March 23, 2020 at 11:29 PM EDT

The funhouse maze that is AMC’s Dispatches From Elsewhere continues with major revelations in tonight’s episode “Clara.” In a chapter containing some of the show’s dreamiest and authentic moments yet, we learn more about the woman seemingly at the center of the Jejune Institute and Elsewhere Society world… starting exactly where last week left off: with the sidewalk trap door in Fishtown.

Fredwynn leads the way down. Inside, there’s a bed, artwork, and supplies. There’s also a painting of Clara (Girl Meets World actress Cecilia Balagot) that’s so lifelike, everyone momentarily thinks Clara’s really there. It’s like the murals Peter and Simone saw around Fishtown when the “game” sent them there before.

Soon, thanks to a blacklight Fredwynn finds and a clue Simeone cracks, they discover writing all over the walls.

Janice reads: “My name is Clara, and I am you.”

Simone continues: “If you found your way here, it must mean we are more alike than you know. Heck, if you squint your eyes, maybe I AM you.”

Jessica Kourkounis/AMC

Peter imagines the painting of Clara is talking. Clara refers to herself as creative, determined, and sometimes scared. She once was swallowed up by the dark. Enter a black and white world that takes on color as Clara’s backstory progresses.

She was a young girl in Fishtown, a forever dreary place where everyone accepts that being born in Fishtown means you die there. Life was just “tolerable enough,” but Clara felt destined for more — that she was special. She didn’t want to be swallowed by dark like her mother was. One day she’d had enough of feeling hopeless and recognized in herself a good feeling she could only identify as blue. So, she painted a blue window she could “open to Elsewhere.” She jumped through it, thinking maybe she could fix Fishtown.

Here, the writing ends.

Peter and Simone are awestruck; Janice is skeptical. Fredwynn says it’s just another clue. He goes up into the home above the secret room. Walking in, Fredwynn trips over a chair, cutting himself. While Janice treats him in the bathroom, Fredwynn smells salt. He sets a match to the wall. The subsequent dynamite-like reaction reveals more writing. Coolest moment yet! Go Fredwynn!

Clara’s story continues — and shout out to Cecilia Balagot for her earnest and humorous narration here.

When she jumps through the painting onto a Fishtown street, she finds attractive and smart Matteo, feisty yet soft Kimber, and roller-skating superstar/possible government assassin Sanjay. They quickly become her best friends.

One day, while hanging out in a junkyard, Clara suggests they can make Fishtown special. She tells them to imagine a passing garbage truck as a Zamboni leaving a trail of ice and snow and to imagine nearby smokestacks blowing colorful marshmallows into the sky. But her friends just laugh.

In bed that night, Clara is frustrated by their disbelief. The hope she’d painted herself with that window is fading and she knows she must do something else.

The following morning, under a patchwork tarp, Clara swings around on ladders and ropes painting something on the side of a building. In that moment, Clara feels “Elsewhere.” She has a purpose: to show people — not just tell them — what she means about making Fishtown special.

When she’s done painting, Clara stands before the crowd that has gathered and removes the tarp to reveal a gorgeous mural of a waterfall — so vivid the water seems to move. She hopes it will show people “life… [was] something you could reach out and touch…” The town swoons at the mural. Clara’s delighted friends pick up tools off the street: a camera, ball-peen hammer, and compass. When a store owner yells at them for causing a ruckus, Clara says she’s just “harnessing her divine nonchalance” — a phrase that came to her while painting, though she’s not sure what it means.

That day, Clara and her friends became the Elsewhere Society, promising nothing would tear them apart.

The bathroom writing ends.

Peter’s inspired by Clara. The group agrees to reconvene at the house after the workday to search for more writing. Before they depart, Fredwynn suggests everyone reflect on what they found. Peter thinks Simone might be particularly helpful because she’s an art scholar. He thinks they were all matched for a reason — to which Simone suggests that she’s “tortured art girl,” Fredwynn’s the elitist, and Janice is Janice. Peter says he’s “the guy that needs to do something brave but ends up embarrassing himself.” This aw-shucks Peter moment is followed by will-they-won’t-they subplot romantic tension between him and Simone.

Later, Simone asks a former art professor about Clara’s murals. The professor says there’s a long history of similar paintings in Philadelphia that he’ll ask a colleague about.

