Dispatches from Elsewhere
In order to break from his everyday routine, Peter calls the mysterious Jejune Institute and accepts an orientation meeting. Upon arrival, he realizes that the building is not what it seems and is set forth on a path to finding greater meaning.
How long have you waited for your Hogwarts acceptance letter? For a droid to pull up with a mysterious message for old Ben Kenobi? How many times have you graced your fingers across the back of an old wardrobe, or willed an object to move with only the power of your mind?
There are two types of people in this world: those who wish for more, and liars. Everyone wants that moment. We want to become the protagonist, to find magic within us, and to leave the mundanity of our world behind. We want to be special. We want to be seen. Maybe not all of the time, maybe not even most of the time—but sometimes. Definitely sometimes.
In 2008, a performative art piece located in San Francisco granted this feeling to over 7,000 people. With a widespread social gaming environment that can best be described as Welcome to Night Vale meets a multi-district scavenger hunt, a project known as The Jejune Institute created a community of people who, by many accounts, experienced a little bit of real-world magic.
AMC’s Dispatches from Elsewhere is the fictional retelling of this experiment. And, honestly? It’s kind of rocking it.
With two episodes aired, the show is so far creating a distinct and satisfying aesthetic that very nearly replicates that of the original game. Despite some minor changes—Philadelphia instead of San Francisco and Clara instead of Eva—it is so abundantly clear from where the series draws its inspiration. A questionable narrator draws the viewer in, with a careful sort of speech that forces one to listen. A mysterious story compels curious minds to explore.
It’s a great opportunity for televisual innovation, and thankfully this show is in the rare position that its creators seem to know its potential. Already there are signs of using the medium to help shape the story, providing that very same element of immersiveness that The Jejung Institute originally provided. Dispatches isn’t about the scavenger hunt—it’s about the people who are following it and the bonds that are made throughout. It’s not about uncovering the Big Bad Evil Guy and is instead about finding everyday happiness.
This premier got my hopes up, which is more than can be said for most of the world’s pilot episodes, and it did so by making a whole lot of promises. It promises to be a story that embraces our mundanity and acknowledges simplicity. It swears to be a lesson about magic, and how that of Narnia and Hogwarts couldn’t hold a flame to the real, raw, tangible force of humanity. I hope that this show tricks me, then tricks me again, and forces me to interact with it in a way that I’ve never interacted with it before.
This show holds a power that’s unique to most everything else, stringing together a story that’s already captured the hearts of 7,000+ San Francisco residents. Maybe it’s selfish, but I want a piece of that. Purposeful or not, I hope that this show can deliver on all of the promises it keeps making me.
There’s a great amount of potential building up and a creative team that I inexplicably trust. It’s pretty directly influenced by the 2013 documentary on the same subject, but that’s part of the intrigue. The story is already good enough. It isn’t going to need much changing. Instead, the show focuses on personhood and creates moments of deep empathy between the viewer and the characters.
Dispatches from Elsewhere: The Promise of Realistic Escapism
- Writing - 7/107/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Music - 5/105/10
- Production - 10/1010/10