I’ve always enjoyed the title card of “Enlightened,” so non-existent, pale, light, dissolving into thin white air. You sometimes forget that it’s even considered a weekly opening sequence- no music or montage, no credits with muted talking heads. But last night, it was very noticeable because Mike White’s voice introduced the show, and carried it as well. It was memorable because like the floating green letters, fading up into fog, so is White’s Tyler, a ghost unbound and free, floating without people knowing he exists. What an apt analogy considering his albino features and washed out look. A spray tan doesn’t fix everything.
It’s a melancholy beginning but Tyler has accepted that being a ghost has its pleasures, slipping in and out of work unseen. Even Mike White’s last name connotes his vanilla life. This might just be my favorite episode of the season thus far, closely followed by “Higher Power” sharing Levi’s turbulent ride to clarity. While still splitting similar screen time with Amy, director James Bobin makes this episode clearly Tyler’s, a deeply sentimental and intimate look into his lifestyle. White doesn’t have Dern’s deeply reflective and breathy tenor in his narrations, but he shares the same poetic and metaphoric zeal.
A pearl, hidden beneath the ocean, so no one knows its there. A man, in the basement of a building hardly anyone visits. Like I’ve mentioned, the pleasures of this show are watching how one of these metaphors are taken and subsequently molded. “Maybe there was a time he (the pearl) wanted to be found, to be seen?” Tyler sees himself from above, looking down into the depths of the murky water. Amy, the eternal optimist, has her sea turtle vision in Hawaiian blue water, gazing at it from below, staring towards the sky. I think it’s easier to relate to a pessimist. They don’t sound so naïve, so hopeful, especially at 9 am. Amy’s perky subversion, seen from Tyler’s perspective, isn’t so inviting this episode, and feels rather trivial.
That’s because Tyler actually has a potential life to think about, well, two lives. His solitary, manatee watching, blank-walled existence finds a companion in Eileen (Molly Shannon), Charles Zyden’s assistant and treadmill enthusiast. After a failed (or was it?) pickup attempt by Tyler, Dougie, now fully on board in the dissident triumvirate, handles the duties. It’s not that Dougie is actually better at it- he looks like a massive creeper sometimes- it’s that he’s persistent. For a moment in this treadmill chat, Tyler looks from a distance, uncomfortable, disappointed with himself. I immediately remembered last season’s episode “Lonely Ghosts,” (hmmm, that word again) as Tyler and other Cogentiva employees sat awkwardly in a nightclub, blankly staring out amidst Dougie’s drunken flirting with Amy and others under the haunting techno. “I’m tired of being alone,” Tyler confesses in his car. Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a line that admits, “Whenever you’re single, all you see are couples.” It’s intended for laughs, but you can feel the buried hurting truth in it.
But tragedy and comedy mix so well and are swapped so easily. “The Ghost is Seen” was also probably the funniest of season 2 thus far. “What do they do in the movies? Climb through the vents?” Amy’s ideas are getting pretty loopy, as are her awkward goodbyes, like when Eileen and Tyler head toward their cars. “I would love to share things with you, and certain people, like, what they’re up to…” Her next line could have easily been the motherly “you kids have fun now, and don’t stay out too late.” It’s so blatantly un-subtle and comical. Of course, Tyler and Eileen really are like kids. His go-to line with her is “I download music illegally.” But she has her problems too, and the pauses in their conversation are not awkward ones, they’re just extended silences. Their impulsive kiss however is unlike the one Amy shares with Jeff. It feels real and honest and open. Tyler is learning to be an extrovert.
Of course, as soon as Tyler begins to feel bound to someone, he must betray her trust in the most passive way. Dougie and Amy, now a flirtatious dynamic duo that just looks weird outside of the glass confines of the office, hack into Zyden’s personal email. Tyler has been “caught” but he’s realizing there’s a chance he’s thrown back, back into the abyss in a department that’s toast in two weeks. “These poor fucks,” Dougie mutters about his other employees, “they don’t even know.” Isn’t that how we always think about them on some level, regardless of impending pink slips? Some may find Dougie a tragic character, but phrases like that make me love him as he looks out his window, into the tank, with windows built like a submarine. More ocean terminology will come to me later I’m sure.
This is Tyler’s episode though, but more importantly, it’s Tyler and Eileen’s. Molly Shannon’s presence is another brilliant casting move by Mike White, who shows her flaws, her compassion, and her openness. “Things change,” she says. “You have a fever forever, and then you don’t.” And suddenly all of that suffering makes this moment all the more wonderful, all the more alive. Which is why Eileen suggests he furnish his bland place with something alive, something un-ghostly. There’s that truism out there that people who have been hurt by the same thing can connect better than anyone else. It’s why Carrie Mathieson and Sgt. Brody find attraction from their war-time experience in Homeland. It’s why the film Flight’s best scene comes when three drug and alcohol users share a transcendent moment in a stairwell together.
“Why didn’t he care or try, or be?” Tyler retrospectively questions himself. Eileen has told him to look at her more, so she can see his eyes, to see the life in them. It’s why in the last shot, that former lonely ghost looks her in the eyes…cares, tries, and is.