A Reliable Narrator?
Dispatches From Elsewhere is utterly bizarre. This show – presuming the rest of the episodes follow the same surreal path as this – feels like someone looked at Alice In Wonderland and realized it needed to be more abstract and surreal This does make for a somewhat alienating experience and something that may not be for everyone. It’s something that will almost certainly polarize audiences, believing this is being weird just for the sake of it. In a way, they’re not wrong but right now it’s far too early to see if this is a worthwhile dive down the rabbit hole or not.
Episode 1 of Dispatches from Elsewhere begins with a man back-dropped by an orange background narrating our journey, telling us that he’s going to avoid exposition as we’re introduced to our central protagonist – Peter. He also mentions that he’s a reliable narrator – despite lying once in his introduction- as a warm, somewhat off-kilter, smile crosses his face.
Peter is a very ordinary, very unremarkable man, living a very uneventful, risk-free life. Our tale begins with him seeing several signs and as day turns to night, he sees a mysterious hooded figure putting up a flyer about a missing person. That missing person being himself. After phoning the number on the flyer and receiving an odd set of instructions, he heads to therapy and talks to his therapist about how trapped and bored he is with his own life.
Deciding to take a risk, he arrives at the Jejune Institute and is immediately encouraged to visit floor 16. After following the strict set of instructions on the key he’s given, Peter sits infront of the TV and listens as the voice talks about different products, including a clone program (early signs point to this potentially being a dose of foreshadowing. Is the mysterious figure he saw himself?).
We’re then introduced to Octavio Coleman, founder of Jejune and the man we saw at the start of the episode, talking via a recorded video. He tells us the more we learn, the more we’ll understand. He encourages Peter to follow him to the special world, prompting our protagonist to burst into tears and begin questioning his own reality.
This deep dive down the rabbit hole continues as Peter’s forced out the building and on the run courtesy of some instructions in the drawer next to him. He stumbles into a shop where he finds a strange woman called Simone. Thanks in part to her influence, he sees the world through a brand new lens. His newfound clarity brings him back to his therapist again, before Peter walks down the street as the signs chip away to show different messages, including one that says “Visit Elsewhere”.
Commander 14 of the Elsewhere Society suddenly rings him and demands his assistance. Peter follows his instructions and dances in the street, prompting him to be handed a package in the process. In the midst of doing this, he finds Simone wandering through the park, also with a package of her own. Together they listen to Radio Nonchalance where they’re told to try and evade the Jejune Institute and Octavio Coleman. Janice arrives to join them too and together, the trio are tasked with their mission of finding Clara, who is allegedly the harbinger of Nonchalance.
Reconvening in the nearby diner, they talk about what the broadcast is, with Fredwynn suspecting that this is a government experiment. The spotlight then turns to Peter who questions whether this is actually real. After their talk, Simone leaves the trio to sit alone and eat their pie. Simone heads outside and a slick split screen shot materializes, featuring a cartoon mimicking her every move down the street.
After fending off two attackers, Simone heads home and as she smiles at the camera, we cut back to Octavio who tells us to think of her as us, before snapping his finger and ending the episode.
Is this rabbit hole worth tumbling down? This is something you’ll almost certainly be asking yourself while watching Dispatches From Elsewhere. As someone who actively searches for the weird and wonderful in the world of television, AMC’s latest show could be one of those genius productions that lifts the veil of confusion and produces something truly stunning. Then again, it could also turn into one of the most nonsensical, poorly produced time-wasters of the year – no pressure then!
With a good amount of deadpan comedy and some slick editing across the first episode, Dispatches From Elsewhere has a seriously interesting hook but whether it has lucrative enough bait to keep you nibbling and coming back for more, remains to be seen. Only time will tell what direction this story goes but right now, for better or worse, Dispatches from Elsewhere is one of the oddest shows on TV.