Dispatches From Elsewhere premiere recap: Meet Peter in… ‘Peter’
'Dispatches From Elsewhere,' created by and starring Jason Segel, is a quirky kind of science fiction fever dream in which four 'normal' people are pulled into a world of magic, technology, and philosophy.
So, you’ve decided to check out Jason Segel’s new AMC show Dispatches From Elsewhere. Well, I am excited to embark on this journey with you as your recapper. Based on this first episode, it’s sure to be a doozy. The show, created by and starring Segel, is a quirky kind of science fiction fever dream in which four “normal” people are pulled into a world of magic, technology, and philosophy. It’s not clear where the first 11-episode season of this designed-as-an-anthology series is headed, but here’s to finding out. Let’s dive into what we know so far from the pilot episode, “Peter.”
The premiere establishes the format for the first four episodes, as they will all be a spotlight on one of the four main characters, and the pilot is all about Segal’s character Peter.
But before we meet Peter, we meet an apparent narrator. In a (creepy) Fourth Wall-busting move, the narrator, played by award-winning actor Richard E. Grant, stares silently at you (a.k.a. the camera) for nearly 25 seconds before greeting you. He talks about how most entertainment spends too much time on small details of a character’s backstory, so he’s going to do it quickly.
He introduces Peter. Painting him as a meek and bland individual and asking the viewer to imagine they are Peter, he says Peter lives alone, walks the same route every day to and from his corporate job at an on-demand music listening company, avoids making eye contact with people he passes, and experiences little or no break in monotony. As the narrator says in uber-philosophical line No. 1: “This is tragedy in its most quietly devastating costume. A life without risk, a life without real pain, a life without real joys, this is existing, not living.”
The narrator then admits he lied at one point during the exposition, but he doesn’t elaborate and insists he’s still reliable. He smiles creepily.
Cut to Peter waking up at the beginning of the day his life changes. On his way to work, he has a series of experiences that make two things about Peter clear: He is indeed meek, but he wants to be more. He imagines hearing the coffee barista ask if he’s normal. A man bumps into him, making him spill his coffee, but Peter apologizes to him, and sees (or imagines seeing) two fliers about interesting studies. He imagines participating in the studies — talking to a dolphin, testing a human force field against bullets, fire, and cannonballs.
On his walk home that night, Peter “sees” another flier. It’s for a study about trying to convert memory into media. He imagines watching his life on several TV screens — fishing with his father, his father dying. When he stops daydreaming, Peter sees a hooded, masked man putting up a new flier. The man runs off when he sees Peter. The man’s flier says, “Have you seen this man?” and there’s a picture of the hooded man on it. The flier also has Jejune Institute written on it. Peter rips off a contact information tab from the flier and heads home.
At home, he calls the Jejune Institute from his landline. There’s no answer but then a woman from the institute calls his cell. She invites him to an orientation on Saturday at the address 12616 South 7th St., suite 1607. She hangs up before Peter can ask or say much more.
The next day, Peter is in a therapy session. His therapist asks if he’s tried new experiences lately. He says no. She asks why he attends therapy. He first says it’s just because he can, through work benefits, but eventually, he admits he’s struggling to accept his life as it is. He feels nothing, or at least a sense of loss, though he’s not sure what for. His therapist suggests he figure that out.
So, Peter decides to attend the Jejune orientation.
The building lobby seems standard enough. The front desk attendant alerts someone of Peter’s arrival. Then a woman with eerily long fingers and nails appears. With rhyming instructions, she sends Peter to floor 16. To get to the right room, he walks down a long, strange hallway, then uses a key he was given to open a set of double doors. Once in the room, a voice over a speaker tells Peter to sit in the room’s lone chair. The lights go off, an alarm sounds. The TV turns on. The Jejune Institute is introduced as a purveyor of “nonchalance” and products to “fill the void”— water with regenerative properties, clone free human replication systems, and something yet to be unveiled. Then the founder, Octavio Coleman Esquire, is introduced and appears on screen. It’s the narrator from the start of the episode.
He speaks to Peter as if present in real-time. He says he’s been working for more than 40 years to “illuminate the oneness hidden in plain sight and highlight the separateness” responsible for all human strife (uber-philosophical line No. 2). Peter is a key to realizing his vision; one of few who’d follow the steps to get to where he is now. In uber-philosophical line No. 3, Octavio tells Peter everyone shares the common dream that they will be told they are special and meant for more than mundane life. Peter’s moved to tears.
