(Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “How To with John Wilson” Season 3, Episode 6, “How To Track Your Package” — the series finale.)
Certain scenes from “How To with John Wilson” never really leave your brain. Kyle MacLachlan swiping his Metro card. The multi-purpose use of scaffolding. Muh-ma. Season 3, the documentary’s final season, has already provided indelible memories of self-cleaning public restrooms, an allegorical (yet very real) car explosion, and, of course, professional earwax removal. (Who’s already booked an appointment with your local Otolaryngologist?) But the finale, “How To Track Your Package,” not only triggers (and soothes) acute fears of absent parcels, it also evokes two milestones from “How To’s” debut seasons; two moments that illustrate what makes Wilson’s documentary such a joy to watch and so amazing to behold; two scenes that help send the series off with scholarly closure, while still fitting snugly into this week’s altruistic arc.
The first is conjured when John meets an Alcor employee out in Arizona. One may wonder what a cryogenic freezing company 2,400 miles from New York has to do with tracking packages in America’s largest city, but unless this is your first time with “How To,” you already know the answer. Wilson (along executive producer Nathan Fielder and co-writers/EPs Michael Koman and Allie Viti) lets his curiosity carve the path for each half-hour entry. That often means veering from a beat-by-beat answer to each episode’s titular question into whatever odd idea (or person) suddenly comes into view.
Here, that manifests when John’s team “mistakenly” sets up an interview with an organ shipping company (as in the instrument) rather than an organ shipping company (as in the parts of a human’s anatomy). He’s a good sport and talks with the transpo’s bossy showman “Vince the Prince” before spending three days on a cross-country road trip with the crated up musical device — or, as Wilson bashfully puts it via his signature stutter, “driving the organ trail.”
Sticking to his stumbled-upon theme, John visits Scottsdale’s Organ Stop Pizza shop, home to one of the country’s biggest organs — as well as at least one Alcor employee. After finding out the elderly man (let’s call him Alvin, since Wilson keeps him anonymous) plans to have his head cryogenically frozen in the hopes of someday being revived once science finds out how to cheat death, Wilson is all in. He kills a week in Arizona waiting for the company’s 50th anniversary celebration, then tags along with Alvin to talk to other folks who’ve paid to have their “remains put in liquid nitrogen after death” — or, as one such participant makes sure to clarify, “after legal death.”
At the meet-and-greet cocktail hour, some customers seem more comfortable living in denial than accepting death’s finality, like one woman who says that when her father died, her 4-year-old son “doesn’t accept that, and I don’t accept that either.” Others dream of a better future, though “better” is certainly a relative term when listening to a client talk about needing “alternate bodies.” “We need (…) very much like a wardrobe of bodies.” …OK. Sure. Moving on, Wilson soon gets us a guided tour of the facilities, where his camera comes lens to cylindrical metal with storage tanks housing “four whole-body patients” (and their bucket-sized lil’ buddies made just for heads). “I have head only,” John’s primary subject says.
To describe the episode’s Alcor section as astonishing doesn’t quite do it justice (The Beatles’ “Please, Please Me” parody song… my god). Part cult, part scam, part eerily common coping mechanism — after all, paying a bunch of money to ensure you’re well taken care of once you die isn’t that far removed from dropping your weekly donation in the church collection basket — Alcor is a treasure trove of peculiar people behaving in peculiar fashion. (I would appreciate an extended bonus scene with “The Bachelor” savant, just to better understand his taxonomy.)
And yet, even when Alcor reps start asking people to sign over their life insurance policies, the most jaw-dropping announcement comes back at Alvin’s house. When they sit down for their final interview, Wilson asks if the 70-year-old man thinks it’s selfish to choose not to have kids. By then, Wilson has moved on from what Alcor’s clients want, and he’s trying to grasp why they want it. “Maybe it’s dangerous to have extra time,” he says, overlooking the hotel’s swimming pool where a dad is playing with his newborn. “Maybe it would be better to devote your time to someone else’s life instead of worrying about your own. But there’s still a part of you that isn’t really sure about that either.”
