Sunday, November 25, 2012

Enlightened: Burn It Down (1.10)

"Goodness exists, all around. It's just sleeping." That's all well in theory, and probably correct if you really think about it, but Enlightened's season finale should throw an addendum onto the end of that line. Since goodness isn't so much 'sleeping', but more in a 'decade-long coma', at least within the walls of Abaddonn. Burn It Down follows a similar trajectory to much of this magical first year, with Amy bouncing through life with keen enthusiasm, only for a last-minute plot twist to expose how bad everything really is. What it lacks in narrative surprise it makes up for in thematic resonance: the importance of fighting for something, since real change can never occur just from being nice to people.

I guess that's a resoundingly negative thought, but nicely contradicts a lot of Amy's mission this year. While we've repeatedly seen her be inappropriate and volatile, even after her experiences at Open Air, she's mostly sought out emotional support through being open and friendly to those around her. She's never been actively ruthless, instead deeply focused on trying to prove her wholesomeness, putting herself out there and trying to regain her position within Abaddonn and among her old co-workers.

But that didn't work. Here we see Amy finally get that opportunity to publicly platform her discoveries about Abaddonn, the environmental drawbacks to much of their products, and the various ways they can collectively improve the world around them by implementing key changes. It's a huge gig, something sent her way because people like her again and want to hear her thoughts. Only it's not -- like so much of big business, it's a box-ticking activity. Sometimes the easiest way to shut somebody up is by allowing them a public voice for just a couple of minutes. It's not like anybody has to actually act on anything they say... surely just being given some time is enough? But it's a development that's underhand and sleazy. Just like Amy and Dougie resolving their problems via human resources back in Comrades Unite!, it's the illusion of change and improvement, with nothing actually concrete underneath it all.

What perfectly feeds into that theme is Amy herself. While she's still angry and bitter despite all of her new age trinkets and expressions, she's been on an incredible journey this year in spite of it all. Because she does seem to actively care. Those last couple of minutes, where she once again sort of loses it and decides to infiltrate the emails of various Abaddonn higher-ups to expose company secrets, is again volatile, but it's a volatility designed to help others. What Burn It Down so neatly surmises is that you sometimes need to be angry. Sometimes the only way to make change and make a difference is to become underhand and dangerous, because being generally sweet and amiable won't get you the success that you want. We exist in a world where the most powerful people out there are underhand and dangerous, and those types of characteristics always trump sweet and amiable.

And it's been proven this year. Despite all her outward positivity, little has actually changed in terms of Amy's circumstances. Her former friends still dislike her, her boss still treats her like garbage, she's still stuck in a bottom-feeding job that she doesn't understand, still lives with her mother, and remains unsure about her feelings for Levi. But somehow none of that seems static or disappointing from an audience perspective. Here we see Levi hitting that epiphany moment and signing up for Open Air, an unexpected success for Amy and all the effort she's put in to helping him conquer his demons. Then there's that last act of whistle-blowing. Sure, it may not cause any real damage long-term, but it's Amy taking control of things again. She's so often relied on validation this year, on some kind of approval from others, only for none of it to really mean anything. So here she steps up to the plate and decides to go out on her own terms, providing a real sense of victory... even if its mostly about her own emotional victory than anything global or socially important.

And that's why Enlightened has worked so fantastically this year. I guess in some ways the messages in the show are primarily selfish, seeing as how Amy's quest to become a better person is more about her own self-improvement than necessarily saving the world around her, but Mike White has so beautifully crafted this dysfunctional being that you adore her in spite of that. Realizing your own need to change should surely be enough, at least in the beginning? That's a huge step, and while Amy still has a long way to go, acknowledgement of your own failings, and possessing a small wanting to give back and fix things about the world around you, feels like a good place to start. A

Mike White Director Miguel Arteta

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