When Peter opens the drawer to retrieve an induction card, he sees warnings written in red ink on all the other cards. The cards say the Jejune Institute isn’t what it seems and that Peter should run. Peter heeds the warning and subsequent instructions. He runs down the stairwell, outside, then answers his phone on cue. The caller is Commander 14 of Jejune Institute’s enemy, the Elsewhere Society. The Commander says Peter’s fallen into something big. He sends Peter instructions that mention something about “divine nonchalance” and directs him to a building with a street address of 277.77.
The door there opens to a hidden alleyway that leads to a store full of eccentric lights and trinkets. A young woman is there already. At first, she thinks Peter is a “bad guy” from Jejune but soon they realize they’re both now following instructions of the Elsewhere Society. The girl, who we learn later is Simone (Eve Lindley), thinks the whole situation is a corporate ad campaign presented as a game. Simone suggests they do the next step — finding some girl — together. Peter wonders if they’re allowed to collaborate. Simone points out he’s an adult and should decide for himself. Peter, in his meekness, is jarred by this. He ultimately agrees to the team-up. Simone offers him a drug to loosen him up because she thinks this is something to enjoy and not be afraid of, and she doesn’t want Peter ruining it for them both.
Peter tells his therapist about Simone. He says working with her made him feel like he was seeing the world through new glasses. Everything seemed more beautiful and things weren’t holding him back. He felt like magic was real. That joy and his time with Simone faded, but he still remembers how she was having so much fun while he was so scared. He wishes he could be more like her.
At home one night, Peter finally hears from someone again. It’s Commander 14. He tells Peter he’s needed at a particular address. Peter gets there, in the middle of a rainstorm, and a phone on the wall of a nondescript building rings. It’s the Commander. He orders Peter to dance. Peter begins dancing and after the Commander hangs up, an apparent dance crew arrive playing music on a giant boombox. In the rain. Peter joins them for a dance party, then a hairy figure joins too. The figure hands Peter an envelope, and soon the figure and the others disappear, leaving Peter alone as the rain stops.
Peter follows the instructions in the envelope and runs into Simone at the edge of a park. She just had the same experience with the dancing and the figure, whom Peter matter-of-factly says was Bigfoot. Yup, Bigfoot. Simone and Peter don headsets. As they arrive at a fountain where dozens of people are gathered, the Commander’s voice comes on the headsets. He says they’re listening to the radio broadcast Dispatches From Elsewhere. They must take out the paddle that’s in the envelope and find everyone else with the same colored panel — that’s to be their family. Everyone in the park is agents of nonchalance. Whatever that means…
As Peter and Simone search for the rest of their group, the Commander informs everyone they must find a girl named Clara before Octavio, a “deviser of false nonchalance,” does, because Clara is the “bringer of divine nonchalance” and with her, they can change the world.
After the broadcast, Peter and Simone gather at a diner with the other two “family” members they found: an older woman named Janice (award-winning actress Sally Fields) and Fredwynn (André Benjamin, a.k.a. André 3000 of OutKast fame). Janice thinks the whole thing was a fun elaborate hoax, but Fredwynn is certain it’s a government-run social experiment/conspiracy. Simone is most interested in knowing what the reward is for finding Clara. Peter doesn’t offer his thoughts at first, but Simone and Fredwynn urge him to. He suggests they consider everything is real.
The group bickers about everyone’s theories. Then Simone heads home. As she walks, the narrator talks about divine nonchalance. Simone passes a corner and two men begin following her. Here, the narrator introduces a black and white animation depicting Simone’s situation. He says divine nonchalance is a “perpetual quietness of heart when all around you is seeming chaos, it is an unspoken understanding that somehow through all the trials and tribulations, fears and foes, you are protected by some timeless innocence, an eternal joy and universal love that need not be named.” (Philosophical line No. 4.)
But in real life, that protection isn’t guaranteed. Simone gets chased into an alleyway by the men. She sprays them with pepper spray and flees, relatively unharmed physically. But she’s rattled, and when she gets home, she struggles to quell the fear and shake the trauma.
The show cuts to Octavio introducing Simone as he did Peter. That’s where the pilot ends, and where episode 2 will surely begin. I wonder how much more we’ll learn about what the heck Jejune and the Elsewhere Society and divine nonchalance is all about…
Dispatches From Elsewhere