(Warning: This post contains major spoilers for the “Dispatches From Elsewhere” finale.)
Jason Segel ended up quite literally becoming himself with the final “spooky and surprises”-filled episode of his AMC limited series “Dispatches From Elsewhere.”
During the trippy drama’s finale, which aired Monday, Segel was no longer playing Peter — the character we’d come to know and love over the first nine episodes — but portraying a very true-to-real-life version of himself, an actor fans have come to know and love over the last two decades.
This transformation from Peter to Jason happened via a young Clown Boy who came to lead Peter away from “Team Blue” — comprised of his girlfriend Simone (Eve Lindley) and good friends Janice (Sally Field) and Fredwynn (Andre Benjamin) — to give viewers yet another big reveal in a show that’s been packed with twists from the start: the story you’ve been watching is a show that Jason Segel is writing while figuring out what to do with the next phase of his life and career, following some professional decisions that he regrets and his recovery from substance abuse.
“To me, the finale is sort of the ultimate culmination of the themes of the series,” Segel told TheWrap, when we spoke with both him and “Dispatches” showrunner Mark Friedman about the episode. “One of the prevailing things that is trying to come through in those episodes is that if we open ourselves up to one another, we’re more alike than we are being led to believe. And that maybe, if we just started dropping our facades and being honest with each other, it would help create some sense of community or alleviate some sense of loneliness.”
“So as I was exploring those themes and writing the first nine episodes, I thought to myself, ‘Well do you mean it? Do you really believe that?’ And if the answer is yes, which it has to be if you’re gonna spend this amount of time and energy to make something, then you should start with you, right? Like, let’s prove it,” the “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” star said. “And so the whole series as you watch is this series of Russian dolls, of watching people become more and more honest with each other and Episode 10 is just kind of bringing that into our reality. And that continues throughout the whole episode, that starts with the metaphor of ‘The Boy,’ and that continues into my real story, all the way to the faces of our audience.”
Yes, the finale’s meta level gets dialed up even further in the closing moments, when we discover Jason watching “Dispatches” with his co-stars and he brings out the show’s crew and introduces a series of videos sent in by fans who were playing along with an interactive game created by AMC to connect them even more with the show.
“It was one of the first ideas I had around the series, because I was writing this as a movie for a long time and I kept bumping up against this artistic question, which is, what is the value of taking a three-dimensional interactive experience and turning it into a two-hour movie that you’re supposed to just sit there and watch? I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Segel said. “So then, very quickly, I realized that I wanted the show to be about the participants, to be about individual people and to allow people to participate in the show itself and for it to ultimately be that we all made something together. That was always one of the overarching themes of the show, which is that we’re all doing this together. And I wanted to take that to its limit.”
Segel knows this ending is incredibly unconventional and that it’s sure to illicit a spectrum of different reactions — good and bad — and he’s reached the point where he’s OK with that.
“I think in a lot of ways, the finale is like the same part of me that did full-frontal nudity in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ and the ‘Dracula’ musical, which I did not do as a joke, like, I thought the ‘Dracula’ musical was awesome,” Segel said. “And I was like, ‘I think some people will think this is awesome too and some people will think it’s dumb and some people will laugh with me and some people will laugh at me.’ This is like the 40-year-old version of that. Where vulnerability and fear, I think, become a little bit more sophisticated.”
“Dispatches” showrunner Friedman told TheWrap that transitioning from the more linear story of Team Blue and their search for the truth about Clara throughout Episodes 1-9 to the jump into Jason’s reality in the finale was very tricky, even for a series that pulled back at least one more curtain to reveal another truth in each episode.
“The show, in some ways, builds on itself but also eats itself. Like, not in a bad way, but it turns on itself. It’s very meta,” the executive producer told us. “And Jason always had a conscience decision to pull it out into this reality, especially because of the personal story he tells in the finale.”
That personal story is told primarily through Jason interactions with a woman named Simone (still played by Lindley), who encourages him to go on adventure that leads him to writing “Dispatches From Elsewhere” after they meet in a recovery group. Her notes on the script (that he’s not hard enough on himself) force Jason to reconcile the man he is now and the person he once was, which plays out in a literal fight between the “How I Met Your Mother” alum and the “Clown Boy” (played by Travis Burnett), a child who represents Jason’s youth and lashes out at him for not letting his “freak flag” fly professionally anymore and turning to substance abuse.
