Jason Segel explains that surreal and personal Dispatches From Elsewhere finale
"I am scared and excited and all these feelings. Man, it’s actually a real joy to feel those things again."
Warning: This article contains plot details from Monday's Dispatches From Elsewhere season finale, "The Boy."
"I just think the whole thing is fun, and weird and dark and hilarious, and I want it to be all those things — because I am all those things. This experience helped me remember that."
No, that quote isn't from our interview with Dispatches From Elsewhere creator, writer, director, and star Jason Segel, which can be read below. It's actually directly from the very personal, fourth wall-shattering season 1 finale of the AMC series.
Based on Segel's own experience of pulling down a flyer and stumbling into an adventure, Dispatches was already unlike anything else on TV — and that was only solidified by the final episode. With the "game" seemingly put to rest a few weeks back, the penultimate installment ended with Peter (Segel) leaving with "The Boy," which doubled as the title of the finale. And The Boy was the focus of the first third of Monday's episode, courtesy of a black and white exploration of a preteen's rise and fall as a child star in old Hollywood.
Then, after a disastrous performance (surely aided by his abuse of chocolate milk), the action cuts to modern day and an AA meeting with Peter. "I used to think I could do anything, and I sort of did," he shares. "And now I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do next…For the past 20 years, I would make a bunch of jokes and make you all like me, but I don’t think anything is funny right now, and I don’t like myself." And then came the twist: This isn't "Peter," this is Jason Segel. Following the meeting, he meets Simone, who takes him to "The Barn of Beautiful Things," where she works and lives. She gives him a postcard for Elsewhere." We jump ahead to him beginning the game, which finds him running around Philadelphia, and not even stopping when one fan yells at him, "Jason Segel show us your d---," referencing his famous Forgetting Sarah Marshall scene. He eventually makes it to the roof of a building and finds a Dispatches From Elsewhere video game, which asks him various questions, soon causing him to freak out. This brings out Sally Field, who doesn't seem to be playing Sally Field. She explains to him that the game is about all of us and that pain isn't unique. “As hard as it is to believe, you are special," she says. "But not because you are unique, you’re special because you’re exactly like everyone else. Perfect.”
Four months later, Jason has written a script for Dispatches From Elsewhere. He's really proud of it, until Simone tells him that the parts about himself are "lacking any personal responsibility" and that he has to "own your own s---." With his rewrite attempts not going well, he has a giant bowl of cereal (another Sarah Marshall callback), before hearing "release me" coming from another room. It's The Boy, and he reads Segel the riot act. “I want you to grow the f--- up…I’m not a boy, I’m you, and that’s the problem," he says. "And you are not a goddamn boy, you’re a 40-year-old adult and this manchild victim s--- has got to end. You got drunk, you got rich, and you stopped being you. You’re a weird dude, you made a Dracula puppet musical. And then instead of letting your freak flag fly, you filled your fat face with cake and whiskey and tried to stay famous. Own it, dude.” The Boy turns on the TV, and the shots from The Boy struggling with his fame earlier are revealed to be of Segel, whether it be drinking in his trailer or selling out for money. “So I was a selfish, self-centered, entitled, spoiled guy who lost his way, no victim, no villain, just me and my choices," admits Segel, to which The Boy responds, “You’re a goddamn mess. But it’s a start.” He leaves with one last message: “Time to grow up. If you need to write another Muppets movie, I’ll be back.”
We next see Jason on a stage. “I know it’s a lot to digest, you probably want me to explain more of what’s going on in the show," he says, talking to Andre Benjamin, but also clearly the audience. Benjamin (as Fredwynn?) understands the "Fight Club on acid, written by someone who likes life" concept. “I used to think that I could do anything, and then I lost that part of myself," further explains Segel. "So I went on this search, and I didn’t always know what I was looking for, or even why exactly. I don’t know if I found myself again or if this is something new, but I know that I want to write about it. Also, I just think the whole thing is fun, and weird and dark and hilarious, and I want it to be all those things — because I am all those things. This experience helped me remember that. And I just think it might be helpful to anybody who is as confused as I was. I think that maybe underneath all our stuff maybe we just aren’t as different as we choose to believe. Maybe I am Jason, and I am you. The end.” Then asked if he thinks he can pull this off, he replies, “No. Not on my own. Maybe if I had some help.”
