Devs: A TV series about loss — Evren İnançoğlu

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Forest and Lily

Devs is an American science fiction thriller miniseries created and directed by Alex Garland. It’s a series basically about loss in many ways. Characters in Devs feel the loss of their loved ones. Forest who is the owner of a technology development firm lost his daughter and his wife in a car accident. Lily loses her boyfriend. Lily’s boyfriend Sergei dies in a suspicious way in the yard of Forest’s tech firm Devs when he was working for him. Lily’s ex-boyfriend Jamie, could not come to terms with his loss, even after a long time.

In the show we not only witness loss, but also a loss of loss as well. In this respect, Devs follows the footsteps of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In Vertigo Scottie loses his lover after she kills herself by jumping down from a bell tower of a church. Scottie later discovers that the body belongs to another woman and his lover is actually still alive. However, he finds out that the woman that he had lost was never the woman he thought she was. Scottie’s lover was pretending to be someone else. Žižek (2013) argues that in this sense Vertigo is Hegelian. What makes Vertigo Hegelian is the loss of the loss, we get a negation of negation (Žižek, 2013, p. 479). In a similar way, Mladen Dolar (2019) argues that for Hegel what is lost was never possessed. According to Žižek and Dolar, Hegel opposes the classical Christian theological reading that there was a heaven, we fell from heaven, and are trying to get back. They argue that everything started with the fall, and we retroactively created heaven. They claim that for Hegel there is no origin. Yet still, people tend to create a heaven retroactively. By following Hegel’s footsteps, whether it be Slavoj Žižek or Mladen Dolar, with the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis one always ends up with Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Going back to Devs, just like Scottie in Vertigo, Lily loses her lover too. Sergei’s suicide is fake just like Madeleine’s suicide. Unlike Madeleine, however, Sergei is dead. Lily starts to investigate his suspicious death and she discovers that he did not actually commit suicide but he was killed. During her investigation Lily also finds out that her boyfriend was not the person she thought he was. He had a secret parallel life. So we get the same Hegelian formula with Vertigo here: loss of the loss – to put it in Hegelian terms: A negation of negation.

Devs’ owner Forest is obsessed with science. In Devs’ lab his team is working on a project based on quantum particles. With the help of a very advanced computer he and his team try to prove that all events are based on cause and effect. Forest’s girlfriend Katie who is also his lover believes that Forest will no longer accuse himself of the loss of his wife and his daughter if he can prove that everything is determined by something prior. In a way, as his girlfriend puts it, with this project Forest is judging himself: If there is determinism, he is innocent. If there is free will, he is guilty of what happened to his daughter and wife. He is also most probably hoping secretly that he can bring his daughter back with the help of his quantum project.

At some point two women, Katie and Lily have a talk and Katie admits that Forest’s security officer killed Lily’s boyfriend for he betrayed Devs by stealing information. Lily wants to know what Devs is, and the two women start to debate whether everything that happens is determined or some things are simply contingent. Katie claims that there are no random events, everything is determined by something prior. In contrast to Katie, Lily claims that some events are simply contingent. That’s when we witness that the two women are talking in different discourses and their fiction about life is totally different. Yet, the feeling of a loss, keeps haunting them like every character in Devs, regardless of their views.

In a flash back, we witness how Lily meets her boyfriend Sergei for the very first time. We see her in a café suffering because she had broken up with her boyfriend Jamie. Sergei who happens to be sitting at the next table tells her that he broke up with his girlfriend too. This is the beginning of their love. Lacan’s famous dictum works here: Love is giving what you don’t have (Lacan, 2015, p. 129). They both feel an emptiness within themselves which had existed within themselves even before losing their lovers and they try to fill this void with each other’s love. They both want to fill their emptiness with the love they have for one another.

While Katie and Lily are having a conversation, Forest and Jamie are waiting for them outside the house and they end up talking about losing loved ones. When Jamie confesses that he couldn’t move on after breaking up with Lily, Forest advises him to come to terms with his loss. Paradoxically, though, we witness Forest failing to follow what he preaches. He can’t come to terms with his loss either.

Devs makes us think about our losses. Most of the time, our losses are about something we never had. A feeling of emptiness keeps haunting us all. Is it possible to reconcile with our losses and move on? Or will we always secretly keep believing that our void can be filled? Moreover, what happens if we manage to take the void we feel as one of the deadlocks or contradictions of our existence and reconcile with it? Does such a reconciliation make us stronger? Do we feel better? Does it make us wiser? And, finally, can we still fall in love?

Evren İnançoğlu has a Masters degree in behavioral sciences. He currently lives in Nicosia, Cyprus. He writes essays, short stories, and reviews.

References:

Lacan, J.(2015) The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book VIII: Transference (1960-1961) Cambridge, UK: Polity

Žižek, S. (2013) Less Than Nothing. Hegel and The Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. London: Verso

Европейский университет в Санкт-Петербурге (2019, March,1). SUBSTANCE IS SUBJECT, Mladen Dolar, EUSP, 04.12.2018. Youtube. https://youtu.be/UBlOABhRglo?t=1802

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