Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Enlightened: Someone Else's Life (1.3)

There's that old saying that there's no such thing as a selfless good deed, and it's something that Enlightened keeps bouncing back to. Amy is a character whose entire mission in life is to give and give, so infuriated by modern society that she feels it is her duty to help those without her good fortune. But as we're getting to know her, it's becoming more and more clear that there's a wall preventing Amy from becoming entirely selfless, as her old belief system can't help but creep out every once in a while. Just look at her timid embrace of a homeless woman this week, hugging her only because it's the sort of thing you should do in those circumstances. The woman leaves some kind of stain on Amy's arm and, soon after, she briefly washes her arm during a trip to the bathroom. It's such a subtle gesture, probably entirely unconscious, but something that says so much about Amy as a person.

There's also that real arrogance to her, still there even after her transformation. Her voiceover this week is all about dreaming of existing in somebody else's life, and how unfair it is that you never get to just wake up in another body for a change. In the first of her two dreams, she sees Krista as this emotionally-fulfilled individual, pregnant with a loving boyfriend, successful at work and surrounded by friends. Later Amy has a kind of epiphany when it comes to her new co-workers in Cogentiva, and imagines them all living these horribly put-down existences full of loud children and depression and loneliness. So she decides to actually give a chance to Tyler, the guy who shares her desk... which is sweet, right? But isn't there also a lot of arrogance with all of this? To assume that the Cogentiva collective are miserable sad-sacks crying out for her companionship? It's such a great sleight of hand, writing that exposes how much of our own goodness is guided by occasionally harsh thinking and contrivance. For Amy, it reveals so much.

Her desire to be pro-active culminates in a hunt for a new job, Amy assuming that she doesn't need to work for an environmentally-challenged corporation and that, instead, she could actually find a career that helps people. So she interviews for a gig at a homeless shelter, only balking once she discovers that the paycheck isn't enough to cover her debts, let alone start up a new life free of her mother. She appears genuinely devastated when she hits that reality, but still allows her boss Dougie to believe that she herself is homeless and living out of her car, purely to avoid getting fired after skipping out on work. You feel for her, Laura Dern is consistently endearing... but it remains difficult to entirely like her as a person.

Someone Else's Life also builds strongly on the Cogentiva ensemble introduced last week, a sickness bouncing from person to person and creating group dissent. The characters here are beautifully drawn, from Connie's nutty anger at getting infected to Omar's messy English ("all of your face-holes are leaking", "put a thermometer inside her") naturally provoking animosity.

It's rare to stumble upon a show that is so consistently impressive. Enlightened sparkles with wit and ideas, every scene evoking sometimes harsh resonance at home and capturing so perfectly those awkward encounters and negative energy we sometimes exhibit as people. A

Mike White Director Miguel Arteta

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