When I had the great privilege to talk to Enlightened star/writer/executive producer/co-creator Mike White about the Season 2 finale, he said he purposefully didn’t end it on a cliffhanger. Because, as any Enlightened fan is painfully well aware, the fate of the HBO series is yet to determined. While White remains cautiously optimistic that the recent wave of support could bring the show back for a third season, he didn’t want to have it end on an ambiguous note just in case. But as the fate of the show hangs in the balance, it ended on a note that only Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern, deserving of her Golden Globe win and oh so many more) would want: one of hope. Hope for its characters, hope for all its themes, and hope that its viewers walked away from it with an understanding greater than themselves.
The tearjerker of an episode, titled so perfectly “Agent of Change”, opened with Krista (Sarah Burns), anxiously awaiting the arrival of her baby. (If the show doesn’t get another season, I’ll be so sad that Krista and Timm Sharp‘s Dougie never got their own POV episodes). In a devastating voice over, Amy — who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her own baby, the Los Angeles Times article blowing the whistle on Abaddon — muses, “How strange is this life, to be born into a body, to certain uncertain parents. In this beautiful, upsetting world. It’s so bizarre.”
When we see Amy, she’s as contemplative as ever. Ready for what’s next, but raddled with nerves and confusion for what lies ahead. “Am I an agent of change or a creator of chaos?” she asks herself as she watches the horrors of the news unfold on the television screen. She continues, “Am I the fool, the goat, the witch? Or am I enlightened?” Damn, this show destroys me in the best way possible.
She, of course, has no answers for those questions yet. None of us do. Instead, she calls Tyler to tell him that the story is going ahead as planned and that he should prepare himself for what’s to come, whatever that may be. As soon as Eileen (the wonderful Molly Shannon) walks in the room to find a nervous, sad-eyed Tyler, we knew it was all over, he was going to tell her. (Leave it to White to effortlessly weave in a hilarious line like “Is this about your aunt’s time share?” in such an intense, dramatic moment). Not because he is weak (though he certainly lacks Amy’s backbone and bravery), but because the ghost was at long last seen, and he didn’t want to be invisible again.
Eileen, panicked and upset, takes off running, presumably to warn her boss Charles Szidon (James Rebhorn) of what’s to come to him and the company. Tyler sits on the edge of his bed, slumped over and defeated. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never wanted to crawl through a television set and hug a character more than during that moment.
Back at Amy’s, she finally tells her mother about blowing the whistle on Abaddon, and as to be expected, Helen (Diane Ladd) is less than understanding. She tells her it wasn’t her place to blow the whistle on them, especially after all they’ve done for her. That she is foolish and that her actions may be “brave”, but they don’t pay the bills. When Amy argues that there are things bigger than her, her mother agrees, but for different reasons. When Amy suggests that she’ll just move out, Helen tells her it’s a good idea.
Of all the heartbreaking relationships on this show (and, my god, are there a few) Amy and Helen’s always strikes the rawest nerve. The strain of parent and child not seeing eye to eye, not seeing each other for who they are and the unconventional ways they show love for each other. Helen’s POV episode in Season 1 helped us understand her in a spectacular way, but all I wanted in that moment was for Helen to really understand, or at the very least accept Amy.
When Amy arrives at the office, she gets a call from Jeff (Dermot Mulroney) telling her that word of the story has gotten back to Charles and the higher-ups at Abaddon and that her name is mentioned specifically. Not knowing that Tyler has spilled the secret to Eileen, Amy frantically assumes it was Krista. She takes off looking for her, only to wind up at the hospital where Krista has just had her baby. What followed was one of the most cringe-worthy Amy moments of the show, as she flipped out on the new mother (“You have f**ked me for the last time!”) and hearkened backed to Season 1 levels of Amy craziness.
All but a few moments later (after a hilarious shot back to Cogentiva, where Dougie says farewell, in the only way he can, to his employees) Tyler calls and confesses it was him who blew their cover. An embarrassed and angry Amy, who mercifully didn’t run back into the hospital to try and explain herself to Krista, instead heads back to work to get her hard drive and get out of there before it was too late.
After Tyler has been taken away by HR (he’ll likely crack the second he gets up there) Amy gets her stuff as quickly as possible and leaves, but not before she and Dougie have their own fantastic goodbye.
Dougie: “You are the worst employee I’ve ever had.”
