‘Devs’ – Alex Garland, Alison Pill and Cailee Spaeny Interview on FX’s Sci-fi Series

FX’s highly anticipated new sci-fi thriller Devs will premiere on Hulu on Thursday, March 5, 2020. The series is the brainchild of boundary-pushing Oscar nominated filmmaker and novelist Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation, The Beach) and, frankly, is impossible to adequately sum up in way that accurately describes the viewing experience. It’s an immersive, intellectually stimulating series that demands you pay attention to the minutest details. In other words, put your phone down and close your laptop while delving into Devs.

FX brought the Devs cast, Alex Garland, and executive producer Allon Reich (a frequent collaborator of Garland’s) to the New York Comic Con. Garland, Alison Pill, and Cailee Spaeny were teamed up for interviews with the press where the main question to be answered was what exactly is Devs.

Garland offered this basic explanation of the premise. “So, the reason I can say it is because it’s described in episode one so it feels legitimate to talk about it. They’re making a machine which takes a premise you can make about the universe that it’s determinism – that is to say that everything that happens is a result of cause and effect. Nothing ever happens that doesn’t have a prior reason that has made it happen. So, they’re working on a machine that can help them unpick the nature of cause and effect.”

Alex Garland went on to explain the machine could be applied to anything, including societal upheaval. “It could be anything open to the ability to look forwards and backwards,” said Garland. “Anything that you would be able to do that with is open to the potential of the machine.”

Garland added, “But the question is in a way not what would the results of that be but can you do it? And in figuring out whether you can do it, it opens up a whole bunch of questions about us. If you were to take a deterministic way of looking at the world, one of the consequences would be that you don’t have free will.”

“At the crux of episode one there’s a discussion about whether somebody has free will. And then the series, in a way, goes forward from there,” explained Garland.

Asked if the question of whether we have free will sparked his creation of Devs, Garland replied, “Not exactly in as much as that I arrive at this already thinking we probably don’t have free will. It seems most likely to me that we don’t have free will because I’m an atheist and because I believe in the physical laws of the universe.

The physical laws of the universe, in many ways, push you toward determinism, and determinism – if it really exists – pretty much precludes free will. We could have a big debate if that’s true or not and in the end, it would come down to individuals. But I arrive at it thinking I can’t really see where free will is supposed to exist. So, not exactly. That was the starting point rather than the end point.”

So, what is the human cost of unpicking the universe? “That is exactly the point of the story,” said Garland. “So, the point of the story is, in some respects, what is it like to be alive in a universe where cause and effect have a total relationship. And in a way it’s like if science offers up something to you that truly does change the way that you intuitively think the world must work, what affect does that have? And science does do that sometimes.”

Devs Alison Pill
Alison Pill as Katie in ‘Devs’ (Photo Credit: Kurt Iswarienko / FX)

Alison Pill plays Katie, a character who works in the secretive Devs division of the Bay Area tech company run by Forest (Nick Offerman). “She’s a pretty important figure there,” offered Pill. Cailee Spaeny’s Lyndon is also employed as part of the Devs division. “[She’s] probably one of the youngest, if not the youngest, there,” said Spaeny. “Very committed to this world. It basically is her life.”

Asked if there’s any internal rivalry among the Devs staff, Pill replied, “Rivalry doesn’t really come into it. No. I mean, I think the project itself is so thrilling to smart people that anybody is happy to be working there and contributing to the project. It’s not about the money; it’s not about fame and fortune and whatever. It’s about the actual work.”

Garland was intrigued with the suggestion of internal rivalry within the Devs division. “It never occurred to me – it never occurred to us – but actually often there is rivalry,” said Garland. “But it’s in the nature of what they’re working with that’s so strange, that all thoughts that you might have or motivations are totally channeled into, ‘Can you achieve this or not?’”

“And what achievement of it means,” added Pill.

Pill revealed one of the more fascinating aspects of the series is that it questions what is morality. “If nothing you do is actually your choice, what does that mean? Does it provide a blanket to do whatever you want because you were always going to do it anyway? Just the nature of it is really mind-bending.”