Why would someone want to make a game like the one we see in Dispatches From Elsewhere? Especially a game that made no money for the creator, sold nothing to the player and would require a whole lot of work? In the very specific case of this show (because remember, this is based on a real thing, the answer to that question comes in “Lee,” in which we get to know the titular woman responsible for creating the entire experience which brought together our fab foursome—while also witnessing our fab foursome falling apart a bit.
“Lee” is split into two parts, essentially—the first is a trip back through major events in the series to date, from the perspective of a woman named Lee, who we learn is the real architect behind the game. (A lot of the nitpicky questions that have come up in these reviews, such as “why didn’t anyone notice Fredwynn sneak into the back of Octavio’s limo?” get addressed by these sequences, which feels validating on a number of levels.)
Lee, we learn, is the woman who originally came to Clara to purchase her ideas on behalf of Bender Elmore. In the episode “Clara,” her fictionalized self is styled like an evil punk queen (and it’s awesome)—in what can be assumed is reality, Lee has a lot of style, but she’s also a successful cog in the corporate machine, with the official title of Digital Project Manager at her company.
While Lee has been corporate this whole time, Clara’s death deeply affected her, and the guilt is what drove her to create the game—a massive creative undertaking, as we see from the behind-the-scenes moments featured in this episode, and in many ways a selfless one.
Lee is the owner of the penthouse into which the team broke into during “Everyone,” and staged it deliberately to keep the game going for them, even destroying her own property for the cause. There is a bleakness to her perspective on trying to make this experience happen, as witnessed in her reaction to the initial (and political) color dichotomy of red and blue: “We’re trying to instill a sense of wonder—not remind people they’re trapped in an overheating hellscape on the brink of ideological collapse.” But it also clearly mattered a lot to her, as a chance for redemption after coaxing Clara into selling off her ideas, a decision followed by her death, six months later.
“Why can’t you just let me give you a magical experience?!” Lee shouts as our gang, led by Fredwynn, pushes too far behind the scenes, but as made clear by this episode, she did her best to accommodate their participation, even providing them with their own special ending, which (based on the final moments of the episode) isn’t quite done yet.
Then comes the second part of the episode, in which we catch up with the timeline to date, ending with Lee giving Janice the clue about Clara being dead. Things start out relatively happy, even though the foursome is going to a cemetery to find Clara’s resting place, which contains an audio coda from Clara. Theoretically, this means the game is truly over for them, but they are still holding onto their friendship—and Peter asks Simone out on a date!
That date, sad to say (I AM VERY SAD ABOUT IT), doesn’t go well. Like most bad dates, it’s less about the circumstances than it is about the people. Despite a well-intentioned but failed attempt at a fancy dinner, followed by a street-side cheesesteak comparison, he and Simone aren’t connecting, and their first date ends up feeling like their last.
From Simone’s perspective, it’s because he’s still trying to figure out who he is as a person, going so far as to mock him for the fact that he can’t choose between cake and pie. And he’s also not really clocking the fact that dating her is more complicated than dating a cis woman—the show has always been explicitly clear about who Simone is, but this is maybe the first time that Simone has said out loud that she’s trans. (I can’t be absolutely sure about that, but my notes from past episodes seem to support it.) And this really matters, because as established from the first episode, she has to approach the world from a very different place than Peter does, a place he’s not even aware he needs to be.
Peter, meanwhile, is really trying to be a good date, but being able to open up about himself, which is what Simone wants from him at dinner, is a Herculean task. Despite all the personal progress he’s made as a result of his involvement with the game, Simone observes that “I’m just ahead of you” when it comes to self-awareness. She may be right, but in this bleakness Peter’s response is to ask when she thinks he might be more ready, a glimmer of hope. As little as Peter has revealed about himself, he does seem like the type who can wait for at least a year, for the woman he wants.
At the same time that Peter and Simone are committing to their date, Janice gets the kind of call you never want to get. Lev has had another stroke, as we learn from the ever-deductive Fredwynn, and it’s time for her to say goodbye. Despite a fight from Young Janice, she’s ready to let go, and it’s hard to say more about this sequence beyond the fact that Fredwynn, despite his eccentricities, proves to be the perfect companion for her during a truly awful time—even holding Lev’s other hand, as a stand-in for his son, when he slips away.
The gang gathers for Lev’s funeral, sitting separately but gathering afterwards, awkwardly. While Janice is facing the fact that she now has to figure out what, exactly, she is going to do next, Fredwynn gives all of them their game files, which reveal a lot about themselves outside of the game, and lead up to one more big twist. With two episodes left this season, it’s not surprising that things aren’t as final as they seemed last week, but this moment of “beauty withdrawal,” as Peter put it, feels like an important step.
One of Dispatches From Elsewhere’s biggest flaws so far this season might have also been one of its best features—the question of what is real and what isn’t. While “Lee” doesn’t clear up the confusion on every possible score, it does prove that the people behind this show have been paying more attention to these plot holes than we might have expected.
But the most important thing that “Lee” does is establish that there are layers to this story, that Richard E. Grant can be narrating about the creation of the game while two twins who happen to resemble him strongly prepare for their audition in the background of a shot. Even with the official end of the game established, there is still an omniscient narrator, guiding things—and, in a twist, the final voice we hear isn’t Richard E. Grant’s but Lee’s, because with the reveal that Clara’s supposed ashes are in fact M&Ms, the game may still be afoot.
- Last week, it was confirmed that within the context of the game, Octavio and Commander 14 were being played by twin actors, but gosh did Grant have fun with his double—wait, triple—roles.
- More shows should have a friendly eavesdropping waitress come by to explain all the major plot points for the audience. (Looking at you, Westworld.)
- Wow, if ever a quote was appropriate for quarantine times, here comes a message from Clara: “I can’t tell what comes first—feeling unhappy or feeling alone. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, because they’re just symptoms of the same disease. The illusion that we’re in this thing all by ourselves, that our pain and our hopes and our fears they’re ours and ours alone.”
- And that made Clara want to bring people together. Hopefully like this show, or another show, or literally anything else on this planet is doing for you right now.