Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E10 “The Boy” is nothing if not risky. Last week’s episode ended with Peter, Simone, Janice, and Fredwynn following Clown Boy to discover whether Lee/Clara had redeemed herself through the game, so one might expect the finale to pick up with that question.
Instead, the first quarter of the hour is completely about Clown Boy. There is a direct connection to the previous episode, to be sure, and I have noted the significance of this character and the questions around him for some time, but it’s hard not to wonder when we will get back to the story of our four friends. And the answer is…never.
Instead, after we see Clown Boy’s rise to fame and his exploitation at the hands of one Octavio Coleman, Esq (not that one), Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E10 jumps to Jason Segel at an AA meeting. And this is not Peter, it’s Jason—we get that right away. It’s Jason Segel as Jason Segel, of course, and not straightforwardly Jason Segel. Eve Lindley is still Simone, Sally Field is still Janice, and I presume that Andre Benjamin is still Fredwynn, if we’re talking about their names. But even they aren’t the same characters, and the story is no longer the same story.
This is a bold move, and I have to say that it rubbed me wrong on my first viewing. I wanted a continuation, and resolution, of the story that Dispatches from Elsewhere has offered us over the course of the season, not to exit that story and start feeling like everything had just been in a snowglobe.
But of course, Dispatches from Elsewhere has portrayed a self-awareness of itself as an entertainment from the very beginning, so this meta move here at the end perhaps should not have been as surprising to me as it was. And when I watched the episode for a second time, I started to think that it was brilliant.
I’m reminded of the experience of watching Part 18 of Twin Peaks: The Return. I liked it the first time, but it was off-putting. And I certainly know people who hated it, continue to hate it, and refuse to take my advice to watch it again and take it on its own terms. Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E10 feels like that to me now. I’m going to be saying the same thing to people about it: do your best to take it on its own terms.
No One is Going to Make You Look Stupid
If you can manage it, there is something beautiful here. Clown Boy is central to Dispatches of Elsewhere because he is Jason Segel, the creator of Dispatches from Elsewhere, and S1E10 gives us the story of that creation.
Segel puts himself on the line. While it is clear that the Jason in this episode is a fictional version of himself, the show makes a point of referencing actual things in his career like the Dracula musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall (where he also plays a character named Peter, by the way). And when Clown Boy chastises him for not letting his freak flag fly after that, and as moves to leave, he says he’ll be back if Jason ever wants to make another Muppets movie.
The point of that conversation is that he needs to grow up and stop being the clown. He needs to stop thinking of himself as a victim and recognize how his own decisions and selfishness have brought him to where he is. He’s been a drunk. Now he’s sober, but doesn’t know what to do next. As he says in AA, in the past he would have tried to make people laugh to make them like him, but now he doesn’t much care if they like him, as he doesn’t like himself. But he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
Simone approaches him after the meeting and they go to the barn where she creates things. She asks him to make a list of things he likes, and all he comes up with is “spooky” and “suprising.” So she gives him a postcard and he starts off on an adventure that starts to pull in some things that at least resonate with what we have seen in Dispatches from Elsewhere up to this point: the Jejune suite at the hotel, references to Divine Nonchalance, a sasquatch and a yeti dancing, a token, a milkman, and strange signs to lead him on his way.
This all ultimately takes him to a rooftop where there is a Dispatches from Elsewhere arcade game (this is what the token is for). It’s a strange game. A monster keeps eating his character until he realizes that the right move is to just fall into the lava. Then he gets a series of questions that get to his existential despair: “Did you have a view of your future?”; “Did you let it slip away?”; “Are you staring into the void?”; “Are you afraid?”; “The only thing we need to know at any given time is?”
He answers Yes to the first four. The last one has two options that say the same thing (“What to do next”) and this causes Jason to walk away. I wonder if it would have mattered if he had chosen one option over the other, or what others have done in this same situation. It is reminiscent of Buridan’s Ass—the paradox of whether a donkey would be able to choose between two completely equivalent stacks of hay. Of course it would, but Jason is unable to choose here. Instead he walks away from the arcade game and is confronted by Janice.
