One of the most interesting aspects of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s contemporary interpretation of Sherlock was how it made one thing clear: Even if your protagonist looks like Benedict Cumberbatch, the reality of a character like that is how he struggles to fit in with the rest of the world.
This came to mind halfway through the fourth episode of Dispatches From Elsewhere for the blunt reason that, like Sherlock, the hero of this week’s installment also delves into his “memory palace” in search of clues. But in general, “Fredwynn” puts in a lot of valuable work in drawing us further into arguably the show’s most complicated character, a man who proves difficult to understand. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, though, that fact bothers Fredwynn (André Benjamin)—at least enough to send up a prayer: “Help me to understand my teammates a little better. That would be helpful to me.”
The beginning of “Fredwynn” overlaps, time-wise, with much of what happened in last time’s episode, but from the titular character’s point-of-view as he sneaks into the trunk of a limo that transports him backstage at the Jejune Institute shareholders’ meeting. There, Octavio and his goons identify him as a “hardcore,” meaning that he’s “someone who takes the game of life a little too seriously”—and, thanks to his obsessive habits, has a habit of “spoil[ing] the game of life for everyone else.”
But Fredwynn’s intellect is as mighty as his obsession, thwarting their efforts to detain him in a “special” closet during the event with some very clever use of ropes and cords, and sneaking into the control booth to get his hands on the “prompt book.”
As he mentioned in the previous episode (and much credit due to the show, for making sure that the overlapping timelines are clear without relying on too much repetition), the prompt book essentially scripts out the entire experience, but also suggests that a much deeper game is in play here.
Fredwynn used to work in big data, which he explains to his team made him quite rich at a certain point (and even now he still seems pretty comfortable)—but got out of the game when he grew concerned that companies were not just using people’s data to accumulate money, but power. To him, the game is not just a game—it’s tied up in that conspiracy he sees underlying every aspect of modern life, and so getting inducted into the Jejune Institute experience isn’t just the chance to have a little fun, but an opportunity for him and his teammates to “stop being unwitting participants and become detectives.”
While his teammates are concerned about his intensity, they still go along with a new investigation, tracking down the address connected to the envelope that Janice swiped off Octavio at the shareholders’ meeting. However, Peter gets a bit too nervous, asking for them to take a pause before pushing much further — especially because there’s a question as to whether or not they’re even still really “playing the game.”
Fredwynn tries to dial down the intensity, even attempting to get some sleep (something he’s failed to do for a few days), but his obsession won’t let him go, and he jumps out of bed determined to figure out what he’s missing. Digging into his memories, though, just reveals that the answer may be hidden in Janice’s own recollections, specifically of her wedding day.
Thus, he rushes to see her at her house, only then learning about her husband’s condition (which Janice clarifies here is the result of a stroke). She takes some convincing before agreeing to delve into her own “palace,” but with Fredwynn guiding her meditation and a quick appearance from Young Janice, they’re able to recollect the gift tag on one of the presents from the recreation of Janice’s wedding, which Fredwynn quickly interprets as an address that will lead to the next step of the game.
From there, it’s a matter of convincing Simone and Peter to rejoin the team, because while they might disagree on whether or not they’re playing a game or uncovering something deeper, the fact is they’ve become a united front—and whatever this is, it’s become very important to them all. Arriving at 3125 Spring Street, they discover a hidden door to a subterranean portal... and maybe, just maybe, the location of the missing mysterious Clara.
In case you were wondering: As of right now, AMC has provided screeners for the first eight episodes of the season, which means that advanced recaps should be possible for at least the next four weeks. According to a network rep I asked, at this point there are no changes planned to the show’s release schedule; of course, these are chaotic times, and making any sort of prediction about anything feels foolish.
But right now, we can use all the distractions we can get as we bunker down, and so thank you Dispatches, for giving us something to look forward to. “Fredwynn” was an important episode in terms of answering a fair number of big questions, while also establishing key dynamics of this team, and really giving André Benjamin a chance to embody every quirk and nuance of his character. And whatever comes next, our core foursome is committed to the game, and it’s wonderful to be on the journey with them.
- This is a small but important detail: When Richard E. Grant is narrating at the beginning of the episode, he very clearly refers to the limo into which Fredwynn climbs as “my car.” Thus, in these sequences where Grant is speaking directly to the audience, does that mean he is doing so as Octavio from the Jejune Institute? Or does Octavio even really exist? It’s a fun question to consider.
- There are so many great character details included here, with Fredwynn’s choice of beverage standing out as one big one. The exchange—“What flavor is that?” “Efficiency.”—says an awful lot with a very small number of words.
- Porcelain cars are not a figment of this show’s imagination, for the record, but based on some cursory research, while a 1936 Bugatti 57SC is a rare (and extremely expensive car), I couldn’t find any evidence of there being a porcelain version of that particular model. However, there are more modern Bugattis that are made out of porcelain, for a far more reasonable sticker price: $2.5 million versus $30+ million.
- Peter’s excitement about becoming a detective “like on Law & Order: SVU” is a nice payoff from the casual establishment of his typical viewing patterns in the season premiere. As far as characters go, I’m looking forward to getting some more information about Peter—at the very least, his preference for tall glasses of milk at mealtime.
- There are too many books on Fredwynn’s shelves to go about trying to identify them all, but on his nightstand is an unexpected copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Given everything we know about Fredwynn, Infinite Jest would seem a more likely pick. (Then again, unlike a significant majority of people, myself included, it’s probably that Fredwynn has actually finished Infinite Jest already.)
- “I’m protective and quick, like a female cheetah.” Kind of want that on a T-shirt.
- Also, I tried to read what was written on Janice’s t-shirt when Fredwynn first arrives at her house, but the cardigan blocked most of the lettering. If you can deduce what it is, please share in the comments!