The professor then asks Simone about returning to art school. She says she can’t currently make a big life decision. The professor asks why it’s a big decision. Simone says she fell into art by default, and she’s afraid if she continues on without considering what she really wants, she’ll end up unsure of her life at age 60. Her professor says people make decisions as they go — not every decision needs to feel as big as her recent gender transition decision. It’s ok to be wrong, so she should do what makes her happy now. This reminds Simone of Clara’s words. She leaves the professor, off to find her “Elsewhere.” The conversation serves as a beautiful acknowledgment of Simone’s identity without sensationalizing it as a trope or story device.

Meanwhile, Peter hears Clara’s voice at work. She prompts him to listen to a song: “Good Vibrations,” by the Beach Boys. It brings him joy, and then, at this imagined Clara’s insistence, he plays it for all the users of the music streaming service he works for. The stunt gets Peter in trouble with his boss. Peter says he wanted to show people something new and beautiful to help them out of the trap they fall into with getting lost in too many choices. Ultimately, in the middle of the conversation, Peter both gets fired and quits. He walks out, smiling.

Elsewhere (pun intended), Janice knits by Lev’s bed and, imagining she’s on a walk with him, tells him about Clara. She says Clara is hope and whimsy, but also maybe sadness and desperation. Janice is afraid for Clara. Lev’s nurse interrupts her musings to confront her about a text Janice sent her the night before: “Hey, hey, I’m having fun, leave me alone, snitches get stitches, need to stay here, #icebucketchallenge Black Santa.” Janice insists she never sent that.

Cut to Fredwynn at Clara’s house alone, naturally not waiting for the others to resume investigating. On a bedroom ceiling, he reads: “The Elsewhere Society. Working in shadows, often wrong but never in doubt, we were the custodians of its secret … a team, we were the future … determined to make the idea a reality… [They did questionable things] for the greater good … We were a new civilization rising from the ashes of the last… Divine Nonchalance was our fuel and Elsewhere was our destination … together, we would make the world a nicer place to be alive.”

As Fredwynn reads, we see Clara and her friends stealing supplies from a local store. They turn an abandoned cigar shop into their home base, then create art all over a Fishtown street. The residents are mystified and delighted, forming a crowd that obstructs a passing limo. The woman in the limo notices the artwork. Sticking out in an elegant black gown, she strolls through the crowd and asks for the artist. Matteo says it’s Clara.

The words on the ceiling end.

Later, Fredwynn's joined by the others. Although he assumes he’s going to be the one to find the next clue, it’s Janice who ultimately discovers, in blue knitwear, more writing. She begins to read.

Cut to Clara with Octavio. The limo woman is with Jejune and has recruited Clara. While giving her a facility tour showing her different blue art material, Octavio says that with Jejune’s resources, Clara can create and spread magic throughout the world. Clara notes her friends helped her with what she’s done in Fishtown. Octavio then sits her down. He says sometimes special people like Clara have to make hard choices about who they surround themselves with. Octavio wants Clara with Jejune because she’s giving out something for free — hope, a rare and precious resource — that Jejune is trying to sell. He says with Jejune, Clara can realize her vast potential. She belongs with the “special ones.”

Octavio eventually drops Clara off at home. She tells her friends what happened and that she rejected Octavio because she doesn’t want to change the world without them. Her friends rejoice.

But in the limo, Octavio maliciously tells his female colleague “you know what to do.”

That night, as Clara’s in bed trying to assure herself she made the right decision, the limo lady appears to kidnap her. Clara stabs her in the eye with a paintbrush and runs out of the house toward Matteo’s. But the woman seemingly catches up and Clara vanishes.

The story ends.

Fredwynn callously suggests Clara should’ve run faster. At this, Janice angrily mentions his interference with her messages — he didn’t give her Lev’s nurse’s message about Lev having a bad day, and he sent the rude reply. A fight ensues in which Fredwynn again shows his unfeeling nature and Janice criticizes his lack of emotional intelligence before storming out. Fredwynn then steps outside, leaving Peter and Simone alone.

Simone tells Peter she’s proud of him for quitting his job. Romantic tension rises but is interrupted when Simone receives an email from her professor about the murals. He found reports of life-like murals 20 years ago. Enclosed in the email is a photo… of the waterfall mural from Clara’s story.

Emotionally, Peter declares: “It’s real. The story is real.”

Cut to Octavio in front of the orange background. He snaps his fingers. The episode ends.

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