Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Enlightened: Lonely Ghosts (1.7)

One of the more interesting responses to Enlightened has been the vocal apathy towards Amy herself, and how she's so hideous a character that it's hard to enjoy the show at all as a result. It's something that is explicitly examined throughout Lonely Ghosts, an episode that explores how Amy uses those around her to get what she wants. It's actually a really interesting question from an audience standpoint, since we're living in an age of complex anti-hero protagonists, particularly on cable. And maybe that block between Amy as a character and certain folks at home isn't derived so much from what she is, but instead what she isn't.

Walter White is dying. Jackie Peyton is a junkie. Don Draper is from a different time. So we can sort of excuse some of their more irrational behavior because they're all driven to it in one way or another. But Amy Jellicoe is defined by her normality. All those awful qualities that she possesses are intrinsically genuine, and so much of what she does holds eerie parallels to our everyday existences. Amy isn't a fantasy figure, she's uncomfortably similar to ourselves, and with that comes a lack of desire to actually want to follow her. Of course, if you get entirely suckered in by how balls-to-the-wall wonderful this show is, then Amy being sort of horrible doesn't affect you all that much. But it's an interesting discussion to have all the same.

Lonely Ghosts sees Amy getting into trouble at work (since she doesn't actually work all that much), and attempting to sacrifice some poor co-worker to Dougie's lecherous advances, purely to improve her standing within the office. It's shallow, opportunistic and potentially catastrophic, but somehow Mike White's carefully drawn script stops us in our tracks before we can write her off completely. The moral to all of this outrage is that everybody, deep down, is just crying out for some kind of companionship. It's evident repeatedly through this episode, from Amy to Levi to Tyler. Hell, Dougie himself is made out to be a lonely figure. Despite his outlandish misogyny, even Tyler can't help but see him as somebody desperate for a girlfriend and fronting with machismo.

Amy's internal monologue is also used spectacularly here. So many of Enlightened's major themes are reflected in clear, direct sentences spoken in voice-over, questions that strike you as incredibly insightful. They usually take the form of navel-gazing, but are able to cross into a separate area that doesn't inspire any kind of eye-rolling. "What happens when the thing that used to attract you now repels you?", Amy wonders as she passes by what is essentially a snapshot of her old life. "Why does something always have to be missing?", Amy asks, still hung up on Levi and once again experiencing romantic potential followed up by a smash-cut of uncomfortable reality. "I'm just tired of being alone"/"We're all alone... in a way"/"Some of us are more alone". It's intimacy at its most tragic and brutal. Is there any harder scene to watch than Tyler breaking down in his car, his heart broken over what he sees as Amy's betrayal, and pining for a day when he has someone who loves him?

And that's what makes this show so above anything else on television. Mike White has clearly lived these feelings, or met others who have done, and Enlightened suddenly makes having some of those feelings appear a little less alien and strange. This is so much the story of people merely existing, and striving for some kind of absent force in their life that they hope will fill in all the blank spots. We came into Enlightened presuming it would be Amy's story that anchors the show. And, sure, that's definitely true, even at this point, but the way the ensemble has become so overwhelmingly multi-faceted marks this series out as something truly different.

It's a success story that entirely explains away how lazy or self-absorbed Amy can be. I seem to reiterate it every week, but we are that way, even if we would never admit it. There are always things that we see as beneath us, there are always people we take for granted, and Enlightened has picked up on these uncomfortable truths and blossomed into something extraordinary. A+

Mike White Director Jonathan Demme

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