Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Enlightened: Sandy (1.6)

We live in a time in which the definition of friendship has been stretched to such an extent that it's sometimes hard to discern whether your friends are really, honestly, actually your friends. Or if you actually know them at all, and vice versa. Enlightened is a series that says a lot about one woman and her quest for some kind of inner peace, but has also been intriguingly exploring loneliness for most of the season so far. Of course, Amy isn't literally alone, seeing as she has companions at work and lives with her mother, but every one of these relationships is fractured in some way. The people at work she wants to be friends with don't like her at all, she arrogantly positions herself above co-workers like Tyler and doesn't appear to want an actual friendship with them, while both her mother and ex-husband find her suffocating. So she's very much alone, in a lot of ways. Then enter Sandy.

Sandy, a woman Amy met on her spiritual retreat, represents so many things to Amy: a person to talk to, the only person who can truly understand her, as well as the kind of woman Amy so desperately wants to be. As played by a soothing, absorbingly calm Robin Wright, Sandy appears emotionally fulfilled, in touch with her own body, healthy in both mind and spirit, and intimidatingly knowledgeable about the world and the environment. Hell, she's so perfect that Helen's dog Ginger is entirely spellbound by her. But it quickly becomes apparent that what Sandy represents and what Sandy actually is are two very different things, the very fact that Sandy is a visitor in Amy's life helpfully disguising all of her flakiness and self-absorption, until the time arrives when even Amy begins to see her for who she really is.

Sandy, like Amy, is somebody who a lot of the time believes herself to be doing the right thing. She pulls out of a yoga tutorial for Amy's co-workers at the very last minute, but believes her distraction was valid: she had been speaking to Levi for hours, and he was opening up to her. Just like Amy when she hijacks a baby shower to spread feminist propaganda, she struggles to understand what was wrong with her behavior, only recognizing the message itself, and not the context in which it occurred.

What this episode does so well is allow Amy to see a lot of her own flaws, eventually recognizing her tendency to give so much of herself and getting little in return. One of the strongest moments here is a small aside in which Helen recounts how Amy had "so many best friends" as a child, bouncing around from person to person and claiming that this one was the really, really special one. Even with Sandy, she holds her up on this enormous pedestal, constantly pestering her with unintentionally suppressive text messages. Sure, most of them read how much Amy is missing her, and how much she respects and admires her, but it just gets a little much in the end.

The season is moving constantly from strength to strength, allowing small events to illuminate parts of Amy that she herself finds challenging. Sandy's presence nicely allows people in Amy's life to express their own feelings about Amy without directly hurting her, Helen complaining about Sandy redecorating her home and talking about 'feng shui' hooey, and Levi frustrated with Sandy's insistence on getting him to talk about his past. Both characters could be talking about Amy herself, Sandy representing a kind of placeholder in a lot of ways. While the episode ends with Amy failing to realize all of that on an entirely visceral level, she begins to acknowledge her own tendency to over-think and treat people as either above or beneath her. It's such an important message, one that pulls in ideas about the real definition of friendship as well as the way we as people build expectations up to such a height that the actual situation itself can only disappoint.

This is spectacular television. The way Sandy operates as this independent thinker with lofty beliefs contrasts so beautifully with the last-minute revelation that she's lacking in any real substance, the recurring motif of her journal photographed as this tunnel into something extraordinary, only for it to be full of doodles and drawings of flowers. It's such a wonderful thematic device, and again positions Enlightened as one of those extraordinarily underrated series. A+

Mike White Director Jonathan Demme


  1. I'd love to give this series a go but I don't have the time right now.

    Anyway, I assume the delay with your posting had something to do with what was going on in your neck of the woods last week? Hope everything is OK on your end.

    Strange coincidence about the title too...!

  2. Woah, Jonathon Demme as in the guy that directed Silence of the Lambs and Rachel Getting Married? HBO really does attract some huge talent. Like panda I have wanted to watch this but haven't really had the opportunity, especially since it airs here on a channel my cable provider does not, uh, provide...

    Hope you're doing okay, too.

  3. Ha! The Sandy coincidence entirely flew over my head. Irony, right?

    I'm okay, so thanks for asking. It was more of a self-imposed hiatus anyway, I've sort of hit a wall of sorts with this site. I'd recently become a little too distracted by feedback and getting an audience, partly because I saw how much Billie Doux is thriving, and others, and it just got a little shitty for me. But then I remembered that I used to do this site for the fun of it, not because I wanted my stuff actually read. So I canned the Twitter account I had for a hot minute and am just trying to focus on having fun again, and not so much the self-promotion and feelings of resentment. Ugh. Ugly week, in a lot of ways. So I'm going to try and stop this whole "fixed, scheduled" thing I was doing, post all the stuff I've been keeping on the back-burner for a while, and just get flattered if anybody ever gravitates towards it. I think knowing your stuff is strong and articulate and well-written should be it, you know? And not the desire to seek validation, which is what I felt myself wanting more and more of over the last couple of months. So... yeah. That turned out longer than I expected, heh.

    But Enlightened! I don't want to say you'll love it, because it seems to be an acquired taste (some people thought it was awful, others like myself think it's just one of the greatest things ever), but I sincerely recommend trying it out. The pilot is very indicative of the tone and sensibility of the whole season, too, so if that doesn't grab you then it's likely nothing else the show later does will, either. It's certainly not a slow-burner, but it does become ridiculously incredible mid-way through, instead of just "everyday brilliance", heh.

    It's a show that I just get, you know? I feel like it's about feelings that I experience every day, and all the ugliness we have that we sometimes wish we didn't have, and that desire to fix yourself and the world around you. Gah. Deeper level, pretty much.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting, guys.

  4. I actually get what you mean about the whole validation thing. Sometimes I wonder how other sites get all the hits that they do, when in some ways you feel your stuff is just as good. But like you, I only started this for fun, just to get writing again. I'm a little annoyed that my time is totally taken away from me right now, but I still love doing this. Hopefully you won't lose your passion for it, I love your stuff too much!

    Ramble, sorry, ha. Good to have you back.

  5. Nice to hear I'm not irrational, heh. I don't think I'll ever lose the passion for it, but it's now very much something that I'm willing to let slip, which is a good thing. I think you can get over-attached to something vacuous to such an extent that it begins affecting your personality, and that's negative as hell. So, yeah, back... but not as "in" as I was, for my own sanity.

  6. I so loved reading your perspective on this episode, in particular because your interpretation of the drawings as doodles indicating no real substance, contrasted with what I had thought -- the drawings indicating the character was deeply at peace with herself and the world.

  7. First of all, thank you so much for reading and commenting! And that's an interesting perspective, too. I guess I based mine on the fact that Sandy seemed to make her diary a big deal, or maybe the show itself did? And that the big lofty "truth" that was in there was, in actuality, a bunch of pictures and doodles.

    It's interesting that somebody has an entirely different interpretation, though. Could it be driven by how you view Sandy as a person? I didn't like her, I found her phony and arrogant and self-absorbed, and therefore the ending seemed to co-align with that. But if you liked her, then it'd be easy to read the ending in an entirely different way.

    Love this show, thanks for writing.