“You can walk out of hell and into the light. You can wake up to your higher self, and when you do, the world is suddenly full of possibility, of wonder, of deep connection. You can be patient and you can be kind. You can be wise and almost whole. You don’t have to run away from life, your whole life. You can really live. You can change and you can be an agent of change.”
–Amy, Pilot Episode, Season 1
These words are Amy Jellicoe’s first reflections and they are also her last, for now. They are the same, but they are different, filled first with cleansing spirit and last with journeyed wisdom. Enlightened has taught us in two seasons that the path to clarity is long and meandering, but that in its darkest alleys, its fluorescent-lit basements, you can end your journey with a deeper conscience of what you began it with.
Mike White has also proven in two seasons, in a show deep with metaphor and feeling, that standard television conventions with snappy dialogue and easily graspable characters aren’t cornerstones for audience engagement. He knows each season, each episode, is its own identity, but that it thrives on connecting itself and creating fulfillment in its small gestures and lucid allusions. White takes a glance like Amy’s towards the seashell on her nightstand, and infuses it with symbolism, her retrieval of it from the ocean floor as she narrates the above quote. By working outside the small screen’s fluid boundaries, this is also a show that challenges its audience. It pulls in places comfortably chained and yanks a tendon sadly only a small portion of viewers has been willing to bleed out and examine.
But often when you bleed and see your weakness for what it is, you become stronger, more aware, and grateful. Those qualifiers can sum up my thoughts on this hopefully not finished series that has seemingly ended on a conclusive and yet still flavorfully ambiguous note. Unlike any show I have ever dedicated my attention to on a weekly basis, there have been none to affect me in such spiritual, holistic ways, whose words linger with me into the middle of the week instead of just the middle of Sunday night. Amy is a character who is attainable and detestable, but her flaws give us these enduring feelings. She makes the world beautiful and upsetting because that’s how we experience it.
“How strange is this life? To be born into a body.” I think sometimes we forget the mystical being of nature, and all it takes is an introspective question like this to cut through our jaded sensibilities. “Am I the fool, the witch, or am I enlightened?” Amy asks herself, but I think it’s fair to say it’s also been our question about her as well. She teases us at first, telling Tyler to prepare himself, forcing his hand to confess to Eileen. Amy, in grimacing fashion, accuses Krista of ruining her life as Krista gives birth to new life. Her mother wants her to move out after she finds the truth about Amy’s mission. “Why is it your business?” Helen questions. With so much focus on the greater good, Amy forgets to display it to those in her midst.
I recently saw the film “The Way” with Martin Sheen, who stars as a man walking a pilgrimage by foot across northern Spain with ashes of his son, who dies early on trying to complete it. In an interview, Sheen says that people who begin “el camino,” as the natives call it, pack too much and eventually donate things, getting rid of extra bags or clothing. But by their journey’s end, they have also released things internally: their doubts, their anger, their jealousy, their darkness. Amy’s journey, mostly on the heels of her bruised, bumper sticker sedan, which screeches and swerves throughout this episode, finds similar liberation.
In fact many of Amy’s moments of clarity come in her car. When I used to become pent up with anger as a kid, my mother would tell me to run around the house to burn some steam; the subtext of course was to clear my mind. The driver’s seat has been Amy’s mental release, an indoor bubble from Los Angeles to Riverside to escape reality, to regain control in the cathartic grip of the steering wheel. In the process, the negativity fizzles out. Things are sacrificed, most notably her job.
For almost the entirety of this show Amy has been looking upwards to a better future, but most practically to the upper levels of Abaddon. She’s wanted to make her pitch. A new job: community liaison. A new plan: environmental friendliness. We got closure as policemen escorted her into the elevator, leading her revolution not with the idealistic black ensemble witnessed in her dream or the picketing protesters she raised her fist towards in season one. Amy looks to the elevator ceiling, but no sea turtle gently paddles by, just gridlocked fluorescent lighting and industrial noise. Amy will finally have her meeting on her own terms.
Szidon has at her. “You will always be in the margins with your fucking idealistic notions that don’t apply.” Amy has asked the important questions and unearthed the dirty work. Damon and company isn’t laughing in her face anymore. Her idealistic notions are the only things that have kept her alive.
“I will fucking crush you like the bug you are!” Szidon screams through the closing elevator in a role reversal so obvious and so viscerally perfect. Maybe that’s his insect rhetoric talking from all of the honey bee television screens saturating his office. The unique characteristic about honeybees: after they sting they die. What a prompt metaphor to acquire here.
The smile that slowly erupts after Amy has indicted herself as she walks to her car, similar to Tyler’s grin after he began hacking computers, blends satisfaction and fear. “I was driving and I have nowhere to go,” she tells Levi as they sit together again. “Am I crazy?” Our frustration with Amy leans most heavily on her perpetual state of optimism because our human instinct is tethered to a sense of doubt and pessimism. It angers us that someone can show this much hope, especially in her homeless state.
Levi breaks it down. “It’s a beautiful thing to have a little hope for the world.” As Amy invokes her can-do phrases, there is belief this time. Tyler isn’t alone. Dougie isn’t so hard-shelled. Connie wants to make a difference, too. Amy doesn’t have to read the newspaper. The everywoman, who drinks coffee and wears a USA t-shirt, has this type of power.
Season three hangs in the balance and HBO has a decision to make. But if there’s anything Enlightened has taught us, it’s to have hope. It’s a beautiful thing to have a little hope.