Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E9 “The Creator” begins with Fredwynn in the role we have seen previously filled by Octavio, along with the same sort of silence that opened S1E1. The background behind him is blue instead of orange, but in many other ways his narration resembles what we have received from Octavio earlier. He mentions that we are watching an entertainment called “Dispatches from Elsewhere” and gestures towards the significance of that title in the same sort of way Octavio did at the beginning—but he doesn’t tell us what it means. And he then proceeds to tell us that “Peter is you” as we follow a structure in S1E9 that is both familiar and different from what we have seen before on Dispatches from Elsewhere.
I’ll have more to say about what is going on with Fredwynn down the line, but I want to note here how he insists that we are in the middle of the story. Of course, this is the penultimate episode of the season (and perhaps the series), but I think the point is that we are always meaningfully in the middle of the story. Life is not like a self-contained movie or TV show. It is always stories within stories. But even that’s not quite right, because there are also differences in perspective. And what we’re watching isn’t just Peter’s story—it’s Simone’s, and Janice’s, and Fredwynn’s…
Russian Dolls are Adorable but Pointless
We start with Peter and how he has been dealing with the fallout of his bad date with Simone. It’s been nearly a year. Peter is you if and when you realize that perhaps you are yourself the main problem in your life, and to his credit he starts to take action on that front.
His shrink encourages him to make a list of his honest reactions to things, trying not to judge himself along the way. And as he notes, this is good advice. He needs to get to know himself instead of worrying about what others expect of him. He needs to move beyond eating store bought sushi, or a perhaps a burrito, and being unsure about whether he likes music. Peter is you if you lived your life so worried about what others think of you that you never decided what to be for yourself.
The game changed that for him, but that’s gone now and when he tried to carry that version of himself forward beyond its bounds, he floundered. Whether or not Simone was right in the details of what she said in S1E8, she was right in the broad strokes—Peter needed to figure out who he is. The game opened him to something, but this was just an opportunity. It’s only in S1E9 that we truly see him start to seize it.
But as Fredwynn points out, stories are manipulations of time, space, and perspective. Simone figures large in Peter’s story, but she has a story of her own. The way that Dispatches from Elsewhere recognizes this, and gives each of its primary characters their own story—intersecting with the others—is one of its greatest strengths. And I can think of no better example than how S1E9 here shifts to Simone talking to Janice.
She tells her how her date with Peter went poorly, but Janice gets that there is something that isn’t about Peter at play here—it’s about Simone, and how she has been running from things and afraid to be herself. And that’s something I think Dispatches from Elsewhere has shown us. It’s not as though Simone was fine and Peter was the sole source of the problem. Neither of them has been fine. But, that’s OK, because who is? At least in Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E9 we see them both start to work on it, because that is perhaps all one can do. As Peter’s shrink tells him, finding oneself is a journey that may take a lifetime.
The Weirdest, Nicest Thing
Simone takes a dance/exercise class (more or less by accident) and runs into Peter, who has been trying food at an outdoor café (and of course recording his reactions). I have to say I agree with his position on hats. He invites her to his graduation magic show, but isn’t sure she’ll come. And then when she does, his happy reaction causes him to nearly drown. All of this is quite charming.
So, too, is the interaction between Simone and Peter after the show, which results in them getting (back) together. Their relationship has been really well done, and again I’m impressed by how Dispatches from Elsewhere plays the fact that Simone is trans. This is a fact about her as a person, but the show fundamentally treats her as a person, and this is refreshing. Even the reveal of her virginity is done in a subtle, realistic way, as opposed to there being a big to-do made about it. I wasn’t sure that I wanted these two to become romantically involved when the possibility first started cropping up, because there aren’t enough stories in TV and film where men and women are simply allowed to be friends, but the way that Dispatches from Elsewhere has developed this romance has really won me over. It hasn’t hijacked the show—the primary significance of which is still elsewhere—and has developed organically through the story of each character.
One Year Later
As Peter waits for Simone on the anniversary of the game, he sits on bench next to a man whose newspaper has a giant “ONE YEAR LATER” headline on the front page. This is odd. Surely the game has not become such headline news, and it’s hard to guess what else the headline could be referring to. Is this just a quirk related to the style of Dispatches from Elsewhere, or should we perhaps read more into it?
Regardless, Simone arrives and Peter gifts her a copy of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH . She then reveals her gift to him—a giant mural of him on the side of a nearby building, which he describes as the weirdest, nicest thing anyone has ever done for him.
It’s only after Janice arrives from her Child Psychology course that they all properly realize that Fredwynn is missing. Simone speculates that he, too, must be running late, but Janice points out how out of character that would be. Fredwynn thinks tardiness is a moral failing, because of course he does.
F to the Red to the Wynn
Instead, our friend Fredwynn has gone down a rabbit hole of paranoia and conspiracy since we last saw him at the end of S1E8, when he discovered that Clara’s urn was actually filled with what I am now thinking of as generic M&Ms.
He’s been trying to track down what actually happened to Clara, hasn’t been sleeping, and has been making mandalas out of M&Ms for some reason. And did I mention he stopped sleeping?
