Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dispatches From Elsewhere balances between puzzles and character, with just a touch of whimsy

Illustration for article titled iDispatches From Elsewhere /ibalances between puzzles and character, with just a touch of whimsy
Photo: Jessica Kourkounis (AMC)
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It’s an episode called “Everyone,” which means Dispatches From Elsewhere aims to bring together the gang, despite the fractures it has sustained recently. And this installment might be one of the best yet.

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The show’s concept of every episode essentially just focusing on one character (even though at its core, this is a true ensemble drama) has meant the first five episodes devoted notable time to individual character origin stories on top of the ongoing narrative. This week, though, freed of that dramatic burden, “Everyone” is perhaps the show at its peak when it comes to nailing down the balance between character stories and puzzle-solving, all operating in a nebulous grey area between reality and fantasy. It wasn’t a dramatic step up in quality in comparison to past episodes, but it still stands out as the show at its absolute platonic ideal.

Things begin with another team meeting at the diner, with everyone still interested in working together even though their goals are still technically pretty different, with Peter wanting to find Clara, Janice wanting to rejoin the game and Fredwynn still focused on uncovering the conspiracy behind it.

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The compromise they land on splits up the initial pairings, because Janice is still mad at Fredwynn after the events of the last episode—she and Simone head out to hopefully track down the real Clara, by following the trail of her artwork. Meanwhile, Peter agrees to work with Fredwynn on getting closer to understanding the forces in play behind the game, even though, as he acknowledges later, Fredwynn is the worst teammate.

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All of this is happening under the cloud of the news that “Clara’s truth will be revealed tonight,” meaning that it’s likely the very last night of the game — putting a ticking clock on their exploration, and also serving as a reminder that by choosing to play the game outside of the established parameters, the gang will be missing out on the planned final experience. (This only seems to really bother Janice, but her FOMO is understandable.)

Together, Peter and Fredwynn make for a dysfunctional pairing, largely because Fredwynn has no respect for Peter (to be fair, he doesn’t really seem to respect anyone else as his equal) and Peter is hesitant to stand up for himself. But after they discover that the previous sites they have visited were shut down, and break into a closed museum in search of other clues, it’s Peter who identifies the meaning behind a symbol he and Fredwynn keep seeing: It’s the logo for a major company known as Bender Elmore, which owns the Not!Spotify music service Peter worked for until just very recently.

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This means Peter is their best bet for sneaking back into the Manamana offices to figure out what’s happening, though Fredwynn provides a valuable assist (posing as a life coach) in sneaking them in. There, the previous music cues utilized by the game, including Isaac Hayes and Peaches and Herb, prove essential to not just tracking down the playlist created by whoever is running this game, but then tracking down said person’s IP address, leading to a new location.

Meanwhile, Simone and Janice head together to the Fishtown bar which initially led Simone and Peter to the headquarters of the Elsewhere Society — today, though, it leads them to a trip into Janice’s past, as Janice not only used to frequent the bar, but is familiar with one of the regulars. After a round of tequila shots, her old pal Boris is able to direct them towards one of Clara’s old murals, which they figure out looks incomplete because the bulk of it was clearly painted from a different perspective, from inside an apartment across the street.

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Sally Field, Eve Lindley, Carol Florence
Sally Field, Eve Lindley, Carol Florence
Photo: Jessica Kourkounis (AMC)

That apartment is now occupied by someone easily stereotyped as a “crazy cat lady,” but Janice is able to smoothly talk them inside, not just revealing the hidden portion of the dragon mural, but enabling them to dig up the records containing Clara’s last name: Torres. Armed with that information, Simone and Janice hit up the local library, spinning through the microfiche newspaper records (a truly old-school touch) to find a story about Clara disappearing years ago.

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However, in the article about her disappearance, there was mention of her having been hospitalized for mental illness, and without even looking it up Janice is sure she knows what facility this means. This is an episode that really celebrates Janice as a character, both her past as a hardcore feminist during the fight for the ERA, her troubled time (likely related to postpartum depression) that led to a short stay at Hawkton and then today, where as Simone observes, Janice is uncovering her true inner badass.

Janice and Simone arrive at the original location for Hawkton only a few minutes before Peter and Fredwynn do—because the penthouse apartment of the building where the mental facility used to be matches with the IP address.

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Fredwynn has already hacked his way into the building’s elevator controls, so it’s trivial for the gang to get upstairs and investigate, discovering a split-screen monitor featuring both Octavio Coleman and Commander 14—two Richard Grants for the price of one, delivering the same message: “Bad news, everyone. They have Clara. We need your help right now.”

So both sides are playing the same angle. Does that mean they’re playing the same game? The abrupt end to the episode means that we won’t learn the answer yet for a while. Still, it was a well-calibrated installment; the sort of episode that might not stand out in your memory if you were binge-viewing, but did important, valuable and enjoyable work in service to the season.

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Stray Observations

  • If you’re a hopeless romantic, then you know there’s rarely anything as fun as rooting for two characters to kiss, and this is the second episode in a row where Simone and Peter have seemed just on the edge of... something... and then nothing happens. This is a pattern that will hopefully change by next week.
  • Just saying, Simone telling Peter that he looks “rugged”? C’mon JUST KISS ALREADY.
  • Though, Fredwynn’s advice to Peter about Simone feels important: “If she gives you her heart, don’t take a magic marker and write all over it.” These people are all delicate in so many ways; it would hurt if any of them broke.
  • Wonderful to see Tara Lynne Barr return as Young Janice, as well as Grace Rex as Berthe Morisot, the well-known impressionist painter haunting Simone. These touches definitely push the show towards the more surrealist angle it’s aiming for.
  • Who was the threatening voice at the phone booth, telling Peter and Fredwynn to “return to the game, as instructed?” It didn’t sound familiar to me, but that may just mean it didn’t sound like Richard E. Grant.
  • Putting sugar on a hard-boiled egg seems like one of those things that sounds disgusting, but... maybe it could be good? I don’t know personally, and I am not going to waste one of my 10 remaining eggs on this experiment, but if you can speak to this one way or the other, please share in the comments!
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Liz Shannon Miller is a L.A.-based writer who recently spent five years at Indiewire. Her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, THR, the Verge, and Thought Catalog.

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