She asks him what he is best at, and then tells him to put that together with the question above. So he sets out to write Dispatches from Elsewhere, which is the entertainment we have been watching.
And it would appear that includes this last episode we have been watching, as Janice calls out the way in which she thought the show was about community but the final episode just focused on Segel’s character.
That’s not the end, though, as Jason Segel turns to the camera and calls out all of those who have worked on the show as they enter the frame behind our four leads. Then we cut to Octavio (Richard E. Grant) for a closing narration, which includes a number of ordinary people saying their names and that “I am you.”
Octavio takes some water from a fish tank into a glass, notes that the water inside the glass is the same as that in the tank, but then that so too is the substance which contains the water the same. There is no You, and there is no Me; there is only We.
Is this cheesy, or inspiring? I’ve viewed it both ways now. Last night I was groaning and bemoaning how Dispatches from Elsewhere had so thoroughly left its narrative frame, left its intrigue behind, and entered into this space of schmaltz. But today when I watched it again, I was tearing up a bit.
Dispatches from Elsewhere is about community, and it has been clear from the get-go that the import of the show was supposed to extend beyond the characters within the story and out to all of us. It is perhaps appropriate, then, that those lines blur or fold in on themselves at the end of the day.
Dispatches from Elsewhere becomes not just a story about people playing the game of the Jejune Institute, but one about Jason Segel creating the story that we have been watching.
I don’t know just how biographical this story is, but it does seem that Segel has struggled with alcohol, and the references to his own life that occur in “The Boy” make this all feel deeply personal. I may have wanted the action to pick up where it left off in S1E9, and I may have been disappointed by what this finale did to the plot, but thematically it really is sort of brilliant.
Go back to the end of “The Creator”—we learned that Lee was Clara and that she had made the game in an attempt to redeem herself for how she had betrayed herself. This is Jason, betraying the younger version of himself embodied by Clown Boy. That’s why it’s up to him. And the project is not the game, but the very show we have been watching, which Segel has created as an attempt to rediscover the self that he had lost through years of drinking. Has he redeemed himself in the eyes of that boy through what he has done? Well, it’s a start.
Whether I am talking about the real Jason Segel or the fictional one there, I do not know. I suppose the lines blur, as they have about questions of reality throughout Dispatches from Elsewhere. And at the end, the show attempts to break that barrier altogether. Segel talks to the camera. We have all of these voices and faces from the real world blended in to Octavio’s closing monologue. It becomes clear that the point of Dispatches from Elsewhere is about empathy, and community.
Octavio tells us that he lied in saying “Peter is you, Simone is you, Janice is you, Fredwynn is you, etc.” because only you are you. And yet it’s not a lie, because we are bound together by our human condition. And perhaps even beyond that, we are bound together by being.
The idea that there is no I or You, but only We, is a radical one. It flies in the face of the kind of individualism that has defined modernity, and capitalism in particular. This message from Dispatches from Elsewhere S1E10 lands at an interesting time—one they could not have predicted—as we all quarantine ourselves while certain idiots pop off about their individual freedom.
It’s not about you; it’s about us. It’s about all of us. As much as I get that feeling of constraint and that value placed on personal liberty, the point in the pandemic is precisely that we’re all in this together. It’s not about whether you or I are willing to risk things, but about the risk we expose others to.
There are dangers, of course, to this kind of communal vision. I don’t know if Dispatches from Elsewhere quite grapples with those, but it does gesture at how individuality and community can come into some tension to some degree. Regardless, this is not Hegel. The show doesn’t need to resolve the deep problems of modernity.
I think it moves in the right direction by emphasizing community and empathy in a world that can seem to be more and more defined through individualism and self-interest. It’s a breath of fresh air. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have, and if this finale rubbed you wrong I truly do encourage you to watch it again and do your best to take it on its own terms.
A recondite family awaits.
I am Caemeron and I am you.