Reflecting on Enlightened's Excellent First Season

The tenth and final episode of Enlightened’s first season concluded with Amy Jellicoe dousing the offices of Abaddonn Industries—the inconceivably depressing workplace that is simultaneously the root of and solution to all of her problems—in gasoline and setting it ablaze. It was cathartic and spectacular, but it was fantasy. What Amy was actually doing was hacking the company’s internal email system—all thanks to crush-harboring deskmate Tyler, who left Amy the password on a copy of the damning packet of literature she had distributed minutes before in the company’s boardroom. And that’s where Season 1 left us: Amy has gone full-on Erin Brockovich. Like the episode about sexual harassment, Amy might actually instigate some sweeping policy changes at Abaddonn. Or, you know, it could all backfire in a big way.

It was a dramatic finale, though a little cliffhanger-y for a show that excelled most during its quieter moments. The boardroom showdown that preceded the final scenes was riveting, though, with shades of DePalma’s Carrie as Amy was welcomed to present her findings before Damon and the rest of the crew. Once there, she learned that she was there for their amusement, and left the boardroom in humiliation, only to overhear them mocking her the moment she was out of sight. That brought Amy back in to confront them—but instead of electrocuting them with telekinectic powers, she did something better: She threw Damon’s words back in his face, the ones he foolishly shared with her over pillowtalk during their affair, all about “double dipping” and skimming bonuses off the top. It was a delicious moment of comeuppance for a character who is so often made the butt of the jokes.

The episode had begun with Amy seeing Levi off at the airport as he left for Open Air to finally kick his chemical dependencies. Waving her ex-husband off was a triumphant moment for Amy—people are listening to her all over the place!—and it will be interesting to see if Levi comes back sober, or changed at all. After that, Amy returned home to Helen—who we learned so much more about in last week’s beautiful and devastating episode—and the two actually cuddled together in bed, albeit awkwardly. (Helen took care to point out Amy’s split ends.)

And so, as we wait to hear a decision from HBO as to whether or not we’ll have another season of Enlightened (and I really hope we do), let’s now take stock in what it gave us. Mike White played a bit of a shell game with his audience: What started out as looking to be a takedown of things like recovery and spirituality and social activism was actually a quiet celebration of them. Because White is such a brilliant dramatist, Enlightened felt like nothing else on its network. There were no tired gimmicks here (Hung), no shameless displays of sex and wealth (Entourage), no twee hipster preciousness (Bored to Death) or spectacular production values (Boardwalk Empire). No, Enlightened was just an impeccably written, impeccably acted show. It had something to say.

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