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Devs S1E7 Is a Box Within a Box, and Ramps Up the Anxiety

I’ve been dealing with a very elevated level of anxiety over the past few weeks, as I’m sure many have. Unprecedented amounts of uncertainty have me feeling completely helpless at times. And then last week, coincidentally, I watched two of the most anxiety-inducing episodes of television I have seen in a long time. The first would be the incredible “Bagman” episode of Better Call Saul. The second was Devs S1E7.

This episode of Devs featured three separate instances of off-the-charts intensity. For the first time ever, I was actually happy I still have the version of Hulu that shows ads. They at least allowed me a chance to get up and take a break, and a breath, before diving into the next part of the episode.

However, despite Devs S1E7 stressing me the hell out, it was the episode that firmly established the show for me as one of the best I’ve seen recently. It’s a perfect storm of interesting characters, mystery, incredible visuals (and audio!), and thematic imagery.

I flat-out love this show.

Anxiety-Inducing Scene 1

Episode 7 opens with a discord that put me on edge right away. Once again, music is used at the beginning (and end) of this episode, but this time two songs are woven together in a nightmarish fashion. The first song is “Come Out,” by Steve Reich. The song was constructed using one line of audio from Daniel Hamm, one of the Harlem Six, in which he says, “I had to, like, open the bruise up, and let some of the bruise blood come out to show them.” The phrase “come out to show them” is then repeated and overlaid and the voices split into two, then four, then eight, etc., until the words become unintelligible. I imagined the different voices as an example of one of the central themes of Devs: an endless number of worlds.

The other song is simple vocalization that made me feel like I was hyperventilating. It starts off slow and then increases in pace in a very unsettling way.

While these two songs ping-pong off each other, we are shown a number of seemingly random shots. The first is an undeveloped Earth, likely from tens of thousands of years ago. We then see a family living in a cave in prehistoric times. Then a modern day shot shows a car driving around a bend in the road (I want to say this is Katie’s car), before we see a shot of Lyndon sitting at the bottom of a large dam—more on this later. The echos continue past the title screen and we see Pete gathering his belongings to head out for the day.

Every week, I know I gush about the opening scenes of the Devs episodes. I found this one to be one of the most disturbing…but I also thought it was amazing.

Anxiety-Inducing Scene 2

The peak of my anxiety mountain came during the scene with Katie and Lyndon at Crystal Springs Dam. Lyndon, still looking for a way back into Devs, for some reason suggests this dam as a chatting spot with Katie. (I guess that’s just what was determined.)

She transparently tells him she knows the outcome of their conversation. She tells him he will climb over the rail and stand there with his arms stretched out, waiting to see if he falls or not.

Why in the world would he do that? It would be a test of his faith in the many worlds theory. In some worlds, he falls. In others, he survives—and these are the worlds in which he would be allowed back into Devs.

Katie and Lyndon stand on top of a dam, with their arms resting on the top rail

“Would I have climbed the rail if you didn’t tell me?” he asks. “I did tell you,” Katie responds. Remember, everything happens for a reason. Cause and effect.

She says she doesn’t know the outcome of whether Lyndon falls or not (which I don’t really believe for a second), in that if she were to tell him he doesn’t fall, it negates his act of belief. It would be like a mystic walking over unlit coals.

Everything clicks for Lyndon at this point. He laughs nervously, stating “it’s a perfect circle.” And then he climbs over the rail. “This is intense,” Lyndon says. (YES, LYNDON, THIS IS VERY INTENSE!) I could barely watch this scene, as Lyndon then takes his hands off the rail.

Before we learn Lyndon’s fate, the scene cuts away to Stewart in the Devs hallway, reciting the poem “Aubade” by Philip Larkin. The poem is about the fear of death—the one thing in life we know for sure will happen at some point. Very deterministic.

While Stewart continues the poem, we see multiple versions of Lyndon falling from the top of the dam, and finally we see that, in the world we’re watching in Devs, Lyndon is dead. We aren’t shown any in which Lyndon survives—although that scene in the opening moments of the episode showed a very-much-alive version of Lyndon sitting at the foot of the dam. So perhaps there are indeed some versions of Lyndon still out there in the universe.

After watching this horrific event take place, I think what struck me most was Forest and Katie’s attitude about the whole thing. As Katie is leaving Forest’s house that morning, he casually tells her, “Remember Lyndon’s in your car. There’s that whole thing.” She simply replies, “Sure.”

The two of them know the events of this day—the day that Lily will come to Devs and do something extremely impactful, and possibly die—inside and out. They know what will happen to Lyndon. Yet Forest refers to it calmly as “that whole thing” and Katie offers a meager “sure.” And then her words directly lead to Lyndon’s death. It just seems very messed up to me. Perhaps they have prepared themselves for what would happen this day and got all of their worrying and regret out of the way. Or perhaps they’re just kind of monsters.

Anxiety-Inducing Scene 3

Devs has produced some pretty intense murder scenes, and in S1E7, we get two—back to back.

Jamie and Lily agree they will contradict Katie’s prediction by simply staying home all day. (Living under a shelter-in-place order for about the past month, I found Jamie and Lily’s plan very relatable.) “Sweet Little Mystery” by John Martyn plays while we see Jamie and Lily playing house as if nothing bad could happen to them. However, Kenton has different plans.