“I feel like some people’s way of life extension is through children,” he tells Alvin, and that’s when things go sideways. Turns out, not only did Alvin lack any desire to reproduce, he also took extreme measures to avoid sexual temptation in the first place. He describes committing acts of “self-surgery” as an adolescent because his sex drive “was a real bothersome thing.” But the resulting pain and embarrassment were worse than his initial irritation. “You were removing your testicles in secret?” Wilson says. “Right,” he says. “Why did you feel you needed to keep it a secret?” “People just think that’s crazy,” Alvin says. “They just do.”
Wilson doesn’t — or, more accurately, he doesn’t let Alvin feel any judgement of that ilk. His considerate yet invested interview style allows for his subjects to speak for themselves, to have their say when it’s clear others have refused to hear them out, and while sometimes what’s shared is both unexpected and unsettling, “How To” isn’t in the embarrassment game. It’s looking deeper than that. And it always has been.
The finale’s closing conversation with Alvin evokes memories of Season 1’s visit with, of all people, a foreskin restoration enthusiast. Described as “anti-circumcision” and offering an array of devices promising to restore a man’s penis to its original uncut glory, the interview takes place mid-demonstration. In a series built from a steady stream of evocative images (so many you can’t look away, even for a second, without risking the chance of missing another fantastic shot), it’s an unforgettable moment. But John doesn’t lean in. He doesn’t gawk. He doesn’t convey any shame or derision. Instead, he’s as eyes-wide-open as his camera — capturing life’s eccentricities before stitching them together in search of greater meaning.
In the finale, he finds it once again. Not every “How To” episode comes together cleanly. Some pursuits push themes too far afield, and even the aforementioned Season 1 episode (“How To Cover Your Furniture”) feels more disjointed than Wilson’s best work. “How To Track Your Package,” meanwhile, is as tight a steel drum filled with dead bodies. Sure, there are diversions — like when John visits a Michael Jackson memorabilia salesman, or when he hangs out with a new dad — but they’re quick, clever, or used as an opportunity to build out ideas. That dad’s admission — that his absent father left him “scared” to have a kid of his own — works as a seed for Wilson to harvest later in the episode.
As if by magic, which “How To” so often feels like, the documentary that begins as a way to make sure your mail doesn’t go missing becomes a meditation on mortality. Wilson is contemplating whether he wants kids, the emotional weight of certain mementos, and, yes, the meaning of life. After his parents show him a postcard from his late aunt that arrived decades after her death, Wilson says, “So maybe it’s OK if your package takes a while to get where it’s going. Because it’s better than not having any package at all.”
To me, “How To” hasn’t unearthed such profundity since its Season 2 masterpiece, “How To Find a Spot” — aka, “The Parking Spot Burial Plot.” Simply equating a New York City driver’s endless search for parking to every human being’s endless search for a peaceful resolution to their life is brilliant, full stop, but Wilson revels in the poetic details of his perceptive parallel. He finds a designer who makes caskets that look like cars. He interviews a man who’s been struck by lightning — twice. And throughout it all, “How To” peppers in joke after joke, turning the vicariously infuriating experience of driving in circles into a deeply moving acknowledgement of how we’re all just spinning our wheels, so why not have a few laughs?
The series finale reaches a similar conclusion. “It’s nice to know that some things will never change,” Wilson narrates, ticking off the topics from each episode of Season 3. “Your neighbor will always be too loud. The bathroom will always be closed. You’ll never be sure who you can trust, and New York will never know when to stop growing. Because at the end of the day, the city is a reflection of who we are, and it will always be both our healer and oppressor. But as long as the first one in is always the last one out, you might just have enough time here to learn a thing or two.”
“How To” helps us do just that. So thanks for sharing your movies, John. My memory hasn’t exactly improved since 2020, but so much of what you’ve shared, I hope to never forget.
HBO’s “How To with John Wilson” Seasons 1-3 are available on Max.