Dispatches from Elsewhere: The Boy (Season Finale) Review
*This Review Contains Spoilers for the Season Finale*
On the season finale of Dispatches from Elsewhere, The Boy, viewers are offered one final surprise that’s legitimately mind-blowing and self-effacing in all the right ways.
After the mind-bending and mysterious cliff-hanger we were left on in the last episode, we finally meet the Clown-faced Boy (Travis Burnett) – a character that we’ve seen throughout the series, but never really understood his importance. However, in the last episode it suddenly seemed like he became the most important character and that’s made even clearer with the opening completely focusing on him, well, being a kid. I think just like most kids, this boy becomes inspired by the likes of The Muppets and Jimmy Stewart to become an actor and yearn for the spotlight. Even for the black and white colors, there’s something very lively about this opening as we see him trying everything, from ballet to choir, to hone his skills and his dreams of simply doing it all feel very real. Not to mention, the meeting the “puts together” with his parents is pretty funny.
It’s easy to see this boy has some charisma and confidence and when he eventually does a performance for some talent scouts it’s easy to see that he has some talent as well. While I do find the song choice of “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain to be a little cliché, the acrobatics and vibrant singing of the boy show that he’s got some skills. One of the scouts even notices it and the two go on a tour that’s incredibly animated and looks awesome. However, as these last few episodes have been hinting at, things aren’t exactly as they appear. While the boy might be getting all of the fame and chocolate milk he could ever ask for, he questions if things are starting to get stale. It’s the kind of artist and manager squabble we’ve seen before, but it takes a real toll on the boy as he goes from being a happy clown to a very sad one.
With his manager suggesting they go out on one final bang, we get another “this is the end” moment that actually stings and feels real because it finally is. The conversation we see with the boy having a heart to heart with his mirror reflection is poignant and made even tougher because it’s a young boy having these thoughts. It’s even harder to watch him try to perform while holding back tears and wanting to run off stage. Eventually, his attempt to do a backflip ends in a flop and everyone leaves. We then get two scenes that are very mind-blowing.
Not only does the boy refer to his manager as Octavio, but we see Peter (Jason Segel) talking about some of the issues he’s been having. In this impassioned speech, we see that he’s been dealing with a lot of emotions and is frankly stuck as to where to go next. However, it’s eventually revealed that this isn’t Peter, but rather Segel is seemingly playing a fictionalized version of himself that is the older version of the clown-faced boy. Yes everyone, we got full-blown meta for the finale – or at least it seems like we have at first. After hearing some of Jason’s speech it’s likely that Segel is giving viewers a glimpse into how he created the show – especially when he has a conversation with Simone (Eve Lindley).
Simone is also at the AA meeting to help with some kind of drinking problem and makes a connection with Jason that warms your heart in the same way she did with Peter. Eventually, she gets him to go along with her to her hideaway and we get some hints as to where things are going. There’re some recurring imagery that we’ve seen through, like the carousel the boy is seen riding at one point, and some connections to Peter and Jason’s stories with Simone having him write a list of things he likes. Things only get weirder when Simone gives him a post card to go Elsewhere. There’s also a moment where Simone makes a comment about getting thoughts and ideas from a former life, but made me wonder if we were dealing with some of reality shifts or parallel timelines. Regardless, things get even stranger when Jason arrives at a hotel Simone directs him to and he’s offered a suite in the Jejune suite through a very familiar situation.
This is where I actually started to question if the series what actually going to connect to The Institute – the 2013 documentary this series is based on. I even questioned whether or not this series is essentially Segel recounting his experience within that game – especially when he is transported and directed to a familiar diner location. The scene of him arriving at the diner through a crawlspace is actually a little creepy at first with him having to leave his phone, wallet, and name behind and go a mysterious journey. Jason even runs into some dancing sasquatches and a man carrying milk and I can’t help but love thinking that Segel actually did all of this at one point – if that’s true.
Then, just as Jason finds an arcade cabinet, titled Dispatches from Elsewhere, that delivers both an incredible sequence of him trying to solve a puzzle and poignant questions about his own personal struggles – the true intentions of this meta turn start to come to fruition. After having a rousing pep talk with Janice (Sally Field), we see that Jason is inspired to write the series and takes his first draft to Simone – only to not get the results he wanted. Although Simone likes most of it, she finds herself not feeling like there’s enough self-reflection for Jason and he kind of comes off like a victim when that might not be totally the case. In some ways, I’ve never really realized this, but it’s kind of true for most of the characters. A lot of times in the last couple of episodes, the characters feel as if things are just fixed without ever fully looking at themselves and it causes this slow continuation of their issues because they rarely take the time to see themselves as the problem. The last episode definitely started to delve into this, but it’s very upfront about it here and it’s taking a hard look at Segel. Frustrated that he doesn’t find the sense of success he’s looking for, Segel looks to his younger self for direction and it’s the most beautiful scene of the entire series and embodies what’s its purpose really is.
The series is really Segel rediscovering himself and trying to find some direction in what to do next. It’s an incredibly personal moment of reflection that for most would be hard to face and I love how it doesn’t present an easy answer. Even when Jason thinks that he’s cured, his younger self reminds him that he’s not, but rather that he’s starting on that path. It’s made all the more genuine through Segel’s performance and a line from his younger self about writing another Muppets movie, which was pretty much the last time that Segel was at a high point in the spotlight and even earned some high recognition, that is absolutely perfect and really touched my heart.
However, like most of the series, one question always seems to remain – where is Fredwynn (Andre Benjamin)? Well, he’s saved for last as he has more question for Jason about what this experience has meant to him and Segel’s answer kicks off one of the most innovative and meaningful finales I’ve ever seen. From Fredwynn calling the series “Fight Club on acid but written by someone who likes life,” to Jason talking about how the series has changed him as person and is basically a embodiment of who he is, to the curtain being pulled back again to not only have the characters reflect on the series but also highlight the cast and crew who have worked on it, it’s self-reflective and emotional in all the right ways and leaves viewers with something they can take in their own lives. Not to mention, Octavio’s (Richard E. Grant) final narration and the use of audience recordings is not only incredibly innovative storytelling at work, but incredible in how the series sticks its points about self-reflecting and finding meaning in those around you as well as yourself.
The season finale of Dispatches from Elsewhere instills why this series is so unique, innovative, and powerful. It creates inspiration through looking at Segel’s downfalls and reflections as an artist and a strong sense of human empathy in his search for himself. Just when the series seemed to find plenty of great directions for its ending, its best one was truly hidden of Segel’s sleeve all along. Frankly, this is THE SERIES people shouldn’t be sleeping on as it truly as the storytelling, heart, and genuine humanity to be thought provoking. A truly perfect and surprising end to one of the series out there.