End of Season Report: Enlightened, Season 2

17 Jul

Amy looks onAs I mentioned in my review of the first season of Enlightened, when I watched the first episode, I didn’t like it.  Even after watching both seasons and enjoying them greatly,, I still don’t think my initial impression was wrong.  The primary problem I had was that I didn’t like the main character, Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe.  After watching two seasons, I still don’t, in so much as she would drive me crazy if I ever had to hang out with her.  She has a number of qualities that drive me crazy, including a quasi new age outlook and never knowing when to stop talking. That said, over two seasons of really getting to know her and her life, it’s hard not to both empathize and sympathize with her.

Enlightened is about the sense of powerlessness felt by the average person into today’s modern corporate suburban world.  Amy Jellicoe struggles in a pointless office job working at mindless tasks at a computer. The only purpose of her department is to put other people out of work, and eventually to put herself and her colleagues out of work when they’ve done enough.  The series begins when after fifteen years climbing the corporate ladder, she has a breakdown, and comes back only to realize what a meaningless life she’s been living.  She’s surrounded by poor, sad individuals who have simply lost any desire or ability they once had to make something more out of their careers, led by Mike White’s Tyler, who simple gave up on trying years ago.

However, while the first season is about just how powerless the characters are, the second season instead decides to give them a fighting chance.  Every character, with the possible exception of Amy’s mother, is given a shot to actually come out of things a little bit better than they started out.  Additionally, the second season is more serial than the first, as there’s a running plotline focused around Amy trying to take down her evil corporate overlords Abaddon, headed up by CEO Chalres Szidon, played by the ultimate white collar man James Rebhorn.

Amy, high off of her ability to convince her drunk and drug-addled ex-husband to go to rehab at the conclusion of the first season, must go back to her mind-numbing day job at Abaddon.  What chances is that her one friend one the job, computer expert Tyler, knows how to crack into corporate e-mails, and with that information Amy believes she can finally do what she’s sought out to do since the beginning of the series.  Prove herself as a force for good.  Take down an evil company, lifting up the little people, and making planet Earth, on balance, a better place.  She hooks up with, both figuratively and literally, an LA Times investigative reporter, who seems initially put off by Amy but is exicted about her reputed ability to get top secret e-mails from what he’s long theorized was a criminal corporate enterprise.  As she uses her hacked computer access to contribute, he invites her to an event where she sees a woman who was able to start a website and influence the world from a position even worse than hers.  She sees world outside of herself.  One person can actually make a difference. She’s naive, but she’s not crazy.  It’s difficult not to sympathize with her wanting to actually make some positive change in her life, even if it can be occasionally cringe-inducing the way she goes about it.

While her quest to get a muckraking expose published certainly provides Amy with the feeling that she can actually do something, several times over the season it feels as if Amy is in over her head. Amy forms a romantic relationship with the reporter, which goes sour when the reporter dismisses her before the story is published because of the appearance of  impropriety it might create, noting that both he and Amy knew what their relationship was. Amy didn’t.  Amy actually gets an incredible opportunity she’s always wanted towards the end of the season when she gets to meet with the CEO of Abaddon and is offered a position designed around making company socially responsible.  While it seems like Amy’s acceptance of this position should be the dream ending, it’s a cruel tease.  By this point in the season, it’s too late for this half-measure of working within the corporate structure. The expose on Abaddon that specifically mentions Amy is about to come out and there’s no putting on the breaks on it just because she’s gotten an opportunity which offers her the potential to make change and be financially stable at the same time.  You can’t have everything though, and it would have felt like a little bit of both a cop out and a sell out for Amy to accept at this point, even if she could.  She made her bed with her choice to reach up and a grab a chance to make a deeper permanent mark at the price of sacrificing a potential comfortable position and for better or worse, though hopefully better, she now has to lie in it.

Vastly needed comic relief comes in the form of wonderful boss character Dougie Daniels played by Til Death’s Timm Sharp.  He’s hilarious throughout as the douchey, tech-savvy boss of Amy’s basement unit, who thinks a lot more of himself than just about anyone else does.  He’s all about following the corporate order until he finds out the corporate order is about to fire his ass, at which point he’s all about revenge.  While Amy persuades him to help her out with her espionage mission in pursuit high-minded ideals, Dougie is willing to go only as far as simply to screw the fuckers who are letting him go.

Luke Wilson’s Levi Callow doesn’t get a ton of time to shine in the second season, but he uses the time he gets well.  The third episode, which focuses on his plight attending rehab in Hawaii, is one of the better episodes of the season, if not the best, and features Christopher Abbott of Girls fame having a lot more fun than he ever does in Girls.  For people who can’t get into the show due to Amy’s character, I would highly recommend a viewing of this episode even without context, for the powerful storytelling and writing Enlightened brings to the table.

Mike White’s Tyler also gets an unexpected opportunity for happiness.  He interacts with executive secretary Eileen, played by Molly Shannon, as part of the conspirators’ attempts to gain access to some deeply hidden documents, but ends up falling in love.  Tyler’s quest to bond with another human is lonelier but just as moving if not moreso than Amy’s.  It seems like guaranteed tragedy once Eileen learns why Tyler ran into her in the first place. Surprisingly, however for this show, this potential disaster is turned around when Amy’s insistence that Tyler wasn’t in on the down and dirty details of the conspiracy brings the two of them back together.  No one on the deserves a happy ending more than Tyler.

And that brings me what was remarkable about the second season. Enlightened, one of the most depressing shows in the past few years to air on television, actually has a happy ending.    In some ways it’s certainly unexpected for a show that sometimes just feels like it’s beating you down, letting you get slightly back up, and then bating you down again, but it doesn’t feel cheap.  Amy doesn’t have a great time over the course of the series, but she earns the peace of mind she gets at the end.  I’m not sure how much of an idea series creator Mike White had that this would be the final season, but even though I’d prefer more episodes, it’s hard to believe if there were more, it wouldn’t end at a lower point.

In the last episode, Amy, when her identity as the source of scandalous leaked documents breaks out, is pulled out of her job and brought up to see the CEO and a bevy of executives and lawyers.  She’s fired of course, among other negative consequences, but they’ll sue her brains out if she doesn’t tell them exactly what documents were leaked.  I half-expected Amy to fold, realizing she had made a mess of what could have been a great situation for her.  She doesn’t though.  This is Amy’s moment of triumph.  It’s to her advantage here to be a little person.  Sue away, she says.  She doesn’t own anything and is deeply in debt.  For a moment, her terrible situation is turned into an asset.  Only someone who had been in her position of hopelessness could have had the desperation to topple this corrupt CEO.  And about that, she wasn’t wrong either.  The CEO really did do some terrible things, and she really is the one to be responsible for restoring a little balance to the world.  Seeing her photo on the cover, she earned that.

Amy is annoying.  Amy is irritating.  That never really changes over the course of the show; she never curbs all the activities that drive me crazy when watching her.  That said, her life is rough.  She had a marriage fall apart after a miscarriage, she has a depressed mom, and the person she thinks as her best friend kind of hates her, and well.  She deserves a win, and it’s gratifying to see her get one.

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One Response to “End of Season Report: Enlightened, Season 2”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: Recap and Mistaken Omissions | Television, the Drug of the Nation - March 12, 2014

    […] a couple of shockingly depressing weekends. I talked a lot about the revelation this season was here, but I’ll say some thoughts in brief. I originally watched the first episode of Enlightened and […]

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