Thursday, March 7, 2013

Enlightened: Agent of Change (2.8)

Throughout the last-minute media blitz designed to save this show from impending cancellation, there's been a sense of doom projected by Mike White, being overwhelmingly pessimistic when it comes to the show's future and expressing sadness over his belief that Enlightened could be the best thing he's ever done. It's a feeling that's been reflected through a lot of season two, that sense of quiet danger lurking beyond every corner, like you're just waiting for a hole to appear and swallow up everybody in the cast. Whether it was the LA Times expose, or Amy's frayed relationships with essentially everyone around her, Enlightened's second season has been frequently unnerving, unexpected considering how quiet and soothing a lot of the show generally is. All of this makes Agent of Change a beautiful surprise, a finale that feels like the end, but which sparkles with enough hope and integrity to make the possible future, whether we end up seeing it or not, a comfortable place to be.

It says a lot about this show's atypical beauty that the most illuminating, interesting shot this week is of the dusty grey ceiling of an elevator. In a wonderful call-back to one of the many lasting images from the pilot, Amy looks upward in the middle of an emotionally trying experience and expects to see a floating turtle above her -- a spirit animal of sorts, something that'll watch over her and send her on the right track. Only this time there is no turtle. Only grey and wire and metal, harsh and flat tools for a cold corporate America. And it's here that you realize how much Amy is growing up, that she doesn't need those kinds of generally empty platitudes or guardian angels, how she's taken the very best of her recent discoveries while dispensing of the worst -- ending the show with a sense of accomplishment and mission that she'd been recently wavering over.

Much of this finale is rooted in Amy wondering just what kind of character she's become in this story. Is she the fool? The goat? The witch? Everybody around her has a different opinion -- a boyfriend who doesn't want to date her, an ex who sees her as poison, bosses who consider her trouble. What makes all of this work is that Agent of Change doesn't give us a full answer to whether she's doing the right thing. Helen views it all from an politically correct standpoint, angry that Amy would cause havoc for the people who gave her a second chance, who have given her so much over the years. But Amy defends the expose, sure that she needs to be an active participant in change, instead of just a wounded bystander.

Her confrontation with Charles Szidon is another interesting testament to Amy's growth. While Szidon rants and threatens and intimidates, Amy is calm and poised, sure of her integrity and confident that she is on the right track. There's always been an odd dichotomy when it comes to Amy's own new-agey personality, the show sometimes depicting it in a mocking way, other times embracing it for its social potential. We get a similar balancing act this week, Amy so ball-busting and rousing as a character, but also written off as a naive idealist by Szidon.

It's a question that hits directly at Enlightened's central premise, whether wanting to change things can ever be entirely productive, or if the world is just too far set in its ways for anybody to make a real difference anymore. Even as the final credits roll, Amy's own personal well-being is threatened by the lawsuit she'll likely be handed, and the future of Abaddonn is unclear. But what Mike White's script does so well is make all of that back-and-forth swaying over Amy's moral center sort of irrelevant in the end. As Levi tells her, Amy has hope, and while it may be stupid and idealistic and easily poked fun at, hope is beautiful, and possessing the hope that things will somehow get better makes you not only an agent of change, but also an enlightened, positive person, other people's opinions be damned.

Amy has gone from a frustrating trainwreck awash in a sea of denial to a fully-formed adult sure of the path she's going down. There are areas that are yet to be resolved, but the way Agent of Change sends Amy off, traveling down an uncertain path but free of most of her emotional baggage, is a fantastic resolution to this chapter in her life. Even if we never get to see her again, it's a wonderful point in which to bow out.

Which brings me to the fact that Enlightened isn't actually over yet. Officially. But boy does Agent of Change feel like the end. Krista is confronted by Amy one last time in a scene that isn't as antagonistic and volatile as many of Amy's freak-outs, but is arguably more cringeworthy considering Krista's likely innocence in the whole 'exposing the expose' thing. And the fact that Amy showers her with f-bombs while she's totally holding her newborn baby, but whatever. Everybody at Cogentiva gets their two cents, too, from a cute wrap-up for Amy and Dougie, to Connie's endearing pledge to pray for Amy as she's taken away by HR. Tyler and Eileen face the very worst, before coming back together again for an ending that is thoroughly deserved. Both Levi and Helen seem to turn a corner, too, right after recent scenes in which they both seem to exorcise a lot of their problems with Amy as an ex-wife and a daughter, respectively. And isn't that last shot of Helen, practically glowing at the sight of the LA Times piece, just one of the happiest images you've ever seen?

In a lot of ways, and as much as I would love to see more of this show, this is a fantastic series finale. It brings characters to points of great change, and it's hard not to be entirely carried by the script's palpable sense of hope. Enlightened has always been a rare show that cuts deep with its emotional vulnerability, exposing the very worst corners of human behavior while simultaneously exploring that collective desire to fix things or help people, or at least fix and help yourself. I know, for me personally, that I've never identified more with a TV series. And that, hell, we're all Amy Jellicoe to an extent. We can be ugly, and cruel, but we can also possess real warmth and passion and heart. And as long as you recognize the parts of yourself that aren't great, and try and create some kind of good in the world, surely this planet of ours can become a better place? Again, idealism. Totally. But it's light, and it's positive and it's good. And can't we all just be good? A+

Mike White Director Mike White

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