We learned last night that Amy has worked at Abbaddon Industries (which, according to the word’s Wikipedia page, is Hebrew for the “Depths of Hell,” the “place of destruction,” and/or “The Destroyer”) for fifteen years. Crazy, perhaps, but as a buyer in the health and beauty department, she was on her way to the top until her public freak-out resulted in a spell at a treatment center called Open Air. “It almost crushed me,” Amy tells us of Abbaddon. “It almost broke my spirit. But this time will be different. I can change this place. I’m going to show these people what I’m made of. Now’s the time. It’s now or never.”
It turns out that Amy’s slow-motion sashay back into Abbaddon HQ at the end of last week’s pilot was a ruse: Amy hasn’t actually been given her dream job of environmental ombudsman, someone to improve the sorry reputation of the company. Her superiors weren’t keen on that idea at all: Not only was the goal contrary to their profit structure, but how can you be the well-meaning outward face of a multi-million-dollar corporation when you went ballistic on your boss in the middle of the office, never mind that he deserved it? Instead, Amy’s been relegated to the data-processing department on Floor H to work on a software program called Cogentiva, which is designed to analyze — what else — the productivity of Abbaddon employees.
“I didn’t even know this was here!” Amy says, with one of her ill-timed bursts of enthusiasm, as her boss Judy (Amy Hill) leads her through doorway after doorway, each requiring keycard access, down a long green hallway that resembled a morgue’s. “There’s a lot of people here like you, who we’d had trouble placing,” Judy explains. As soon as Judy said the word Cogentiva, I think we are going to be introduced to some kind of glowing bank of cryogenically frozen humans hovering in special invisible docks as far as the eye could see. Instead, we get a more fluorescent, less funny version of an office mockumentary. Intriguing, only because familiar.
This is where the creator of the show, Mike White, makes his first appearance as Tyler, one of the poor-postured specters who work in the department. He’s turtlelike, hunched over, reluctant to emerge from silence, and wears drab shirts the color of office walls. But he has a shy fascination with the impossibly tall, slender Amy, with her long, golden ringlets and happy yellow dress. He is tasked with training her, and anyone who’s ever entered data for a living will appreciate this scene: Amy and Tyler sit before a screen of gray, white, green and pink data cells, and Tyler explains monotonously, “You enter it, and then you double-check, and then you enter, and then you double-check … you just keep doing the same thing, and you keep — doing the same thing, and then, well, when the whole column’s in … ” “Oh my God,” Amy interrupts him, and then tries to bond with him over the fact that she — and surely he — is overqualified for what they’re being asked to do down here. She asks Tyler what he did “before this,” and he says, cryptically, “I was in I.T. … but I messed some stuff up … it’s — I — we should probably not get into that.”
Later, Amy finds she doesn’t even have to impose her ideas on Tyler for him to take an interest. She’s reading a book called Change: Now or Never! at her desk and Tyler asks what the book is about. Not because he’s dim, but because he’s trying to push her buttons and find out what she personally thinks of Change: Now or Never! But she is annoyed. She takes a breath and responds that the world is screwed up, that, “We have to become conscious — now!” she says, like a mother ordering a child to brush his teeth. Tyler asks, “Is it boring?” She frowns deeply.
This fluorescently lit, windowless purgatory with clumps of wire hanging inexplicably from the ceiling bears some resemblance to the original The Office, in which, before they became discernible characters, a bunch of anemic-looking men and women typed away their shifts at a paper company in the appropriately named, sunless English town of Slough. Amy’s new crew gets its own David Brent in the form of their boss Dougie (Timm Sharp), a kind of tech-geek version of Anthony Kiedis, who seems clinically unable to edit himself, randomly lapses into cringe-inducing urban patois, and holds the floor for the duration of every conversation because the rest of the staff are too sedated by their line of work to tell him to shut up. And of course, being their boss, he is the thread by which they are all hanging on to Abbaddon, and if they listen to him talk, it means they don’t have to work. At the lunch table, Amy, being new, gives him the shocked reactions he’s looking to get out of his misogynistic and gory tales, but she is not really listening, too concerned that her former assistant Krista has shown up for lunch at the same restaurant after having claimed to be too busy for lunch with her.
This feels like the end of the Krista story line: Krista has been promoted, Krista now works in Amy’s old office, Krista’s new work friend is a mean-girl brunette who tries to peer pressure Krista into having a martini while five months pregnant, etc. But then, so many scenes in this show create a picture of complete untenability. This point was made enough times last week. We need something to tenez! Otherwise we are filled with a permanent creeping dread, and that alone is not enough of a reason to keep watching. I would like to know what Tyler did to fuck things up in the I.T. department, for instance. I would like to know more about the awful new woman trying to get Krista to lighten up about fetal alcohol syndrome.
Anyway, Amy devotes her time in the Cogentiva office to her nonexistent environmental “task force” thing, printing out news articles about the damage Abbaddon is doing to the world and sending them to Judy. But instead of being shocked into submission, as Amy dreamed in a “visualization” at the beginning of the episode, Judy admonishes Amy’s Erin Brokovich posturing, saying that what she’s doing could get them both fired, and throws the articles in the trash. The trash being where the book Change: Now or Never! also ends up, in a tiny release of rage by Amy, until Tyler asks if he can read it.
The emotional bookends of this episode are the ridiculous Dougie, who brings the humorous undercurrents of this show to the surface, or at the very least, closer to it, and Luke Wilson’s Levi, who shows up again because Amy has dreamed up another reason to hang out with him. This time, she’s decided he would really like Open Air, so has brought him the brochure and cooked him a vegan stirfry. But it’s wishful thinking that Levi would suddenly declare that, yes, he has a substance abuse problem, because the photo of the campfire on this brochure makes rehab look so appealing! Instead, he very quickly gets angry at her, and it’s a real treat, being the first time (to my knowledge), that Luke Wilson has convincingly lost his temper (he’s good at smizing while yelling). But he ends his outburst by reminding Amy that she can keep bothering him until the end of time, because he is nice, because he is a pushover, because, “My door is always open!” No, Levi. If Levi kept his door closed for at least one episode, maybe Amy would be forced to hang out somewhere else, somewhere an earth-shattering moment might live. For now, all we have are tremors.