“Clara” was the show at its most experimental, but also most truthful, making for the best and most revelatory episode thus far.
This recap of Dispatches From Elsewhere Season 1, Episode 5, “Clara”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
What’s weird about Dispatches From Elsewhere Episode 5, or at least weirder than usual, is that it operates almost entirely in extremes. In “Clara” the show is at its most abstract but understandable; its most formally adventurous but dramatically linear. This, somehow, feels right. It’s a balance that made for the best, most revelatory episode thus far.
It begins where we left off, with a trapdoor in Fishtown leading Fredwynn (André Benjamin), Peter (Jason Segel), Simone (Eve Lindley) and Janice (Sally Field) into what they assume is the secret hideout of Clara (Cecilia Balagot), the episode’s namesake and the missing girl at the heart of both the Elsewhere Society and the Jejune Institute.
Making a welcome change from Octavio’s (Richard E. Grant) fourth-wall-breaking narration, Clara, imagined by Peter as a talking painting of herself, relates her own backstory, which is scrawled on the walls of the dingy room. She grew up in Fishtown, where you are born, live and die without having changed a thing. This was a fate too mundane for Clara, who believed herself to be destined for more. Her ambition manifests as feeling blue, though not in the traditional sense, and painting a window in that color that opens to Elsewhere (capitalization is mine – for now.)
Outside of Clara’s gradually brightening recollections, Fredwynn cuts himself, and while being patched up by Janice in the bathroom of the house upstairs, smells salt. A match held to the wall reveals the rest of Clara’s story, flowing in neat script across every surface. Thus it continues. Through the blue window, Clara meets Matteo, Sanjay (Sebastian Paba), and Kimbra (Venus Schultheis). They become firm friends, even if they initially scoff at Clara’s fantastical ideas for making Fishtown a more special place.
But Clara isn’t the type to be told no, so she busies herself under a patchwork tarp painting the side of a building with a living mural of a waterfall that trickles and splashes with the flow of water. This is Elsewhere; imagination made real. The townsfolk love it, as do Clara’s friends. To a local, she explains it was a product of her divine nonchalance. The beginnings of the Elsewhere Society, their ideology and catchphrases, are starting to take shape. Clara and her friends are the first members.
Dispatches From Elsewhere Episode 5 abandons Clara’s perspective for a while, as the group agrees to reconvene after the workday, suitably inspired by Clara’s story. Peter believes Simone might be best-suited to deciphering what they’ve learned, given her art degree, though she herself seems skeptical. She nonetheless asks her professor about the murals, and he tells her there’s a long history of such things. When asked if she’ll be returning to art school, Simone opens up about why she can’t – why she isn’t capable of a big decision right now, not so soon after her transition and in a period of such emotional flux. It’s the most truthful discussion of happiness and identity the show has managed thus far, and the most natural, human moment of an episode about moving paintings and the formation of secret societies. When Simone leaves to “find her Elsewhere”, her professor and the audience both understand that she isn’t talking about anything fantastical.
In that conversation, Simone is reminded of Clara’s words, and at work, Peter hears her voice too. He’s convinced by her to play the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” for all the users on the Spotify-like service he works for, which gets him fired. But no matter, since in the same conversation, Peter quits. When his boss asks if he was listening to a word he said, he happily tells him no, he wasn’t. His usually expressionless face wears a smile.
Clara’s story has clearly resonated with all of our characters. Janice tells Lev about her and is confronted by his nurse about a text message she apparently sent the night before, though she has no memory of doing so. Fredwynn, once again taking matters into his own hands, triggers the next part of Clara’s history, as she and her friends set up their home base and continue to create art all over Fishtown, eventually attracting the attention of a woman in a limousine. Once the group is reunited, Janice discovers the next installment.
We see Octavio try and recruit Clara, the woman from the limo a Jejune representative. His speech to her is not entirely dissimilar to the one from the premiere, which brought Peter to tears with its insistence of his specialness. Octavio tells Clara that she, too, is special, and that special people have to be careful who they surround themselves with – and that her friends, despite having helped her spruce up Fishtown, don’t qualify. She rejects him. She doesn’t want to change the world without them or to monetize hope as a product as Jejune do.
But Octavio isn’t to be told no. He dispatches his colleague, who apparently knows what to do, to kidnap Clara. They fight in an animated interstitial in which Clara stabs her in the eye with a paintbrush. But she’s caught and vanishes. Her story, at least for now, ends.
But her story was real, which is confirmed by Simone’s art professor, who interrupts her developing romantic tension with Peter to email her a photo of a life-like mural discovered two decades prior – Clara’s waterfall. Dispatches From Elsewhere Season 1, Episode 5 ends with Octavio snapping his fingers.
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