Enlightened, Season 2
A tale of two meltdowns.
Courtesy of HBO
When early looks at Enlightened began to make the rounds, they foretold a series about a woman unhinged, an Almodovarian campfest anchored by a fierce Laura Dern. Jagged-jawed, with rivers of mascara running from her eyes, Dern’s face filled sublime early posters and trailers, and the opening moments of the pilot episode did not disappoint. We first meet Amy Jellicoe in a toilet stall face down, contorted and crying, before she launches into a swift but utterly devastating meltdown. Before those three minutes finally end with Amy prying open an elevator door and shrieking epithets at a former lover, the scene likely scared off half the show’s potential audience in one frantic swoop.
Those who stuck around, of course, have found an incredibly sensitive series about the joys, process, and marked perils of reinvention. The end of the second season this weekend will feel more like an end to one extended miniseries: Creator Mike White has said that though he always envisioned Enlightened as a series about a whistleblower, he simply got too lost in his characters to jam that entire plot into a single season. Instead he has brought the arc full circle with this cycle of episodes, tracing Amy’s journey from professional and personal ruin to self-styled revolution, and, finally, back to an uncertain future not unlike when we first met her.
So it was fitting that Sunday’s penultimate episode, “No Doubt,” ended on a kind of mirror of that pilot sequence. With Amy’s supposedly rebuilt life collapsing—she finally realizes she has no job, and Jeff says they shouldn’t see each other—we saw a familiar, ominous look in Amy’s eyes as she marched out of his Los Angeles apartment to her car. She climbed in crying and desperately grabbed the steering wheel. Then someone honked. And honked. As Amy flew out of her car, the shaken honker told her she just wants to parking space. “That’s all you want?” Amy screamed. “That’s all you fucking want?”
That we seem to be essentially where we began in this moment doesn’t diminish the series’ journey so far. Amy’s recovery began as a personal reinvention, but after she had her epiphany in Hawaii, she returned to find the same world that had sucked the life out of her. Her plan to take down Abaddon, and her bumbling double life as a whistleblower, have been a gloss—a fantasy she is finally realizing could leave her even more profoundly in flux than she was before.
When Amy is finally through yelling, she smashes into several cars, another old pastime, and speeds down the long, endless road ahead. She clearly doesn’t know where she’s going.