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The 'Enlightened' Soliloquies
March 2, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment
 

HBO's Enlightened has achieved the difficult — a sophomore season better than the first. And as it approaches its season finale this Sunday night, creator-star-writer Mike White (top) has continued the weekly episodic interludes that eavesdrop in on the characters' innermost thoughts. That signature, lyrical trademark has helped make it one of the more satisfying series on television this year.

White's melancholy show about a former corporate executive (co-creator and leading lady Laura Dern), kicked down to data processing and bent on revenge, is as close to short-story or free-form verse as television can come. It's White's small, quiet corner, and that tone gives it an uncanny, literary feel.

The tale of Amy Jellicoe (Dern) will be coming to a head in the last episode of this season (Sunday, March 3, 9:30 p.m. ET). Amy is a reckless mess. She's a former executive whose unfortunate, public mental breakdown resulted in last season's epic demotion at Abbadon Industries. After a stay at an in-house treatment facility (and a divorce from her addict husband, Luke Wilson) she's living with her mother (Diane Ladd). Amy's full of moral outrage at Abbadon. She's enrolled her meek office pal Tyler (White) in a hacking and spy job into the corporate database, and has given over the information to an L.A. Times reporter to blow the whistle on their illegal influence and regulatory schemes.

While Amy is a warrior, she's conflicted, bossy and full of new-age superiority. And she's also realizing that the bomb she is about to explode might not turn out to be the incendiary victory she's been dreaming of — that maybe the good life doesn't mean a campaign. White's Tyler, a Caspar Milquetoast type, has just finally found love in an equally awkward, self-conscious co-worker, Eileen (wonderfully played by Molly Shannon). Trouble is, she's the CEO's assistant, and he's just hacked into her computer as part of Amy's plan (and presumably, soon will be discovered).

In one of the better turns this season, Amy's department head, the alpha-dog Dougie (Timm Sharp, right center), who was a menacing, caged presence in his glass office last season, has learned from Amy that he's soon to be a corporate casualty, too. The company is going to cut him and the data crew as part of the executives' downsizing plan to line their pockets with bigger bonuses. Now he and Amy and Tyler are an unlikely, oddball trio that viewers thought they'd never see.

But what elevates White and Enlightened above its simple tale of choice and consequences is its unusual weekly brand of beat-poetry narration above a montage of a different character. Enlightened's tone is extremely soft and everyday, yet the character's quiet revelations (and resignations) are palpable.

In this season's first episode, Amy mused on her corporate adversaries in their impenetrable glass fortresses, as beautiful nighttime shots of LA office towers drifted by in slow, mobile shots. The voiceover starts;

"This kingdom
This amazing kingdom we have made,
This monstrous kingdom.
Its castles are magic,
They are beautiful.
They are built on dreams,
And iron,
And greed.
They are inorganic and cannot sustain.
No kingdom lasts for ever.
Even this will end..."

(That same episode also showed us a grand bit of foreshadowing, too, in which Tyler finally relented to join Amy's plan. As they sat in Tyler's car talking, the traffic light behind them simply changed from green to red. We'll see on Sunday how that ominous signal works out for both of them.)


Then in Episode Five, we followed Tyler to the market and in his apartment, alone in his nightly routine. He's cooking for himself, and afterward, before bed, watches slow-moving manatees in a nature documentary on TV (gentle, soundless creatures, like him). We hear his voice, accompanied by a slow, single harp line:

"It's OK to be a ghost.
It has its pleasures.
You're light. You float.
You slip in and out, unseen.
There's no love to lose,
Or burden to be.
You have so little to hold you down.
You are free..."

The prose in Enlightened isn't the highest of free-form verse, and doesn't try to be. This is television, and the words supplement the pictures.  But it does achieve its own brand of electronic performance art, and for that, it's worth noting that it's taken the Shakespearean soliloquy and evolved it into a more modern version all its own. It slips imperceptibly into the interiors of the characters, and as their thoughts blend with montage, they're haunting, rich moments.

As the finale comes for Enlightened, Amy has scolded Tyler about being complacent, and  taking what life gives him, warning "what goes around comes around … you reap what you sow…"

It now, ironically, looks like that is exactly what is coming true for both of them. White has brilliantly shown characters fiercely chasing what it is they thought they wanted, only to find those passions misplaced, and evaporating at the exact moment they're about to be had.

Amy has wanted to tear down everything around her, and last week, she got the surprise offer of a well-paying higher position at the one place she thought she hated, just as her exposé is to run in the L.A. Times. It's another beautifully spun dilemma of possibility and failure, both outcomes being equal.

White's on record at Buzzfeed saying that HBO shortened the order for Enlightened to eight episodes this year. And he doesn't know if the series will return. (There are a lot of articles about it as the best show no one is watching.) So, he wrote this season's finale in a manner of a series finale.

This Sunday, we'll see how it turns out, and hopefullly, there will be more enlightenment to come next year.


 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Keith Hood
I agree. This season has been really, really good. I'll be fine with it as a final season. I hate to see the show "jump the shark."
Mar 3, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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