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Here's Why Alex Garland Turned to TV to Tell the Story of Devs

The auteur explains why his newest story was too complex for the cinema

Amanda Bell

Fans of Alex Garland's small, but poignant sci-fi filmography will definitely find themselves in familiar territory this week when Devs' first two episodes debut on FX on Hulu on Thursday, March 5. The new series boasts similarly striking landscapes fit with lush pieces of nature smashed against sleek technologies as we saw in Ex Machinaand Annihilation. The temperaments of the characters of the show are also just as muted at the outset, with slow onion-peeling for each as the episodes continue.

For Garland, choosing Sonoya Mizuno to star as the lead of the series -- beyond the fact that he'd previously worked with her on both films -- was specifically because of her ability to betray certain sentiments without giving everything about herself away at once. "Sonoya can do lots of different kinds of things, but there was one particular thing I knew she could do that made her right for this," he told TV Guide of the casting decision. "Quite often with protagonists, we're used to being in lockstep with their thought processes. And with Sonoya, she can be having thought processes... but there can be something very hidden. And that's exactly what I needed for that particular character."

In the series, Mizuno stars as Lily Chan, a software developer whose boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) work together at a tech company called Amaya. Sergei is invited to join a secretive sector of the company -- Devs -- but winds up dying in a grisly fashion shortly thereafter. Though presented with evidence to the contrary, she becomes convinced that her own employers had a hand in his demise and turns to her ex-boyfriend Jamie (Jin Ha) for help investigating what really happened in the titular division.

Nick Offerman as Forest, Sonoya Mizuno as Lily Chan, Devs

Nick Offerman as Forest, Sonoya Mizuno as Lily Chan, Devs

Raymond Liu/FX

Along the way, as Lily begins to understand who and what she's dealing with, we as an audience are also invited to discover the mysteries of Devs, particularly when it comes to the purpose and motivation of the people within it, including its confounding CEO Forest (Nick Offerman) and the intractable genius behind it all, Katie (Alison Pill). As with Garland's previous cinematic offerings, there are surprises, thought-provoking narrative choices, and, yes, lots of gorgeous sci-fi scenes to savor.

The reason Devs needed to be made for television is simple enough: Garland simply couldn't imagine presenting Devs' deep takes on determinism in a traditional theatrical run-time.

"I'd been thinking on and off about [this concept] for a long time, but didn't feel able to write about it because I wasn't comfortable enough with the sort of underlying sciences. And then when I did feel I got my head around it, it felt like this was the thing to try and do on television," Garland explained. "Because of the size of the story, it just felt [that with] cinema, it just would have been slightly too truncated."

"It's all about stories, whether it's right for TV or whether it's right for cinema," he continued. "It's not spectacle. I think sometimes we mistake it for spectacle. Like, if it's big with big action sequences and big vistas and stuff like that, then that's cinema, and people talking or listening rooms is television ... I don't think that's true at all. But it is to do with how much time you need to tell the story and about economy. With television, there's no problem with writing seven, eight, nine page dialogue scenes ... With this particular thing, I could not imagine how to do it as a two-hour movie."

Devs Review: Alex Garland's First TV Turn Is a Slow-Burn Success

Fortunately for Garland, transitioning to television didn't mean sacrificing his eye and ambition behind the lens -- in fact, if Devs does well enough, he aspires to assemble the same exact cast again for the next project he's spent over a decade thinking about and believes is best suited to the TV medium.

"I've been thinking about it for an equally long time, it's really about civil disobedience. Often in what I write, there's often a philosophical content that comes as a result of some scientific premise. But often there's also a political angle," Garland explained. "I think the political elements are quite often more hidden because I tend not to draw attention to them. But I would say Ex Machina was a very political story, really. And I think in this story what I'm doing is I'm letting the politics rise to the surface. If I get to do it."

Devs is an eight-episode limited series and premieres on FX on Hulu on Thursday, March 5.

Sonoya Mizuno as Lily Chan, Devs

Sonoya Mizuno as Lily Chan, Devs

Miya Mizuno/FX