So long, New York.
With Friday night’s finale on HBO, John Wilson has ended his fantastic three-season run of How To with John Wilson. In true JW fashion, the bonkers, lovely, chaotic show concluded with a topic so banal (tracking packages), but which spirals completely out of control into a full-blown existential crisis. Strap in for one last wild ride through Wilson’s New York.
Wilson reveals in the episode that he has gotten into the habit of buying random stuff online. Haven’t we all? The excitement while waiting for a package is like no other. Spend $5 on some tchotchkes online and you’ll feel a rush of serotonin that no in-person activity could ever produce. He particularly likes placing bids on eBay—he hovers over a signed Bill Gates photo, flirts with the idea of purchasing a giant flip-flop for $100—and is starting a giant E.T. paraphernalia collection. When Wilson finds a framed photo of E.T. posing with Michael Jackson, he just has to have it.
Sadly, the package is never delivered. Wilson craves the Michael Jackson/E.T. poster so much that he’s willing to go to great lengths to find it. First attempt: Wilson visits a Tarot card reader. Although she can’t tell him where his package is, she warns him about his commitment issues. She laughs in his face. Ouch. Wilson leaves not one step closer to finding his package, and also a little hurt.
What is always delivered intact? Pizzas. Wilson heads to a nearby pizzeria to see what techniques they implement to not lose pizzas when they’re delivered. There’s not much insight to be found there, so Wilson talks with nearby New York residents who have also lost their packages. One man installed cameras, but has grown rather obsessed with watching random passersby. Another woman caught people stealing her packages.
When that woman starts to talk about freezing her eggs (for what reason, who knows), Wilson muses about how bodily organs must be delivered with care. He asks HBO to up an interview at an organ shipping company, but the type of “organ” is lost in translation—he’s introduced to people who ship organs, the musical instruments. He doesn’t mind—that’s pretty interesting stuff too. He follows the Organ Trail (the musical sister of the Oregon Trail) all the way to Arizona.
When the organ arrives in Scottsdale, Wilson is shocked to find an entire strip mall full of organ-themed shops; there’s the organ store, but there’s also a pizza parlor with one of the biggest organs in the country. While the organ plays ABBA and the oven cranks out pizzas, Wilson interviews a handful of patrons, asking them if they’re organ (like the body parts) donors. He finds an interesting fellow who states that he isn’t an organ donor because, instead, he plans to leave his body with Alcor—a company that specializes in cryogenic freezing. Before Wilson can inquire further, “Mamma Mia” starts blasting.
This man, Mike, explains what Alcor does. Workers there will embalm his head (although there are options for your entire body, if you’re willing to pay more) after his legal death. Then, he will stay frozen until, hopefully, humans discover some kind of technology that will revive him. Mike sports a chain on his wrist that is meant to tell medics what to do if he dies: no CPR, no reviving. Just throw him on ice and escort him to Alcor.
Will medics actually know how to do this? “No,” Mike says.
Wilson happens to be visiting Scottsdale at the right time. In just a week, Alcor will host its 50th anniversary celebration. Wilson hangs around, killing some time in the area before crashing the party. The party is well worth it. “This is the Cadillac of being frozen,” says the very first Alcor client Wilson interviews.
Around halfway through the reception, Wilson stumbles upon the founder of Alcor, who graciously offers to take the filmmaker on a tour of the facilities. The creator shows Wilson the ice bath that bodies are placed into after they’re pronounced dead. The whole process takes under 35 minutes. “It’s as fast as getting a pizza delivered,” Wilson exclaims. They even take a tour through the frozen chambers, which look like oversized Campbell soup cans.
Then, there’s a conference with multiple presenters. One guy walks through a slideshow titled “How To (Maybe) Wake Up Really Wealthy.” Another fellow explains the Alcor process, reiterating over and over again that, at this time, the company does not know how to resurrect dead bodies. Still, in order to pay to have your body stored for…well, eternity, you’re going to need to take out a life insurance policy and make Alcor the sole beneficiary. Don’t even think about leaving your kids any money!
Like any of us, Wilson is afraid of death. But as he explains in voiceovers, he isn’t so sure about this cryogenic situation. What do these people plan to do with all the time in the world? (One client already has a plan: Log every episode of The Bachelor with each detail.) Most of the Alcor clients don’t have kids. Wilson ponders: Are children the one true way for a person to truly extend their life?
After the Alcor conference, Wilson follows Mike back to his house for one final existential conversation about death. Wilson explains his theory about children being a different type of cryogenic freezing. Mike says he’s never been into that kind of thing—sex, reproduction, etc.. In fact, Mike confesses, he tried to turn off all sexual desire in his body.
“You could consider it acts of self-surgery,” Mike says. “The sex drive was a bothersome thing. It was a real burden for me, so I wanted to cut it down.”
Self-castration wasn’t enough, Mike says. He cut nerves off in his penis. Still, he was feeling urges. The side effects were worse than the original issue of horniness, Mike explains. He says people think he’s crazy for doing this, so he’s kept it a secret for a while—not because he’s particularly ashamed, but rather because he doesn’t feel like dealing with people who can’t accept him. When (not if—when) Mike is resurrected, he’s asked Alcor not to add testicles back onto his body.
To avoid becoming one of those people Mike says dismiss him as crazy, I will simply keep my mouth shut and let the above summary speak for itself.
This is a big, wacky note for How To to end on, but Wilson takes his finale one step further, cementing his legacy as a creator who is able to spin madness into brilliance. When he arrives back in New York, he receives a long lost post card from his aunt, who has since passed. The packages will find their way eventually.
“Even if you don’t know when your trip is going to end, you have to trust that you’re in good hands along the way,” Wilson says, as if we’re all packages on a route with no destination. “If you’re lucky to wake up in New York in a few thousand years, it’s nice to know that some things will never change. Your neighbor will always be too loud. The bathroom will always be closed.”
And your package will be lost. Wilson thanks New Yorkers for their time and signs off for the last time.