Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Enlightened: Not Good Enough Mothers (1.5)

People are assholes. That's sort of a given. Especially today, it's not exactly hard to stumble upon somebody rude and obnoxious, or selfish and arrogant. And when you see those kinds of people, it's easy to get pretty angry yourself. What's their problem? Why do they feel the need to inflict their own issues onto somebody else? In that brilliantly observed scene at the top of this week's show, Amy sits on a bus stop as it begins to rain, kindly expressing to the kid sat next her that he must have forgotten his umbrella, too. The kid replies with an immediate "Fuck off!" Then she gets on-board the bus, and she has to ask a lady to move her bag so she can sit down, like it's some huge inconvenience. Her voiceover remarks how people are mean, and how that makes them ugly, and how that in itself makes her burn with hate. And everybody at home gives a collective sigh because this is so ridiculously true to life.

But what Enlightened continues to do so well is have all of this anger and rage build to something actually positive in the end. I think I personally have such a strong reaction to this show because it allows me to exorcise so many of my feelings about the world and about human interaction, and how terrible everybody comes off. You sit there watching the top of the show and entirely sympathize with how fucking aggravated Amy gets. But by the time Amy reaches that kind of grand epiphany at the end of the episode (in which she realizes that you can't just expect people to be kind and gracious, and that the most important thing is to improve your own well-being and somehow spread a little goodness in the world on your own), you also find yourself at peace along with her.

And isn't that life itself? It's so easy to mess things up or do something silly or irrational, or feel a certain emotion that you know is probably exaggerated compared to things that really are terrible. But then you have those moments of self-awareness, where you realize your failings and try your best to fix them in the future. It's everything this series does so well, and what it can hopefully bring out in its audience.

Amy's character follows that same trajectory this week. There are points during Not Good Enough Mothers where you can't help but squirm at how manipulative and crazy she's being, and you're left hoping she can quickly turn it around. Her jumping-off story is a minor news story that propels her into action, the plight of a Mexican mother being threatened with deportation, an act that will leave her separated from her two young daughters. But Amy handles it terribly, inviting her gay boss Judy to dinner in order to convince her to start a women's group at Abaddonn. She's a lesbian, so clearly she loves women so much that she'd want to actively save women in plight, right? But she isn't. She doesn't really give a shit. The dinner scene itself is hilarious, Amy trying to push the conversation in such a direction that Judy will casually mention that she's gay, only she never budges. Every 'personal life' answer avoids gender definitives, and her girlfriend has the genderless name of "Jo". So Amy's stuck pushing. Heh.

Then there's Krista's baby shower, an event Amy is only even invited after she confronts her over being not invited, an afternoon that gives Amy a platform to make a huge speech about Rosa Muñoz, the Mexican mom with her immigration woes. She starts the speech praising Krista's maternal vibe, only to forget half way through what she's actually supposed to be talking about, launching into a diatribe about first-world problems and how great it is to see women supporting other women. Of course, this is all true and absolutely valid as a message, but it's crazily inappropriate at that moment in time. Worst of all, it grants these horrible, shitty people an excuse to ostracize Amy, giving them another reason to disregard her as 'strange'. Gah!

But after all of that, Amy finds inner peace and happiness in herself, and not with help from others. Her argument with her mother over her car breaking down is settled once Amy realizes how much she actually loves her mom and shouldn't view her so harshly. Rosa is deported, but Amy offers her support by purchasing gifts for her children. It's not perfect, but it's at least a kind gesture of some form. And she starts seeing all those people around her, those assholes on the bus, as real people with real lives and problems. It's not all about her. Their rage isn't about anything she herself has done. They're just people, people who sometimes mess up and behave appallingly. And that final gesture of selfless positivity with Rosa's daughters works so well as a statement on how to react to it all. You do something good, and as long as you lead your life with love and compassion, nothing else should really matter. A+

Mike White Director Nicole Holofcener

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