When I was first watching this I was thinking Kenton would kidnap them and smuggle them over to Devs. Instead he busts through the front door and immediately shoots Jamie three times. A few weeks ago, I was certain Jamie would die at the hands of Kenton. Apparently it just took awhile.

With “Sweet Little Mystery” concluding, Kenton enters the bedroom and begins to choke Lily. The tone has now shifted to utter horror. There’s no way Lily would be able to get out of this situation on her own. Things looked bleak. But then out of nowhere…Pete!

From the very beginning of Devs I had a feeling Pete would play a significant role in the show’s outcome. When Pete began counting in Russian and Lily puts together that he is a Russian agent just like Sergei, I kicked myself for not piecing that together earlier. Especially last episode when he says “nyet” to Jamie.

That aside, I like this twist. Pete didn’t have to do what he did. As he tells Lily, we was only in charge of watching her—not protecting her. It was his choice to save her.

In the aftermath of this intense scene, I couldn’t help but feel terrible for Lily. She has now lived through the murders of two boyfriends at the hands of Kenton—one in person. And here we have it, the cause and effect that drives Lily to visit Devs on this night. At first I wondered why she didn’t just get on that plane to Hong Kong. Keep her hands in her pockets instead of crossing her arms. But as she sadly caressed Jamie’s dead body and eyed Kenton’s gun, I’m pretty sure the motivation is clear: She wants revenge.

Box Within a Box

I possibly could have included this portion with the rest of the anxiety providers, but it more-so made my brain hurt than made me nervous.

Perhaps my favorite scene of the episode involved Stewart and some other Devs randoms viewing a perfect projection of Earth from 1 billion years ago.

Despite the breakthrough, the people in the room don’t feel great about it. Stewart describes that as the subconscious saying “Uh oh.”

“A few hours ago, we were in reality and we were working on a sim. And now we’ve pretty much traded. That’s the reality. Right there. It’s not even a clone of reality. The box contains everything.”

He then breaks one of the rules of Devs (this rule is ALWAYS being broken) and creates a one-second projection of the room they are sitting in.

As the screen shows someone in the room stand up, the person then stands up one second later. Then a bit of dialogue on the screen will be repeated one second later. This fantastic Devs scene reminded me a bit of Spaceballs when the characters in the movie watch a version of Spaceballs the movie. (“Everything that happens now is happening now.” OK, sorry for the tangent.)

After they make Stewart stop the projection, he says, “The box contains us. The box contains everything. And inside the box, there’s another box. Ad infinitum; ad nauseam. Uh oh.” (It’s like the “Come Out” song from the beginning of this episode, an endless number of voices.)

This definitely tied my brain in a pretzel. Is he saying Devs, the show we are watching, is merely a simulation—all created within Devs? I tend to think that is not the case. However, what if that’s why Katie and Forest can’t see past the significant event caused by Lily? Because she destroys the computer that is creating this simulation? I suppose it’s possible.

And then I started thinking of all of these box-within-a-box situations presented in Devs. Forest and Katie know everything coming their way. They have already experienced all of the conversations they’ve had on this day, like they’ve seen that Forest would remind Katie that Lyndon is in her car. Which also got me wondering: if Devs has only really started “working” recently with the use of Lyndon’s code, why/how are Forest and Katie so familiar with what happens on this eventful day? How do they know the day “forwards and backwards,” as they say? Weren’t they only able to watch static-y projections with no sound? I suppose they may only have a general idea of what happens based on the fuzzy images, without knowing the contents of conversations. Or were they able to get a projection of them watching a clear projection? Box within a box for infinity, indeed.

Loose Threads

  • This episode featured a number of other themes we’ve seen in earlier episodes, namely eyes and religious references. We got two more one-eyed shots: one of Lily lying on her couch, traumatized after the murders of Kenton and Jamie, and then another as Kenton peers out from under the sheet with one dead eye. On the religious reference front, Jamie refers to tech company heads as thinking of themselves as messiahs. We have seen a couple instances of people shown with outstretched arms, similar to Jesus on the cross. In this episode, that’s what Lyndon does before he falls off the dam. And it’s a return of the cool tree-light circles in the forest surrounding the Devs building. When someone stands below them, they look like halos. Also, when Stewart stands in the Devs hallway (and is it just me or was he standing in that hallway for a very long time throughout this episode?), he’s standing in front of something that looks like a rose window. Which, coincidentally also kind of looks like a giant golden eye.
  • After Stewart finished reciting the poem and Forest refused to guess who wrote it, Stewart brings up Mark Antony and Cleopatra. I’m not sure of the significance of this, other to show that Forest doesn’t know much about history. Antony and Cleopatra ended up committing suicide—perhaps this is some sort of foreshadowing?
  • In the same conversation, I loved this line from Stewart: “Such big decisions being made about our future by people who know so little about our past.” This can definitely expand outside of the world of Devs.

OK, only one episode left, and I can’t wait to see how this all ends. Unless it pulls a complete 180 and features a very disappointing ending, I’m thinking Devs will be one of my favorite new shows I’ve watched in a long time. Alex Garland has created a masterpiece.

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Written by Bryan O'Donnell

Bryan O'Donnell is a Writer and TV Editor for 25YL. In addition to TV and Twin Peaks, he loves music, baseball, reading, and playing video games. He lives in Chicago.

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