Dispatches from Elsewhere recap: Janice confronts herself in ‘Janice’
Janice’s episode brings into focus a theme that’s been building throughout the show: people brought into the Jejune and Elsewhere world are all battling some type of loneliness. With Peter, it’s loneliness borne of personality — he’s a wallflower who doesn’t know how to live vivaciously. Simone’s loneliness stems from her insecurity over being herself in a world where her identity is often not accepted by others. With Janice, it’s a loneliness borne from losing the life she already lost herself to — she’s been too long devoted to an existence outside her own individuality to know how to be comfortable alone.
We get to this loneliness theme and Janice’s experience by first picking up where last week’s episode ended: Janice at the protest frantically calling out for Fredwynn, then leading Peter and Simone on a chase after Fredwynn, who snuck into the trunk of Jejune leader Octavio Coleman Esquire’s limo. Peter and Simone worry about Janice exerting herself in the chase and she scolds them for insulting her age.
Then Octavio comes on screen, staged before the now-familiar orange background of Jejune’s orientation videos. He praises Janice’s spirit and determination but adds she’s also fearful and desperate. He says that for viewers to understand her role in the coming events, we must know more about her. And if we haven't related to Peter or Simone so far, we might relate to Janice —after all, like he’s said before, the show has something for everyone.
Janice’s backstory is told via cartoon. We see a young woman and man in the early days of courtship: they fight, make up, and have a child. Their daughter marries and moves away. The husband has a heart attack and is hospitalized. In more fourth-wall-breaking narration, Octavio says viewers who have suddenly lost life partners will relate to Janice's loneliness. She built her life around her marriage, and with her husband Lev hospitalized, she’s a “partner without a partner."
Cut to Janice, Peter, and Simone following the limo to a parking garage only to get locked out. Janice is frantic and spurns Simone and Peter’s attempts to calm her down, insisting they have to get inside. They cross the street to a theater where the Jejune Institute shareholder’s meeting is happening. From there, Janice manages to get them into the garage. They find the limo but Fredwynn is gone. As they discuss whether Fredwynn’s alive and what to do next, Octavio appears. As he walks toward them, Janice gets a call from Fredwynn saying he’s safe, but that she must get a card from inside Octavio’s coat.
Octavio takes them backstage of his shareholder presentation. He acknowledges their discomfort regarding the Elsewhere Society’s claim that he’s evil. He says he doesn’t believe in the democratization of voice — that anyone can shout anything and be protected by anonymity. He says the Elsewhere Society is a “naïve band of idealists” with no real-life experience. He postures about the struggles of today’s ever-changing world — subtly directing his comments toward Janice — but Simone interrupts him, demanding to know the truth behind the “game.” Peter seconds Simone’s demand, earnestly asking whether it’s real. Octavio doesn’t answer the question, and soon announces he must leave to begin the presentation. Janice tries and fails to get his jacket, and is escorted to a seat in the audience while Peter and Simone opt to stay backstage.
The presentation begins with a video about the Jejune Institute: It was founded in 1962 by a small group of academics who wished to advance “socio-reengineering,” became an international juggernaut under Octavio’s leadership, and is most celebrated now for its technology and services, which tap human potential — i.e. the memory to media center and dolphin communication, like what Peter saw before his orientation (proving, I guess, the fliers were real… or as real as we currently “know” Jejune is).
Then Octavio introduces the newest product, a device he says addresses the fact that humans can only remember something once and all subsequent recollections are memories of memories, thus distorting reality like a game of telephone. The new device, created by the missing woman Clara, are virtual reality glasses that allow someone to relive a past experience. Octavio requests a volunteer to demonstrate.
Initially, Janice doesn’t volunteer, but after some apparent epiphany, she insists he picks her. For some reason, this is exactly what Octavio wanted. When she dons the glasses, Janice revisits her wedding day, and everything she sees is cast on screens. Janice marvels at how many friends she and Lev had then, and revels in seeing her father. Watching from side stage, Peter remarks how nice it would be to relive the past if you had good memories — though he and Simone both say they don’t.
Janice soon wonders where she is in the memory. Octavio shuts off the screen so she can have privacy and guides her into coming face to face, in a virtual mirror, with her younger self. After a happy conversation about Lev and the couple’s relationship, things take a turn when Younger Janice asks Older Janice if she becomes a teacher or child psychologist. She’s disappointed to learn she doesn’t have any career. She then asks if Older Janice at least kept her self-promise: to always enjoy time alone and live outside of Lev. When Older Janice admits she didn’t, Younger Janice is annoyed, bemoaning that she becomes a coward who stops doing things for herself.
Older Janet tries to defend her choices, saying life as a mother and wife was harder, more mature, and overall, the better choice. Younger Janice insists Older Janice is incapable of being independent and says running around with Peter and the others isn’t the answer because they think she’s a fool. Janice becomes distraught and removes the glasses. Peter rushes to comfort her, though, to Peter’s surprise, Janice hugs Octavio in gratitude for the experience.
Octavio resumes the presentation, but he’s soon interrupted by the intrusion of Commander Fourteen and Elsewhere Society members — all of whom are dressed in costumes and armed with toy weapons. The Commander declares he’s there to wake everyone from Jejune’s spell and rescue Clara. Octavio tells the audience there are weapons of defense under their seats. A bizarre war of streamers, pillows, nerf guns, and other random things breaks out.
Janice, Peter, and Simone slip away from the mayhem and step outside. They can’t get back in, though, and Peter wonders if that costs them the game. Just as he says so, Fredwynn rounds the corner of the building and declares the game is just a distraction. Janice hugs him (he doesn’t hug back). He says Jejune and Elsewhere are on the same side but feigning a rivalry to keep the “game” players on the rails while making them think they have freedom. To prove his point, he correctly predicts several things that happen next: behind a loose brick in the wall he finds a dog whistle, blows the whistle, and a blue bus appears — he says a saffron one awaits those who choose Jejune Institute over Elsewhere, and fliers fall from the sky. He knew these things would happen, he says, because he’s found a script detailing those incidents.
Fredwynn suggests they examine the script further for answers on the “game,” but Janice says she must return home, and Simone and Peter agree to take a break. Fredwynn relents, for Janice’s sake, which she feels is condescending. Before storming off, she reveals she succeeded in stealing the thing Fredwynn told her to steal from Octavio — she did it when she hugged him after her virtual reality experience.
When Janice arrives home that night, she starts telling Lev about her day — he's alive but unresponsive, hooked up to machines with a nurse by his side. The nurse is glad to hear Janice was out all day and suggests she go out more often. After the nurse leaves, Janice resumes talking to comatose Lev about the “game.”
In the last scene, there’s a boy in clown face paint staring through the window. Because this show wasn’t strange and creepy enough already…