This all leads to what is either a breakdown, or a breakthrough, or both. And not for nothing, as it happens Fredwynn sees the Clown Boy through the window.
He then arrives in a world of blue, which we could speculate is the same space from which he has been narrating to us throughout the episode. Octavio is there, and describes the place as one of transcendence.
Now, this could be interpreted in at least two ways. On the one hand, what is transcendent would be what is beyond experience, or existence even, in a certain way, like God, or Heaven. Along these lines, we could interpret Fredwynn to have achieved something like nirvana, breaking away from the cycle of samsara, and the imagery of the mandalas could be read as a clue to this.
Of course, we could also read this as Fredwynn having something like a psychotic break brought on by his paranoia and the lack of sleep, but that’s not the other main interpretation I want to float. Rather, I’m struck by the parallel between Fredwynn and Octavio as narrator. Perhaps what Fredwynn has transcended is Dispatches from Elsewhere (this entertainment we’ve been watching) itself.
And from a certain point of view, these two (or three) interpretations are not irreconcilable. Janice posits that Fredwynn calls where he is “elsewhere” and perhaps this gets towards the esoteric meaning of “Dispatches from Elsewhere” that Octavio and Fredwynn have hinted at in their narration.
What is elsewhere? Well, it’s not here, but beyond that the term is indeterminate. It’s somewhere else; somewhere that is outside of and other than the mundane. Can a TV show take us there? Can art, like Clara’s murals? Maybe, if “elsewhere” is just about seeing differently. But to Fredwynn it seems to have become a matter of escaping entirely.
There is an interesting resonance here with the Buddhist notion of nirvana, as I understand it (and of course I’m not parsing the varieties of Buddhism here). On the one hand, it means extinction. To achieve nirvana is to extinguish one’s karma and escape the cycle of rebirth. From this point of view, it seems that the goal is to finally manage to become nothing; that it is to, at least, really and truly die.
But on the other hand, there is the idea that nirvana is achievable in life. It is about attaining Enlightenment and the right kind of detachment from worldly desire. And then one might guide others along this path.
I’m not suggesting that Dispatches from Elsewhere is promoting Buddhism, but rather pointing to what strikes me as an interesting parallel, and a question that arises in both contexts. Is the ultimate goal to achieve Enlightenment, or Divine Nonchalance, or is that goal in service of a greater goal that is about making the world a better place?
But They Won’t Be Doing Anything New
Our friends go back to “Clara’s house” and it would seem that Lee tells them what we are shown: the story of how Clara’s I.D.E.A. became corrupted by corporate influence and the influence of Lee. Of course the wrinkle is that Lee is Clara. The representation we have seen has just been a figment, with the details of her likeness presumably crafted in line with the actress who was cast to play Clara in the game.
This is why Fredwynn couldn’t confirm her death—she’s still alive. The mural that Janice and Simone found is presumably a real thing that Clara did, but this Clara Torres who was a tenant in that apartment is actually the woman we’ve known as Lee.
We see the story of how she betrayed herself. Her idea was to enliven our worlds through a virtual reality headset, but she gave into monetary pressure and let ads in. And then, realizing that people wouldn’t necessarily be willing to walk around with a five pound device on their heads, she gave in to the notion of this being for couch potatoes to revisit their own memories. (So what we saw with Janice in S1E3 was actually the I.D.E.A. I guess. There is an interesting question here about how it actually works that I wonder if Dispatches from Elsewhere will explore. I’m guessing not, since there is only one episode left.)
The I.D.E.A. thus started from a desire to spur novelty—to make the world elsewhere, or other than it is—and ended up feeding into everything that Clara wanted to fight against. So she disappears. This is what Lee meant when she said she was responsible for Clara’s death. Clara is her if she’d held onto her ideals. I’m guessing Lee might be her middle name or something.
Thus she apparently created the game to try and redeem herself. This was again about trying to break people out of their mundane reality, and open them up to something new. Did it work? Well, from what we’ve seen in Dispatches from Elsewhere, I’m tempted to say that it did, at least with regard to our friends. Peter is no longer living a life where every day is exactly the same. Simone is moving to accept herself and risk real human interaction. Janice is opening herself to new horizons of possibility in her life without Lev. And Fredwynn, well, maybe he hasn’t been doing so great, but the end of S1E9 sees him asserting the value of Team Blue, which I do think relates to the growth he has undergone over the course of the series.
But he also says it’s not up to Lee whether her attempt at redemption worked. And of course he’s right, but whereas I just asserted that the growth of our characters has shown that it meaningfully did, we’re told instead that it is up to Clown Boy.
Who is this boy and how will he factor into things? I have speculated for awhile that he would be a part of the endgame of Dispatches from Elsewhere, and it would seem that I was right about that, but I still have little idea about his significance.
Is he real? Are the characters in this show real? Are we real?
As it nears its conclusion, Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E9 starts to glitch out. It’s subtle, but I wonder what this signifies. From the beginning, we’ve been implicated. The fourth wall has been broken less in the direction of a character exiting the narrative to talk to us, and more in the direction of bringing us into the narrative. I’d guess the finale will carry that a step further, but I can’t guess how, or what Clown Boy has to do with it all.
So join me next week when we (presumably) find out!