Enlightened Fools In a Beautiful Life

HBO aired the first season of Enlightened to not much fanfare.  It almost seemed like they had little faith.  Season one was a bit confused, as it was hard to tell if Amy was a flawed hero or just a fool.  Season two makes one thing clear….Amy (co-creator Laura Dern) is as deluded as the people she rails against.

enlightened_smThe story began with Amy working for Abaddon Industries, a giant corporation.  She has a massive breakdown at work following a betrayal from her Boyfriend (both in terms of relationship and workplace standing).  Amy goes into treatment in a “new agey” clinic in Hawaii.  She has an epiphany about making the world a better place.  She finds herself connecting to the earth in a spiritual fashion.  Except, the truth is, she is really more interested in what this epiphany can do for her.  Can her new found “compassion” for the earth and people be used to force change in Abaddon Industries?  Except for the kink that instead of her previously higher level position, she is put in the basement IT Group, under the rule of the tyrannical scumbag Dougie (Timm Sharp).  There she befriends meek IT worker Tyler (show co-creator Mike White).  Well, she tends to push Tyler around, under the guise of the greater good, getting him to use his superior computing skills to try and dig up dirt on the company.

Her personal life is also not lining up as she feels it should…her ex-husband Levi (Luke Wilson) is a guy who never gave up the party-or the party never gave him up…Amy takes on the task of “saving him” from his addiction.  Her mother (Diane Ladd) just wants her to get her act together, and does not understand her new goals.  By the end of season one, Amy was still hitting her head against the wall, but got Levi to give in and go to the same treatment center.  She has used Tyler’s crush to start hacking the corporate system.

Season Two has Amy starting to get some advancement in her plot.  She and Tyler uncover some info that she takes to an L.A. writer named Jeff (Dermot Mulroney).  This begins a relationship as she digs in to blow the lid on the company.  There are some hiccups, but also some surprise alliances.

But what stands out is the fact that Dern and White pull no punches.  Amy is earnest in her self delusion.  She thinks she is working for the greater good.  She wants to be important, she wants to believe her enlightenment means something about what she will achieve, rather than just another cog in the machine.  She is less interested in helping people and more in helping herself.  Helping people is more about how it makes her feel about herself.  They do not try and sugar coat this, and it is benefits the show that they do not try and convince us that she is this great person.  It, in a way, makes her more sympathetic.  In her enlightenment, she is just as broken up as the people she claims to be wanting to help.

Her inability to connect with people on an honest level, and tendency to use them for her selfish goals of “changing the world” make her intensely human.  And the windows into her friends and co-workers the show gives us works the same.  Levi’s treatment is the opposite of Amy’s as he tries to replicate her experience…but where she saw beauty and and a new life, he finds a trash filled prison.  When he returns to Amy’s life, it is uncertain if Levi had the epiphany he claims, or is trying to convince himself he did.  Even Dougie becomes a sympathetic character as he realizes he has deluded himself as to where he stands within the company.

And her willingness to sacrifice ethics to become a hero who took down a corporation infects Tyler.  To cover their tracks, they set up another co-worker, who loses his job.  Amy uses Tyler’s growing relationship with another employee to build her case against the company.

While season one felt confused about how we should see this conflict, the second season is more confident and the stories are compelling.  As Amy appears to be getting nearer to success in her fight against Abaddon Industries, her life seems to be falling further out of focus.  The writing has been strong with great performances.  I am definitely willing to see where this story goes.

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