“Finding that kid, Travis, was a godsend. I knew in a lot of ways, the finale relied on that kid being fantastic and he really was,” Segel said. “In a lot of ways, he reminded me of me. He was sweet, sensitive, he took it all really seriously (laughs). He reminded me a lot of me actually (laughs). And that scene actually, which is maybe my favorite scene in the show, it actually came about exactly how it came about in the episode itself. It wasn’t in the original scripts and I gave it to somebody to read, my friend Carrie, and she gave me the criticism that I wasn’t hard enough on my own character. And so I went with like a little chip on my shoulder and wrote the most honest, harshest scene I possibly could. And it’s my favorite scene in the show.”
Friedman says he knew how deeply personal “Dispatches From Elsewhere” was to Segel from the start and thus had a very different role to play than a usual showrunner.
“It became clear to me immediately, and not in a bad way, that this is really Jason’s story and a really personal story told in a very Jason Segel way,” Friedman said. “So my job was to be really supportive in helping him become whatever he was comfortable becoming or not becoming. Like, I didn’t give him notes on the recovery group therapy scene or what the Clown Boy says to him. That’s all very personal. And I’m not the guy who is out there showing my proverbial d–k to the world in this final episode and so I was incredibly respectful of that. So I gave many thoughts on how the game works and I wrote a bunch of the show, but the finale, especially since I saw it from the beginning, it was always this destination that was Jason’s destination. So I wouldn’t even project, I respect him a lot for it, because it’s an incredible act of bravery and I feel like he’s very honest with himself in it and very hard on himself and he doesn’t give himself a way out.”
Segel has a “strong impulse to let the show speak for itself” with the criticisms the Clown Boy makes of Jason, which includes a playful crack about writing 2011’s reboot of “The Muppets” film franchise, but he would say this: “There was a point in my early ’30s when I don’t know if I would have had the guts to write the ‘Dracula’ musical anymore. And I thought that was a real problem, that the part of me that had made me the most uniquely me, I had sort of given up in favor of strategy. And ‘Dispatches From Elsewhere’ is really me activating that part of myself that is like, ‘You know what? This is what I’m like and I feel like other people are gonna like it too.'”
But don’t worry, the reconciliation between Jason and the Clown Boy doesn’t mean Segel isn’t going to make you laugh anymore after “Dispatches From Elsewhere” — as should be evident from just how darkly funny that scene was.
“I, as you know, have a very deep comedic background starting from when I was 17 years old and meeting Judd [Apatow],” Segel, who began his career with Apatow’s cult-hit “Freaks and Geeks.” “And then around 33 I decided I wanted to try something different and I did ‘End of the Tour’ and I made a few dramas in a row and found I really loved that and how that made me feel. And ‘Dispatches From Elsewhere’ has been my first opportunity– it’s the first thing I’ve written since trying to figure out what I wanted to do, you know, with this period of my career. And it was my first opportunity to finally reconcile those two parts of me. Like, it’s not one or the other. It’s the tone that I’ve always loved, like of a great James Brooks movie that kind of lulls you in with comedy and then sucker punches you with some drama.”
For those viewers who might feel sucker-punched by the leap from the fictional, bland Peter’s story to the very real Jason’s story, Segel says that switch was “pretty calculated” for you from the start.
“I think Peter’s journey is to find out who he is. He’s sort of nothing, you know? And he has this ultimate arc where at the end of the series he realizes he’s me (laughs),” Segel said. “So I think that in a lot of ways, I knew what was coming in Episode 10. And it was a really interesting arc of trying to play somebody where– the title of ‘The End of the Tour,’ the book that it’s based on is, ‘Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,’ which is a David Foster Wallace quote from [his interview with David Lipsky]. And I guess that was just in the back of my mind for this Peter arc. This is a guy who is like inevitably on a journey of self discovery that will take him back to figuring out who he is.”
And that journey “scared the hell” out of Friedman’s agent “because it was so weird.”
“But that’s what’s so cool about it when we have 500 TV shows, to have something that’s so different and so personal at the same time,” Friedman said. “And I know it was just as important to Jason to rediscover that side of himself. Like, he can always write another ‘Muppets’ movie, he can always go on a sitcom for 10 years if he wants — but he wanted to do something that scratched that itch a little more and was personal and artistic at the same time. And I feel like this really was a passion project for him and I know it took a lot out of him, which he’s now just coming out the other side of because it was so much work. But I think he’s really proud of the results.”
So where does Segel go from here?
“You know, the question is a real compliment, because what the question seems to imply is that, aside from whether or not you like it or not, that there was something of some significance there,” he told us. “And I guess my goal is to continue to seek out things that feel bold in that way. Like, if at the end of every project someone asks me, ‘Where do you go from here?’ I’d be doing like an awesome job (laughs).”