In the final act, the main four characters/actors are in a field and following along. “The last episode was rather self-centered," remarks Janice (Field). "I thought the show was supposed to be about community.” Segel agrees. “If we ended on an episode all about me, that would kind of miss the point, wouldn’t it?” he says, talking to viewers. “It’s been about us. All of us. Making something together." The camera then zooms out and includes the entire cast and crew together. He reveals that the audience has been a part of this all along. Then, jumping to one last Octavio (Richard E. Grant) monologue, he admits that he's been lying throughout. “If there’s one thing that I hoped you’ve learned from our time together my friends is that you and only you are you," he shares, as videos of people at home play, with them all saying “I am [insert their name], and I am you.” Octavio continues: “Change comes when we find one another. For once we have found each other, the energy of our collective spirits can take flight and the world around us begins to change...There is no you, and there is no me, there is only we.”
Did you get all that? Well, Segel was right — that was a lot to digest. And with EW and the audience having plenty of questions, we chatted with Segel about the decision to be so open with his life, baring all onscreen in a different way, and whether the game ever really mattered.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Creating and making Dispatches has been a long and intimate journey, so how are you feeling now that we’ve reached the end and people are going to see this very, very personal episode?
JASON SEGEL: I feel really excited, and a little bit scared in a way that makes me know that I’m doing the kind of stuff that I like doing. The show is sort of built on this idea that we’re all more similar than we’re being told to believe, and that if we just opened ourselves up to one another it would be met with a sense of community. And it occurred to me at some point when I was conceiving the idea: Do you actually mean that, Jason? Do you really believe that? And if so, then start with you. Prove it. And so that is what I started driving towards in the series, this ultimate ending to the themes of the show, like, "Look, it’s okay to be yourself in front of other people."
So it got the point where you almost felt like you had no choice to but to end the season in this way?
Yeah. The show is really hard and really fun to figure out, because it’s full of twists and turns, but at the same time I feel like each episode has a pretty clear emotional theme. And so building that so that each episode was its own self-contained music box but then also when you stack them all up next to each other they led inevitably to this finale was one of the most fun and difficult things to write. I had an amazing group of writers who took this leap of faith and helped me do this.
I’m so glad to be talking to you about the finale because when I finished it I immediately started reaching out to colleagues to see if they had watched it yet. Like I needed someone to talk to about this. Admittedly, I’m even still digesting it, and I’m sure viewers will be too. And yet, I almost feel like this interview is unnecessary, considering you kind of did your own version of a postmortem interview within it. Did it feel like that to you, and that you wanted to explain to audiences what they just saw?
To me, it always feels like…and I think you’ll appreciate what I mean because you’re directly on the other side of what I’m about to say. I always have felt that the thematic explanation should be contained in the work of art. Whether it’s a TV show or a movie or a painting or a book or a song. Like I don’t want to hear Tom Waits explain to me what the song is about. [Laughs] Nor has he ever needed to, because it was in the song. And so, for me, I always feel like now the audience gets to live with this however they want. The whole point of this show, I think, is to participate in the work of art, and so I love that you texted your friends to see if they could talk about it. That is literally my goal.
You’ve literally bared all onscreen, which I loved that you even snuck a joke in about that with some random guy screaming at you, "Jason Segel, show us your d---!" But, you mentioned being scared, so how nervous were you at all to lay it out on this level and in this way? Like this seems scarier and more revealing than getting naked on camera for a joke.
