Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E2 focuses on Simone, as its title, “Simone,” would suggest. It’s interesting because the first episode is called “Peter” and while I suppose it does focus on him, it also begins with that quick rundown from Octavio, who promises to save us 20 minutes of our lives by introducing us to Peter in two minutes. But then S1E2 comes across as a whole hour devoted to fleshing out Simone, though it does advance the plot to some degree.
This isn’t a complaint so much as a note about the form of Dispatches from Elsewhere. What we’ve dispensed with is the pro forma kind of introduction to our protagonist, where he saves the proverbial cat to make us care about him. What we still get is solid character work, with the protagonist, Peter—if he is that—almost pushed into the background even as he himself is developed further.
It’s really good stuff, and I’m loving how Dispatches from Elsewhere is unfolding its narrative. The central mysteries remain in play: Is the Jejune Institute bad? Is the Elsewhere Society good? Are they two sides of the same coin? And, most generally: what is going on?! But with Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E2 I increasingly think this will all be more about the characters and their development than any of that.
Think of Simone as you—as a trans woman. She goes out into the world after the attack of the previous episode and tries to calm herself—earbuds in, she listens to some soothing French music. And then encounters a Pride parade. I feel like her reaction parallels one that I myself have had: that, yeah this whole thing is awesome, but also I just wanted to cross the street.
I didn’t realize that Simone (or Eve Lindley, the actress who plays her) was trans until this episode. I guess I’m a little out of touch on the actor front of that, at least. Forgive me. But not knowing actually made the whole thing a step more powerful, I think.
I find her to be attractive, and clearly so does Peter. And while I don’t know that he knows she is trans, I find it hard to imagine that he’ll care. It’s kind of a beautiful thing. The hang up is not that, but her own damage, which, to be clear, I’m not blaming her for at all. The beautiful thing is how this is all about being human.
Through her reaction to the Pride parade, along with what filling in of her backstory we get from our “reliable” narrator, we learn that Simone has not found transitioning to be as liberating as she had hoped. She still feels fundamentally alone and out of place. She can neither embrace nor allow herself to be embraced by the trans community that literally asks her to join in. It’s almost as though she wants to take the megaphone, but cannot.
The Thing About Crap is, Trying to Hide it Doesn’t Really Do You Much Good
Simone has an anxiety to her being-in-the-world that we didn’t quite see in Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E1. As Octavio tells us, she feels alone and perhaps condemned to be alone.
But then Sasquatch shows up at the art museum where she works as a docent, and gets “the game” going again. This leads her to Peter’s work, where he says he is embarrassed because what he does is so boring. She thinks it’s cool that he works in music, but as he points out, he doesn’t work in music; he works in data. It just happens to be about music. He’s basically helping a company like Spotify figure out what to recommend to people, and it is interesting that Dispatches from Elsewhere places him in this kind of profession. The point of his work is essentially to help people think less. Discovering new music can be a sort of ecstatic experience, breaking one out of the mundane run of time and into something new and exciting. But not if it’s something that is only nominally new and fundamentally similar to what you already know you like. This is a point worth thinking about all over the place in our postmodern world.
Simone and Peter set off to Fishtown, PA and get messages that purport to be from Clara through a Big Mouth Billy Bass. The whole thing is ridiculous, but it works. The absurdity of some of these setups creates humor, but is also just close enough to reality to keep one in the narrative. Ultimately, they find a mural that puts them even more onboard with the task of finding Clara.
After the fake fish implores them to tell truths they’ve left unspoken, Peter tells Simone how he feels about her in a way that is actually pretty touching. There is nothing creepy here. He doesn’t jump to an “I love you” or anything like that. He tries to honestly explain his feelings. And she runs away.
I’m not blaming Simone for that, either. Again, Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E2 explores her character, and I think it does so in a powerful way. She has felt broken, and alone. She doesn’t feel worthy of Peter’s affection, and worries that she will just mess everything up. And what she doesn’t want to mess up, more than anything, are these dispatches from Elsewhere.
Her Nana gives her good advice—just be honest. Be honest about your crap, because you can’t hide it. It stinks.
Simone is honest at the end of the day, even grabbing a megaphone to do it. She couldn’t do it at the Pride parade because what she was being implored to say wasn’t her truth, and she could sense that if she had spoken anything like her truth it would have messed things up. But here she takes the chance in front of a lot of people because it’s the only way to fix things with Peter. So she tells the world how she feels out of place, and how “the game” is providing her with something she hasn’t been able to find elsewhere. It makes her feel comfortable for maybe the first time ever. She likes Peter’s face, and asks if they can maybe just keep this friendly so she doesn’t freak out.
This occurs at a protest against the Jejune Institute. Our heroes were faced with a choice in this episode: either go this protest, or go to an investors’ meeting. Further, while Simone and Peter’s quest showed them that Jejune is pernicious, Janice and Fredwynn say theirs suggested that the Institute is on the side of the good.
So they choose try and do both, but it’s not clear if they succeed. At the end of the day, Fredwynn has put himself in the trunk of a car that contains Octavio, and the others are pedaling after that car on some weird kind of bicycle.
Janice is particularly freaked out, and the episode ends with Octavio telling us that the time has come to picture Janice as you.
She’ll be the focus of the next episode, but this is the move that Dispatches from Elsewhere keeps making. It is to throw us into another’s perspective by showing us how we are them. We are Peter, with his packaged sushi and ennui; we are Simone with her damage and way of feeling alone.
And we will be Janice and Fredwynn as well, whatever those stories have in store for us. Because Dispatches from Elsewhere is about a general human experience, and not a particular one.
I don’t know where it is going, but I’m certainly keen to find out.