Amy: “You’re the worst boss I’ve ever had.”
Dougie: “We should hang out sometime.”
Ah, Dougie. I might miss you most of all. But Amy’s great escape is foiled when human resources and security is waiting in the lobby for her. Though she tried to thwart off the request to be seen by Charles (“Yeah, I’m not really in the mood”), she finds herself in an elevator which is taking her up to her certain doom. She looks to the top of the elevator, perhaps for a thought of an escape, or maybe just looking up to the heavens for any kind of answer.
In Charles’ lobby she sees a series of screens which, fittingly, showed drones of bees mindlessly doing their bidding, and, sadly, a teary Eileen. Amy assures Eileen that Tyler wasn’t the one to blame here, that he would never do anything to hurt her. Amy is not perfect, but she knows when to do the right thing. Even if it means taking full responsibility.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle, a breakthrough. Not just for Amy, but for anyone watching who ever wanted to stand up for themselves and what they believe in. When Charles, who looked more like a child having a temper tantrum than a CEO facing a crisis he created himself, demanded to know who Amy was and what she wanted, she told him “I did what I thought was right…nothing was going to change, even with that job, your M.O. is to rig the system so you get rich and everyone else gets screwed. How much money do you need?” Damn straight.
“I’m just a woman who’s over it,” she continued. “I’m tired of watching the world fall apart because of guys like you. I tried to take a little power back.” When Charles tried to take Amy down, telling her she was nothing more than a “mental case” who “doesn’t understand anything” and has “fuzzy-headed idealistic notions that don’t f**king apply”, she fired right back. “If caring about something other than money is dopey,” Amy responded, “I’m a f**kin’ moron and the only thing I feel right now is satisfaction. I think the meeting’s over. Thanks for the 15 years.” I take it back, this when I wanted to jump through the television and hug someone.
In a perfect twist of karmic retribution, Charles (Rebhorn should easily earn an Emmy nod for this guest role) has a meltdown chasing Amy out the door in a scene that looked awfully reminiscent of her meltdown in the series premiere. “I will f**king crush you, I’m not done with you” he screamed as the elevator doors closed with Amy in them. Not skipping a beat, Amy says to the unfazed security guard, “He seemed upset.” So many shows on television fall in the dramedy grey area and there may be no better example of that than Enlightened. While I’d argue it’s more of a drama, I don’t know if there’s a show that gives me bigger laughs than this one.
Amy walks through the lobby of Abaddon, for one final time, liberated. She calls Jeff to tell him the “good” news and when he asks her to come over, she wisely declines. She knows herself better than that, even if she feels as lost about herself and her place in the world as ever. Instead she winds up at Levi’s (Luke Wilson) door. Not because she is desperate, but because there is no one that knows her better, no matter how f**ked up their relationship may be. Case in point: he assures her she’s not crazy (hell, we’re all a little crazy), but that she’s “just full of hope, it’s a beautiful thing to have a little hope for the world.”
And that, right there, HBO, is exactly why you need to bring this show back. Dern’s Amy Jellicoe is one of the most complex, important female characters out there, who in a vast landscape of cynicism is still filled with hope for herself and the human race. That’s a story that can, and needs to, continue to be told. In fact, if this is the bittersweet series finale — in which we see that Krista is happy with her newborn baby, Helen beams with joy reading the Los Angeles Times article about her daughter (yep, that one did me in), Dougie closes the door on Cogentiva, Eileen shows up at Tyler’s door, and Amy proudly walks into the great unknown — she left us with what could be the greatest closing words of any show in history. (And White wasn’t kidding, there were no big cliffhangers here, only doors left open for so many wonderful possibilities for all these wonderful characters).
“There is only one life,” Amy confides in us, “There is so much I don’t understand, but this I know, you can wake up to your higher self, you can be patient, and you can be kind. You can be wise and almost whole. You can walk out of hell and into the light. You don’t have to run away from life your whole life, you can really live. And you can change. And you can be an agent of change.” Be the agent of change, HBO, bring back a show that is as daring and heartfelt and beautiful and frustrating as life itself. The cruel world tells us that ratings will kill a gem of a show like this, but your heart and your head tells you that something this special deserves so much more. But if Enlightened never, tragically, returns, I’ll always carry Amy’s words with me. Thank you for everything, Enlightened. You made a believer out of me.
[Photo credit: Lacy Terrell/HBO]