extremely hyped for the sci-fi series.

io9 had the chance to sit down with the cast and executive producers after the panel to find out even more about this mysterious new series, but the panel itself gave intriguing insight into what fans can expect. Turns out, the logline for the eight-episode limited series—“a young computer engineer investigates the secretive development division of her employer, a cutting-edge tech company based in San Francisco, which she believes is behind the disappearance of her boyfriend”—barely scratched the surface.

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Sonoya Mizuno—who’s had roles in both of Garland’s big-screen outings—plays Lily Chan, a woman who’s seemingly lost her boyfriend (Sergei, played by Karl Glusman) to the company they both work for, Amaya, and is determined to find some answers. Attendees at the panel were treated to two scenes plus a first teaser, the first of which featured Sergei entering the top-secret development site (hence: Devs) for the company with its owner Forest (played by a very serene Nick Offerman).

The set is, in one word, gorgeous. The dev site is a floating cube in a vacuum held up by electromagnetic fields that sits inside a gold-leaf walled building. In the middle of the incredibly sterile, glass-filled cube sits an enormous structure that happens to be a tremendously powerful quantum computer, which is so impressive Forest tells Sergei he’s not even going to bother telling him the unfathomable amount of computing power it’s capable of.

“I’m a sort of a science nerd. I’m obsessed with science. I read more about science than anything else,” Garland told the audience at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City when asked by moderator Damian Holbrook what the genesis of this particular story was.

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“It started with two things,” he continued. “One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. So nothing happens that isn’t the result of a prior cause. And that has all sorts of implications for us. One is it takes away free will, but it also means that if you had a computer powerful enough you would be able to use cause and effect and use determinism in order to not just predict the future but also understand the past.”

Yeah. It’s safe to say Devs is going to take us on a wild ride.

Lily contemplating...something in the glass-filled cube.
Photo: Miya Mizuno (FX)
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At the time Sergei is recruited into the secret section of Amaya, he’s working with an artificial intelligence program simulation to predict the movement of a “very simple organism,” according to Glusman. “And I think that piques my boss’s interests because it directly applies to what they’re working on which is...we don’t know what they’re working on.” Indeed. During the scene we saw, Offerman’s Forest offers Sergei a seat at a work station but won’t tell him exactly what he’s there to do, he just tells him to start looking at the code on the screen.

Oddly enough, it was a similar position most of the actors found themselves in while trying to parse their scripts and do research their roles—none of them could understand the heady material.

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“If I’m being completely honest, when it comes to artificial intelligence and computer programming....I bought this little book at Barnes and Noble called Artificial Intelligence for Dummies and that was quite a helpful resource for my work,” said Glusman. Cailee Spaeny (of Pacific Rim: Uprising and the upcoming The Craft), who plays a boy named Lyndon on the show, added “I read a book about the quantum world about three times and still didn’t get it.”

Garland, who hasn’t worked in episodic TV before, wrote and directed all eight episodes of Devs and feels this story is more like one long movie. He also confirmed that while he appreciated having a lengthier space to tell his story, Devs will wrap up completely in eight episodes. The decision for that is, at least in part, as a result of his outlook on a lot of TV.

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“I am amazed by the people that do long-running TV series. Psychologically I don’t know how they do it let alone find the time in the day. But it’s not something I want to do,” he said, “I like stories that end, right? You know, I like stories that end. And there’s something you can start to detect sometimes in long-running series which is you start to realize ‘Oh there is no end. This is just an exercise in how long you can keep it going.’”

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Another reason for his turn to TV came from the much-talked-about distribution troubles with Annihilation.

“My filmmaking career is: I’ve made something, I’ve given it to a distributor, and they’ve said ‘We don’t want to distribute this.’ And at the point I turned the thing over, it’s as if I disappointed everyone,” he explained. “Ex Machina, was sold from the distributor, we made it to another distributor, A24 picked it up and we had problems with Annihilation...You know I could keep going back....It’s simpler to say it was basically every film I ever worked on and I actually, I got sick of it. I just got sick of it and I thought I want...there’s something about the construct of cinema at the moment, of the nature of opening weekends, and I just thought, ‘Maybe...maybe this isn’t the right space for me because the stuff I do is too odd and it’s not mainstream.’ Basically it’s not mainstream. So I thought maybe TV is a better home for me.”

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If nothing else, tune in for Nick Offerman’s wig.
Photo: Miya Mizuno (FX)

Time will tell if Garland’s unique tales will work on the small screen of course. But while Devs is still quite a mystery, the writer-director was sure to specify the mystery behind what the tech company is working on isn’t the main objective of the story.

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“The show is upfront. The card turn is not that this is what they’re working on, it’s the implications of that,” he said. “It’s about how strange and profound some of the things that are happening in tech or science...just how sort of fundamentally they change the nature of our existence.”

Devs is set to debut on FX in the spring of 2020. Stay tuned to io9 for more about the show from our time with Garland and the cast at NYCC.

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About the author

Jill Pantozzi

Deputy Editor, io9. Loves cats.