It’s a really great question, and I would say that it is almost exactly the same as how I felt about the nudity and the Dracula puppet musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall — but now I’m 40. [Laughs] So your fears become more sophisticated. And it was part of my mission statement. It’s coming from that same place of fearlessness mixed with faith, of I think this is really cool and interesting and has artistic merit, and so I’m not going to overthink strategy, I’m just going to trust in that. And so, honestly, as we approach the finale, I am scared and excited and all these feelings. Man, it’s actually a real joy to feel those things again.
When you’re playing a version of yourself in something, it's going to beg the question of what is true and what is added because it’s a TV show. And you’ve talked about how this all started when you stumbled into this game, so, for you, how much of what we’re watching in this finale is truly what happened to you, what you were going through, and your process of getting to this point?
I would say that thematically and viscerally it is 100 percent accurate. And then it’s presented through the very thinly veiled metaphor.
As both a writer and actor, what was it like playing out these somewhat personal moments that maybe were hard to think about? Whether some of them were beat for beat true or slightly exaggerated.
It’s really what I love to do, if I’m being totally honest. I’d be lying if I said, “Oh, I really had to dig deep to do these scenes.” It actually is where I’m most comfortable, it’s what I’m most suited to do. The only time really in my life where I’m free of anxiety is when I’m acting. And so I might as well use that weird superpower to go deep. Because it’s like the equivalent of not being afraid of heights, so I might as well climb as high as I can, right?
On the flip side, as scary as some of the parts were, was it fun to put these little nods to your life in there and make fun of yourself a bit? Like with the guy yelling about your nude scene or you eating cereal like you did in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Maybe that added some much-needed levity for you.
Oh good! Oh man, you caught all the stuff, that’s great. It was all super fun. You know, what’s really neat about this period of my life and my writing and my career is that I obviously have a really strong comedy background, and then with End of the Tour I took a little dramatic road and found that I really loved that. And Dispatches From Elsewhere has been my first opportunity to try to let those two things exist side by side.
Why did you want to have that final scene and kind of like breaking the fourth wall? Between having the actors in character, then also having the crew come in, and you talking to us at home, it might have been more like breaking the ninth wall or something.
[Laughs] I think that the show has all been about community, and us all experiencing something together, all the way from the cast to then going a little further and saying the crew and then going further and including the audience. The end of the show is kind of letting the entire artifice of separation between us just crumble, and here we are, all together.
Where did you get those people that we saw popping up on video from their homes?
The show has been interactive for almost a year now. We started by putting flyers up on some lamp posts, just like in the pilot. People who have been looking for it have been participating and those videos are largely from them. And then some other crew who weren’t able to be at that final crane shot, and some other supportive friends and families. It’s a nice big community.
So it sounds like the big takeaway from the series is that we should all start pulling down more flyers.
Listen, man, it’s the metaphor, right? It’s all around us. That was one of the amazing things of shooting in Philly. They have such an underdog quality, and you know it for this kind of like working man, grey, blue tinted city like the Rocky movies, but if you turn down that aisle that you pass every day it’s like covered in murals, and there’s a guy who does tiled mosaics in all these hidden alleyways. And the show is that, and I think life is that, too. What happens if you take that other street?
It was an interesting choice to wrap up the “game” before the actual finale. In the end, did the results of the game actually matter?
We ended the game in episode 7 and the big question is, what do you take from the experience? Our characters and us in life in similar situations. Like nothing we find out is ever going to do it for you, no matter how much you hope it will. So then when that thing is inevitably taken away, in this case the game, what do you do with that? Do you take the magic that you felt during it and apply it to the rest of your life? Or do you just decide that the whole thing was bulls--- and dismiss it? So we leave the characters with that choice in episode 8 and 9 — did it mean something, or didn’t it?
Ahead of the show's premiere, we chatted and you said your plan for season 2 was a "tightly held secret." Now, can you further pull the curtain back at all on that mystery?
Yeah, I’ve got a plan. A plan thematically for the series as a whole and for what each theoretical season could be like. I think everyone is deciding if we’re going to do a second.