Enlightened, Season 2
Is Amy the fool, the goat, the witch—or is she enlightened?
Posted Sunday, March 3, 2013, at 9:50 PM
Courtesy of HBO
Every week, Jeffrey Bloomer had an IM conversation with a different fan of Enlightened. This week, he dabs his eyes about the Season 2 (and possibly series) finale with June Thomas, a Slate culture critic.
Jeff: Well, June, we got a birth and a CEO near-death in that final half-hour, and plenty more in between. But first the big question: Is Amy the fool, the goat, the witch—or is she enlightened?
June: Look, if caring about something other than money is dopey, she's a fucking moron. And shockingly—because I rarely felt this in the episodes leading to this one—I do think she is enlightened. It felt to me like the confrontation with Szidon was cathartic. When she walked out of the meeting and managed that glorious "He seemed upset" to the security guard accompanying her, it did seem like a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Jeff: Yes, that line was hilarious, and it was gratifying to see Amy hold her own upstairs, even if she had to be sheepishly dragged up there by the HR toads. (Why did she even bother to try to steal her hard drive?) And it wasn't just in that sequence, either—when Jeff invited her over afterward, she declined. It wasn't looking good for Amy last week, but in the end it turns out she really has seen the light.
More about that sequence in the office: The final moment with Szidon babbling obscenities into the elevator clearly mirrored Amy’s meltdown in the pilot. Is that a cute visual gift to patient viewers, or something more?
June: Well, if Mike White hadn't been campaigning for the show to be renewed, I would've been convinced that he intended this as a series finale. And I would've applauded his amazing ability to draw so many strands together over the course of two seasons. As well as the effective parallel between elevator-door rageathons that you pointed out, her final voice-over contained at least five lines from her post-rehab voice-over in the pilot. It was as if she asked questions in the pilot and then answered them in this episode. Her conclusion—"You can change. And you can be an agent of change”—which we heard after seeing Amy and Levi apparently repair their relationship, and while we saw several of the supporting characters acknowledge the ways their lives had been transformed, felt like a really satisfying and uplifting note to end on. Did it seem that way to you?
Jeff: Absolutely. Enlightened has often moved forward haltingly, as characters seemed to make strides only to regress, and it was so nice to see it arrive at what felt like a rare moment of closure. When Amy saw the big front page of L.A. Times in those final moments and didn't bother to pick it up, that spoke a tremendous amount about how far she’d come. That said, after watching this episode, I was left with the conflicting sense that I was both satisfied and that I desperately wanted to know what happens next. I'm a little hooked on this thing.
June: So much movement! May I share a pet theory about Enlightened? There's so much driving; Amy always seems to be getting in and out of that dreadful car of hers. For a show that squeezes a lot into 30 minutes, I've always been struck by how many of those minutes are spent watching people sitting in their cars, usually alone. Sure, it's a Southern California show, so that makes sense. But I think it's also making a point about the path to enlightenment. It's not always as direct as a five-lane L.A. highway. In fact, I've noticed that breakthroughs often happen when Amy gets out of her car.
In Season 1, she and Levi went rafting, and she had a moment of clarity. Her mom wouldn't let Amy use her car, so she rode to work on the bus, and she had an epiphany. This season, Tyler drove her to her game-changing meeting with Jeff, and then when Levi returned, they took that heartbreaking walk to the old ball field. Those were all essential steps, but in this episode, she seemed to find closure—or at least a sense of oneness—with Levi. And when she got to his house after that astonishing scene at Abaddonn, she told him, "I was driving, and I have nowhere to go." She has arrived. At enlightenment? Maybe!
Jeff: That's clever! I hadn't made the connection between those scenes, but it does seem like geographical spaces are important: that long drive between L.A. and Riverside, the Abaddonn labyrinth. And given how dense this show is with metaphor, physical distance would seem to be an apt reflection of Amy's personal travels.
June: It's interesting that you call Abaddonn a labyrinth. It feels like a beehive to me—the bridges they take from the office towers to the parking lot feel like the spokes of a honeycomb cell. (And poor Eileen had to work under the gaze of a corporate film that showed bees at work.)
Jeff: Ah, yes, a beehive—I once tried to sketch Abaddonn’s grounds and came up with an incoherent maze of lines, but your reading feels right. As for Amy’s enlightenment, you could cast her return to Levi at the end as an old-Amy mistake—was he kidding when he offered her a beer?—but she seems to have come in peace. Her larger question of "Who am I?" seems to remain open, though. I'm still not sure she knows.
June: Yes, Amy still has a lot more exploring to do. And like you, I want to be present for her travels. I'm very conflicted about her return to Levi. In some ways the whole show has felt like a very smart meditation on middle age, specifically midlife mediocrity. Amy and Levi are both old enough to feel that avenues are closing to them—I don't really believe his assurance that they could still have a baby. At the same time, their lives are far from over. There's still hope (another word that came up a lot this episode). Amy can never stop wondering if Levi is the One. On one level, she knows she has to make a decision, really leave him for good or go back to him. But I think one of the realizations she had at the end was that there's still time to keep pondering all these questions.
Jeff: That’s true—that wasn't a real reconciliation, exactly, just a gesture that there was something unfinished there. (I too doubt a kid is a wise or plausible choice for them.) As for the future, as Amy tellingly puts it when she talks to Jeff for the final time: "We'll see."
In last week's chat, we said we'd call this finale a success if we saw Helen smile. And much to my slightly crazed glee at the end, she did! She saw the Times headline, and she was finally proud of Amy—and maybe even understood her?
June: Yes! This is one of the most blub-inducing shows on television, and Helen's grin of pride in the final montage was the oddest tearjerker of them all. At the beginning of the episode, when Amy told her mother that she had set a newspaper exposé of Abaddonn in motion, I was surprised by how sympathetic I was to Helen's response: "Why is that your business?" Amy was effectively homeless, $20,000 in debt, driving a shit car—why was she stirring up trouble? When Helen saw the headline, she seemed to know the answer to her earlier question. And so did we!
Jeff: We don't need to blow the whistle on Helen (or you, June) after all. And if she can understand Amy, anyone can—maybe even Amy herself. Until next year?
June: I hope so. There is only one life, and I want this TV show in it.
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.