As expected, Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E3 “Janice” focuses on Janice. Octavio gives us a rundown of her life at the beginning (in the form of a cartoon, because everyone likes cartoons). The gist of it is this: she fell in love with a man named Lev and built a life with him, but now finds herself to be a partner without a partner and confronts the question of how to go on.
This had me thinking that Lev had died, and that her references to going home to him (such as we saw in S1E1) were delusional on her part—as though she couldn’t accept that he was gone. We learn at the end of S1E3, however, that Lev is alive, if you can call it that. He appears to be on life support and in something like a coma he’s unlikely to wake up from. And Janice still wants to tell him about her day.
This is almost sadder than if he had died. She’s clinging to him as he sits at the threshold, unwilling or unable to move on. Getting home to him is the reason she doesn’t want to follow Fredwynn’s plan of going to the diner, I think, more than anything else. It’s not that she’s a tired old woman. She has to get home to Lev and relieve his nurse from duty.
I’m supposing here that he is in a coma of some kind, and that he will not wake up from it. That could be incorrect in one way or another, but if this is the case and this is an instance where the question of pulling the plug is meaningfully on the table (as I think it is), then Lev’s state is at once keeping her from moving on from their life together and forcing her to face the world alone. She’s interacting with a memory.
Who am I?
At the Jejune meeting, Octavio tells the crowd that one only remembers something once. He points to what scientists say, and I don’t know about that, but it hardly matters because this is really a philosophical question.
His way of thinking about the issue certainly makes sense. An event occurs. One remembers it. But then the next time what one remembers is the memory of the memory, and so on and so forth, such that there is a degrading chain in relation to these remembrances of remembrances, like a mnemonic game of telephone.
I’m sure this is what scientists would say as they explain, for example, the mind’s tendency towards confabulation. The event isn’t copied and stored like a file on my computer; everything is suppler and more nuanced—and thus more prone to error when it comes to the facts of what occurred.
But this notion that the memory stores a copy of the past is a facile one that is easy to disprove. More complicated are those memories that seem to be of a different kind, like what occurs with the madeleine in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. This is much closer to experiencing the past again, as when a smell evokes the feeling of a place and time, or in one way or another one is suddenly struck by a memory rather than consciously accessing it.
Octavio’s account seems to ignore such experiences, which are of course difficult to explain. But there is an aspect of memory here I think is worth pointing out, in particular because the I.D.E.A. seems to be a technological attempt to get at this possibility of virtually living something again.
Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E3 shows us what the I.D.E.A. is (apparently). It is a virtual reality device that allows one to re-experience past memories. Janice becomes the volunteer in the demonstration and is taken back to her wedding day.
It was a good day. What she doesn’t see at first, though, is herself. And so Octavio grants her some private time (turning off the screens for the audience), tells her to take three steps back and turn to the right, and then she gets herself in the mirror. And they have a conversation.
This is the most interesting part of S1E3. What exactly is going on here? Peter tells Simone that he thinks they need pictures to make this sort of thing (and he doesn’t have any), but do they? Do we believe that things have been so well orchestrated that the Jejune folks could plan on Janice being the volunteer? No matter how conspiratorial you get in thinking about all of the events of Dispatches from Elsewhere, that seems like a stretch. Fredwynn would have to be in on it…is Fredwynn in on it?!
Let’s presume that the answer is No, for the moment at least. Jejune could have reconstructed a VR from Janice’s social media, and could have others at the ready if they ended up with a different volunteer. But even on this hypothesis, the interaction between Janice and Younger Janice raises some questions.
Young Janice asks, for example, whether she has kept her promise to herself, and when she learns that the answer is No (she didn’t finish college, and increasingly defined herself in relation to Lev), calls her older self a coward and a fool. This could perhaps be taken as extrapolated from knowledge about the Young Janice, except that she also mocks her older self for not knowing how to work a DVD player. That’s anachronistic.
As such, the most plausible possibility seems to be that Jejune programmed all of this in. But why would they do that? How would they do that? And again—whether it is a game or something else—why would they do that?
I suppose the other possibility is that it is real, and the I.D.E.A. actually provides some kind of way of accessing memory in a direct way. This would mean thinking about it truly being Janice’s younger self chastising her for her life choices. That doesn’t seem scientifically plausible, but Dispatches from Elsewhere is in the space of fiction, so perhaps it will take things in such a direction.
We still don’t know what I.D.E.A. is supposed to stand for, as it is presented as an acronym. It makes sense that the device/project would be called this, given the history of the term going back to Plato. The Idea has been taken by many to be beyond ordinary experience. But I still find myself wanting to know what those letters are supposed to stand for.
What is Real?
As I mentioned in my first article on Dispatches from Elsewhere, the Jejune Institute is/was a real thing. That is, there was something that occurred in reality that would seem to be the jumping off point for this show. It was a game. Is the game real? Is a game real? Well, yes, a game is real insofar as it is a game. One could argue that everything is real insofar as it is the thing that it is. Unicorns are real insofar as they are fictional beings for example. Are there unicorns prancing around in a field somewhere, though? I’m pretty sure there aren’t.
The point is that the notion of reality is potentially almost a vacuous one. There always needs to be a contrasting term. So what we see in Dispatches from Elsewhere is real insofar as it is a TV show. If we go within, we hit another layer of the question: are these events real in the diegetic reality of this TV show? That is, if we bracket our own frame of reference and let this show build its own world, are these things really happening within it?
And, the answer is clearly Yes. These things are happening. The question is about the status of these things. Are they real, or a game? Well, even if it is a game the things happening are real insofar as they are a part of the game. And if these events have a meaningful impact on the lives of the individuals who are taking part in that game, is that impact somehow less real because it was just a game?
Or maybe it’s not just a game. This is the question our protagonists are grappling with. This is what Peter means when he asks Octavio if it’s real. Is Clara a real person? Is there really an antagonism between Jejune and Elsewhere? Do these technologies exist, practically speaking, or are they just made up?
Fredwynn claims he got the script for the evening. He predicts some things. He thinks it is all a conspiracy. It’s some high level social experiment. He claims that Jejune and Elsewhere are two sides of the same coin, and it’s all a part of the same thing.
I have been thinking that from the beginning, but it doesn’t resolve the question of how to take it. The biggest question, whatever it is that is going on, has to be: what’s the goal here? But the most interesting thing might be to explore how varying human beings react to that very problem.