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Enlightened Recap: Shadows Under the Water

It’s business as usual in the fourth episode of Enlightened: We’ve been made uncomfortable. Rom-com moments are followed by a higher quantity of tearjerker-drama moments. Brief peace is interrupted. Bouts of energy and enthusiasm are answered with despair and rage.

Luke Wilson’s Levi comes back on the scene to join Amy on an impromptu river-rafting trip, only to ruin the whole thing by bringing a stash of drugs with him. But don’t blame the writers for this grievous twist. Blame the characters. Of course Levi brought drugs on the trip. He’s an addict. What better way to convey addiction than to be realistic about it? To suggest that it may be impossible for Levi to ever accept help. To suggest that, for Levi, being out in nature, away from Los Angeles, is great, but being on drugs out in nature is even better. To convey through Luke Wilson’s onscreen pain and desperation that this state of mind is not so hard to understand. We go there with him. Or, at the very least, we go with Amy to her place of pain, lying on the bed in the murky dawn light of the motel room, watching Levi come down from a coke-and-beer cocktail. This is the result of Amy dumping Levi's drugs in the river and Levi having to go buy new ones, and Amy coming with him, because the weekend is still about them. But what is Amy trying to achieve here?

“It’s Abaddonn all the way, baby,” Amy declares to her mother at the beginning of the episode. It’s Friday, and she’s come home to that beautiful late-afternoon California glow. She tells her mom that she’s sticking with Abaddonn because she would’ve ended up homeless if she’d taken the job at the homeless shelter. We learn that only a week has passed since Amy returned home from Open Air: This is her first weekend in town. What will she do to, er, celebrate, her mother asks? This causes Amy to have a flashback to an episode of intense drinking at a nightclub, where she ended up projectile-vomiting on another woman while in line for the bathroom. This is funny, but it is also, in the tradition of this show, not funny, projectile vomit being a good indicator of total loss of control. We also learn that there is more to Amy’s past struggles than that episode of workplace rage. Much more.

So, what to do this weekend? Amy goes for the total opposite of binge drinking: meditation. Cue sitar. While meditating, she starts thinking about water — how she has too many wrinkles, how she needs to drink more water. Then she begins to think about a river, then a river trip she took with Levi when they were in their late twenties: She was pregnant, their beloved dog was still alive, all was good. Alcohol or drugs don’t seem to figure in this picture at all.

Then we learn why things went south: Amy miscarried, and soon after that, the dog died. She and Levi started partying, they started cheating on each other. “Then we started hating each other,” she says. Soon, she snaps out of her meditation and calls a river-rafting company and makes a reservation. She calls Levi, waking him up. “I can’t fucking go all the way up to the Kern to go camping at this short notice,” he says.

But soon he agrees, or rather, acquiesces. Amy tells him to be ready at 7 a.m. the next morning. A surge of hope and a sense of impending doom occur when she arrives at his house at seven the next day and he’s actually ready to go. She can’t believe it. We can’t believe it. This is sweet of him: He’s bashful and obedient and maybe excited about this attempt to re-create the past. Then he insists on driving, and they make the promising journey to the river, set to the Richard and Linda Thompson song “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” — a subtle clue that this day will probably not end peacefully inside a tent. Amy is sporting pigtails and a plaid shirt, like a camp counselor.

In this new, refreshing little scenario, we get our chance for humor. There are two other couples on the trip, one middle-aged and happily married, and the other younger than Amy and Levi and not married. The rafting guide is an ex-TV writer who traded life in Hollywood to be a “poet of the river.” “There’s a special layer of hell down there,” he says of L.A. “Really sick shit.” He then asks the younger couple if they’re married. They shake their heads, and the guy does a silent knife-across-the-throat gesture. When the guide asks Amy and Levi, Amy slowly says, “Yeah ... ” then looks back at Levi, “Yeah, no.” The symbolism of these three couples is, of course, too perfect. But no matter. We are about to get a gut-wrenching piece of television that will erase any desire to nitpick.

Soon they’re all paddling down a calm stretch of river. It’s silent, except for the sound of the water and Amy’s voice-over. “My first love,” she says to herself. “My husband. My heartbreak. My pain. Feels so easy now. Here. You’re not the cheat and the liar. I’m not the nag and the shrew. And we’re not old or young. There’s no bitterness or illusions. No need for fear or hope. We’re just spirits drifting through this perfect earth together. We can be free of our sad stories. They float away till they’re like memories of a dream from the night before. Shadows under the water. And what’s left is pure life. Life is a gift.”

Maybe so, but Levi’s just not seeing it that way. Just before dinner, Amy finds the drugs in a Ziploc bag and tosses them in the river. While doing this, she sees Levi and the girl from the younger couple flirting in the water (since Levi is looking for any thrill, and that’s one). Soon he realizes the drugs are missing and they have it out in front of everyone. “It’s not a disco, gross!” Amy says, once again impatient and disbelieving of the absorbing extent of his addiction. But when he storms off to go find some drugs in town, she goes with him and sits through his own reminiscences of the way things were, which only come out once he’s intoxicated. He thinks back to the first river trip, and like a person much older than he is, asks Amy, heartbreakingly, “How old would we have been back then?”

The next day, as Amy is dropping him off back home, Levi tells her to please not try to “save” him. He explains that the drugs and booze are usually for the opposite of reminiscence. When he’s high, there are times “when I actually don’t think about any of it,” he says, "it" being the nightmare they went through, “and I need those times, okay?”

Back at her mother’s house, Amy is left to admire her mother’s rose garden and have the revelations that Levi is unable to have. “You can try to escape the story of your life,” she says. “But you can’t.” She’ll continue to look forward, to see the glass as half-full. For now, it’ll have to be without Levi. It’s hard not to see the Levi story as a kind of movie-within-the-show, and at this point, it’s only half-written. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if Amy were forced to abandon Levi for good. Because this isn’t about what we want.

Photo: Nicola Goode/HBO