Dispatches from Elsewhere: Clara Review
*This review contains full spoilers for Episode 5*
On this week’s episode of AMC’s Dispatches from Elsewhere, Clara, the group digs deeper into the mystery they’ve been ensnared into and the big part Clara (Cecilia Balagot) plays in all of this.
We catch up to the group exactly where we last saw them – heading into the basement of an abandoned basement in search of clues to where Clara is. After entering and crashing into some paint supplies, the group realizes that they’re in some kind of art studio and Peter (Jason Segel) finally sees Clara – or at least a painting of her starting out a window on the wall. Confused with what steps they need to take next, Fredwynn (Andre Benjamin) is eager to find the next direction and eventually finds a note saying that they “need to turn off the lights so they can see.” Simone (Eve Lindley) obliges by switching off the lights and with a blacklight flashlight that Janice is playing with, the group sees a story written on the wall that encapsulates the whole room. As they read it, it sounds vaguely familiar to the way Octavio (Richard E. Grant) has introduced everyone in the group and as Peter becomes entranced by Clara’s portrait, she begins to take control of the story and takes everyone to a Fishtown that’s not so cheery.
In some ways, Clara’s story isn’t all that unique or special since it’s pretty much a “come from nothing to make something” kind of story we’ve heard before. It has a quiet yet clear revolutionary tone to it that’s certainly intriguing, but not as special or mind-blowing as it wants you to believe it is. What makes it special though is Balagot’s performance as she gives Clara this inspirational spirit that’s genuine and hard to resist. As she talks about looking for an escape into a place called Elsewhere, it’s hard not feel yourself pulling toward everything she’s feeling and once she leaps into her window painting and leaves the black and white world of Fishtown behind, it’s hard not to feel like your transported into a new world with her.
Once this part of her story ends, we’re thrown back in reality for the group to find the next chapter in Clara’s story. As Fredwynn attempts to take charge and find the next clue himself, he rushes upstairs only to fall into a trap – which ends up just being him falling into a chair he can’t see. It’s also great to see the mother/son relationship of Janice and Fredwynn continue as she drags him into the bathroom holding his hand to clean off a small cut on his cheek. It’s a really funny moment that’s followed by a really awesome reveal as Fredwynn smells something strange in the bathroom. Recognizing it as something flammable, he grabs a match and tells everyone to stand back as he lights the wall and the sparks eventually reveal the next chapter in Clara’s story. Visually, it’s a very stunning scene as Fredwynn smiles at his own work and leads into one of the most visually stunning scenes of the series so far.
Finding some new friends and wanting everyone to see that there could be something more to life, Clara struggles to get everyone to believe in something better. So, he eventually comes up with the idea to show everyone through a mural she paints on the side of the building. I don’t know if it’s the way Clara flies across the wall like a trapeze artist, the way everyone crowds around, or the great monologue that Balagot delivers over all of this, but it’s a very impactful moment that’s heightened by Clara’s mural of a moving waterfall. It’s a visually stunning moment that basically causes a kid’s greatest dream to occur as an ice cream truck spills out all of its ice cream and a giant rainbow stretches across the sky. It’s a moment of pure inspiration and while not everyone in Fishtown is excited by Clara’s actions, she takes this moment to give each of her friends a special item and dubs them the founding members of the Elsewhere Society.
Back in reality, the crew decides to call it a night and Fredwynn urges them to think more about what they’ve just learned. It’s easy to see how inspired Peter is without him showing it and its in big part to Segel’s great performance. He even brings out some great points that Fredwynn gives a back-handed compliment to as he questions whether their stories are connected to Clara’s and if her love of art is connected to Simone since she has an art degree. There’s a great little moment between Peter and Simone that really shows how much they care about one another and really makes your heart swell as a viewer.
Later, we find that Simone has taken some of the things they’ve found to an old professor and the effects of the game start to impact on not just her, but everyone – especially the phrase “divine nonchalance” that Clara loves to say. For Simone, she begins to question her choices in life and what this journey and game means to her as she has a very heartfelt scene with her professor. It’s made genuinely touching because of Lindley’s performance and gives Simone more growth in overcoming her personal struggles. Peter also begins to question things at work and decides to act on his inspirations by getting some good vibrations from The Beach Boys. After some more convincing from a vision of Clara he sees, he eventually decides to spread the love and override all the music everyone is listening to. While the logic of it is kind of out there, seeing cheerleaders, a barbershop, and even a funeral be brightened up by The Beach Boys is a total treat.
Janice is even talking with Lev about the group and some possible issues of Clara’s insatiable desire for creativity, in her head, and it’s a very touching moment that’s interrupted by an unusual one with her nurse saying that she sent her a rude text that likely just came from Fredwynn. Speaking of Fredwynn, he couldn’t resist looking for the next chapter, so he finds himself looking into how Clara’s formation of the Elsewhere Society changed Fishtown forever. Like any revolutionary faction, there’s this attitude to do anything, regardless of the cost, to turn your dreams into reality – and that’s exactly what happens here. From stealing supplies as masked vigilantes to putting on heroic costumes and changing Fishtown into a dreamscape, it’s truly an inspirational arc that’s absolutely beautiful. However, all good things always seem to attract an evil force and that seemingly evil force comes in the form of the darkly dressed Lee (Cherise Boothe) – the woman that Fredwynn saw talking to Octavio last week.
Unfortunately, while Peter is enjoying how Clara is inspiring him, his boss isn’t and what follows is one of the best scenes in Peter’s story. Wanting to follow in Clara’s footsteps, Peter says how tired he is of just letting people control how he views things and ultimately decides to quit his job – while also being fired from it. It’s a usually negative moment that’s incredibly uplifting the monologue Segel gives is legitimately inspiring. It’s even better when he tells Simone and finds the support he needs as Janice uncovers a new chapter in Clara’s story.
However, this chapter is not told by Clara, but rather by Octavio as he seems to be inviting her for some greater purpose. After making her the most hypnotizing and strange chocolate milk I’ve ever seen, Octavio gives her an ultimatum that, again, isn’t something we haven’t seen before. Essentially, it’s like how any boy band breaks up with Clara getting a solo deal that comes at the cost of giving up her friends for his own ideals.
In a slightly surprising turn, Clara turns down his offer, but Octavio retaliates by having Lee kidnaps Clara – which turns Fishtown back into the uninspiring, black and white world it was before. With the group bummed about the depressing ending, Janice snaps at Fredwynn about the text to her nurse and Peter and Simone share a heart to heart about their new revelations that day. However, they’re given one final revelation that’s super satisfying and answer a lot of the questions the series has been leaving fans since the start – all of this IS real.
Aside from some cliché and overly familiar story beats, episode five of Dispatches from Elsewhere introduces viewers to Clara’s story and gives them a visually inspirational experience that’s constantly elevated through all of the great performances. Best of all, it answers one of the most pertinent questions about everything that’s been happening since the start in an incredibly satisfying and simple fashion. This second half of the season is truly going to be one hell of a ride.