Through four episodes of Jason Segel’s Dispatches from Elsewhere, the name “Clara” has been mentioned with incessance. This lost woman has remained a mystery, though it’s clear of her importance to both the characters and the story existing in this world. We still had nearly zero information on Clara, but episode five changed that. Titled after the artist and visionary, “Clara” explores her backstory in glorious and colorful detail, as our heroes attempted to find meaning in their own lives.
Clue 1: Group Reads
Immediately picking up after the events of episode four, Peter (Jason Segel, Simone (Eve Lindley), Janice (Sally Field), and Fredwynn (André Benjamin) find the secret door on the ground and open it up, hoping Clara will be inside and they’ll have won the game. They find a small studio, with a bed, paints, tools, and a self-portrait of Clara. One of these tools is a blacklight flashlight, which reveals writing filling up every wall of the studio, the beginning of Clara’s story.
They find more of her story inside the adjoining house, as they light the bathroom wall on fire to reveal the writing. The team continues to find more and more of her story, placed in unobtrusive ways. The end of her story is even revealed to be knitted along a giant swath of yarn. Though the beginning of Clara’s story becomes much more realized, her persona and her mystery only deepens. Her magnitude in these random people’s lives continues to grow.
Clue 2: Clara’s Creative Rise and Fall
The most essential aspects of episode five deal with Clara directly, focusing on how she became a figure of importance to the Elsewhere Society and the Jejune Institute. It turns out that she was the founder of the Elsewhere Society, along with her other teenage friends in Fishtown.
Clara is you if you are creative, determined, scared, and constantly attempting to avoid “being swallowed up by the dark.” Her story is told through animation, black-and-white imagery, and frenetic storytelling. She turns Fishtown into her home, a place she “can turn into escaping to, instead of escaping from.” Clara is a dreamer.
She paints a giant waterfall mural on a nearby building as an ice cream truck crashes into a fire hydrant in the dead heat of summer. With singular enthusiasm, Clara, with a little help from her friends, starts transforming Fishtown, through art installations, markets, and blasts of color in a colorless town, using the abandoned cigar shop as the Elsewhere Society’s HQ. She even comes up with the term “divine nonchalance” as a retort to a Fishtown resident.
Octavio (Richard E. Grant) and the Jejune Institute hears about Clara’s impact, offering her a spot to create, grow, and enact change at the Institute. She denies him, stating that “You can’t sell hope. It belongs to everyone.” Soon after, Clara is scooped up by Octavio’s henchwoman and she disappears. It’s hard to fake your semblance of inspiration after watching Clara’s sequences of growth and change, because it’s actually affecting. She’s inspiring, even in a cheesy and classic kind of way.
Clue 3: Personal Changes
Threading through episode five are short stories relating to each of the characters on the team. Clara has affected them, too. Peter plays the song “Good Vibrations” for every person in the world listening to a playlist on his company’s service, leading to him quitting his job, or rather getting fired while he tries to quit. Simone visits her past art professor, chatting about her inability to find something that makes her feel good. She doesn’t want to pick the wrong profession, the wrong job, the wrong path, a feeling most of us can relate to.
Janice and Fredwynn struggle to land on positive terms, after he sent a mean (and weird) text to her housekeeper from Janice’s phone in the last episode. Janice yells at him and he has difficulty understanding her emotions and her perspective. The group’s cohesion has increasingly broken apart, even though Clara’s ideals have all put them into introspective moods.
An inspiring episode ends on an equally interesting note, one that is less of a surprise but still has consequences. After Peter and Simone exchange “I’m glad we met” statements, Simone receives an email from her college professor, since she had asked him to look into the waterfall mural. The mural was from 20 years ago. It’s real. The whole thing is real. Clara’s real. The story is real. All of the inspiration, the emotion, and the disappearance of both body and creativity is real.
Michael Frank is a film critic and journalist based in Brooklyn. He thinks the Before trilogy should be in the Louvre and once bumped into John Oliver at brunch. He has bylines in RogerEbert, Film Inquiry, The Playlist, and AwardsWatch.