Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Enlightened: The Weekend (1.4)

A lot of my praise for Enlightened has so far centered on the writing and the acting, but I haven't even started talking about how gorgeous the show looks. I don't think I've ever seen a TV series that makes you want to reach out and touch more than this one. Laura Dern's peaceful voiceover and the tinkly ambient score help, but Mike White's photography so beautifully captures color and texture. This episode in particular, with its river rafting trip and the slow pans across water and rocks and beautiful rose gardens, just leaps off the screen -- surrounding you with nature and a feeling that the world around us is filled with so much beauty. All you have to do is look for it.

The Weekend eschews the workplace drama for a deeper focus on Amy's relationship with her ex-husband Levi, Amy really running with the idea of making him her latest project. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the story is grounded in disappointment -- how Amy now views her marriage, and how it so quickly turned to shit after a run of negative events. She remembers her miscarriage, and how their dog died soon after, followed by Levi beginning to party more often and cheat on her. All glimpsed in brief flashback, it's so much a vivid portrait of things going wrong, and how small chapters of sadness can grow in magnitude and eventually make everything crumble.

Another element this week that only increased the realism was Levi's drug addiction. Amy spends a lot of time here imagining a possible future with her ex, and how everything could magically click back together if only he gave up the pills and the coke and then everything would be fine. And, for a brief period, it seems like it would be. Levi has fun during the day, and connects with the other rafters, and Amy, upon discovering his stash, does what she believes to be the right thing and dumps them in the river. But then everything goes wrong again, Levi becoming physical and hurtful and storming off to contact a dealer.

They both leave, and wind up in some grungy motel in the middle of nowhere, Amy watching from inside as Levi waits around in the parking lot for his dealer, snorting everything up when he finally arrives. This is a beautifully realized picture of addiction, Amy waking up in the middle of the night to find Levi shaking in the corner of the room, clearly coming down off a high but still disoriented and out of it. So much of this show is about the fantasy scenarios we dream up in our heads, and how they always crash and burn when actual reality hits you. Addiction itself is something that can be easily dressed up or diagnosed simply, particularly on television, but it usually avoids the dirty truth of it all. The Weekend goes out of its way to expose that, Amy so disgusted and sad at how far her ex has gone.

Some of the scenes on the rafting trip are probably the most transparent moments on the show so far, particularly how the two other couples represent Amy and Levi as both young lovers and as the old couple they could have been, but the writing remains so gorgeously intimate and small in sensibility that you can skip over the limp metaphor. It's easy to still find tiny moments that resonate, though, this week how easily the two other couples found that funny repartee with the river guide, with Amy standing back and wondering why that banter doesn't come so easily to her. Even if that wasn't intentional or anything, it's a scene that felt almost uncomfortably truthful -- I've been there way too many times. And that's the beauty of this show. You are these people, and most of the time you so badly want to be better, too. A

Mike White Director Mike White

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