The thing about casting: It can be so surprising that it makes the production in question even more comforting than it already is, being fictional and colorful and, in the case of Enlightened, relatable. When Robin Wright’s wise and beautiful face shows up at the beginning of this week’s episode, we are as excited as Amy is — just that she’s here, but also in anticipation of what she will do while here. Wright plays Sandy, whom Amy met at the treatment center in Hawaii. Sandy is in town to teach a yoga intensive, and Amy insists that she stay with Amy at her mother’s house.
It turns out Sandy has become something of a healer since her own breakdown, which was caused by a longtime, high-stress job as a government speechwriter. Now Sandy has that lovely, subtly bronzed glow of the truly at peace, or just comparatively at peace. But Amy isn’t at all knocked down when Sandy swans in with advice on low-acid diets and a knack for getting reticent, repressed types like Amy’s mom and Levi to open up to her, seeming so ahead in the recovery process, somehow better at it. But there are hints of strain, tremors from below, from the very start of the episode.
After last week’s rainy misery, we know that Amy is still vulnerable to a lot of things, or at least, when the stars align to wreak a lot of havoc at once on her — last week she was taken to task by her boss, by Krista, by some random jerk at the bus stop, by her own mother — she is not ready for it. But neither, probably, would Sandy be. But for now, for each other, they’re going to put on a brave face, or more precisely, a sleepy, post-yoga simper.
Jonathan Demme (of, most relevantly, Rachel Getting Married) directed this episode: the transitions are smooth, or satisfyingly abrupt. Amy’s blunders, particularly her all-consuming paranoia that Sandy will hook up with Levi, is more believable than her awkward activism speech at Krista’s baby shower in last week’s episode (which, by the way, was directed by the excellent Nicole Holofcener, who loves to unsettle us, and sometimes annoy us in the process). The jokes are funnier. There’s a particularly brilliant moment where Amy and Sandy buy gelato and thank their server with the same whispery, orgasmically at-peace Thank you so muuuuch.
Things are going wonderfully, to the point that it feels like a bit of an act: They buy each other self-help books, pour their hearts out about post-rehab life, do yoga together in Amy’s room (much to the bafflement of Amy’s mom, who thinks they’re having sex), and set Sandy on a mission to heal the people in Amy’s life. They plan for Sandy to teach a yoga class during lunch one day at Cogentiva, and in the meantime Sandy spends a morning teaching Amy’s mom about all the bad foods in her kitchen, encourages her to rearrange her furniture to be in accordance with feng shui, and asks her all kinds of questions about her childhood, her marriage, her sex life. Amy is impressed until she asks her mom about it. Mom replies, “I want her out.” Not everyone is ready for your enlightened crap, lady. So Amy decides that Sandy should stay with Levi and figure out how to fix him while she’s at it.
This is all about Amy’s good intentions, because the alarm bells went off immediately: leave the broken and battered Levi alone in his house with the captivating (if irritating) Sandy? Really? But Amy trusts Sandy, is drinking her Kool-Aid. The trouble is, it doesn’t last. The niggling suspicions start to assert themselves. Back at her mother’s house, Amy texts both of them, and receives cursory and kind of adolescent replies from both. Then, uncharacteristically, Sandy flakes on the yoga class she’s supposed to teach at Cogentiva the next day (which is a shame because, in a nice redemption of last week’s crap, many people, including Krista, show up to it). Amy being Amy, she starts to freak out, leaves work, lets herself into Levi’s apartment, and finds Sandy sitting on top of a naked but toweled Levi, massaging his legs.
Could be worse. Soon, while putting some kale into a blender, Sandy is explaining that she got Levi, just like Amy’s mother the previous day, to open up about his deep, dark secrets, and just couldn’t leave. Sounds innocent enough, but Amy is still creeped out and paranoid. She goes in to talk to Levi, to beg him to not sleep with Sandy. Levi says she’s “acting crazy,” which may be true, but I felt particularly defensive of Amy here. So she threw the two of them together. It’s her fault if they get together. But it is perfectly reasonable for her to think they might abandon the healing thing in favor of straight-up sex.
Who knows what really happened that night, after Amy left? Probably nothing. At the very fine bit of television that is the end of this episode, Amy sees Sandy off at the airport. After the tense good-bye, in which Amy closes herself off to Sandy, just to push her buttons, to find out how much Sandy actually cares about her, to find out if she will do anything more than beam and pontificate, Amy sits in her car, trying to compose the right text message to make it all better. “Just tell me one thing — did you hook up with him?” she writes, then deletes it. Then she tries, “I miss you already.” Then she just runs back in there, hoping to give Sandy one last hug, a proper hug, like the long one they shared when Sandy first arrived. But it’s too late. She watches Sandy give a breathy thank-you to the security guy and disappear into her gate. Our hearts drop. But weirdly, it is Amy who makes us feel better: “Are we friends?” she asks herself. “Do you care?” But then: “Let it go. Let it go, let it go.” It’s an echo of something Sandy said earlier in the episode. But then, as it so often does, “Let it go” felt like an affront, because letting go usually feels impossible. We revolt against it. But here, Amy takes it into her possession. She’s already let go. She has to, because Sandy is gone. But she also has to, to save herself, to stop the inner hamster wheel, to save the friendship.
Then we see Sandy writing in her journal as she waits to board the plane. Throughout the episode, Amy had tried to peek in the journal to try to find out how Sandy “really” felt about her. Now the camera zooms in, and we see that all the journaling Sandy has been doing has really been doodles of flowers. Brilliant.