Enlightened Recap: Straight to the Top

Photo: HBO

“You’ve changed, you’ve changed, you really have,” Levi tells Amy at the start of this, the season one finale of Enlightened (which may or may not be renewed for a second season). It’s a powerful few words from a sweaty, strung-out ex-husband, huddled in a chair in Amy’s bedroom at three in the morning on a random weeknight. But God, he’s right! And the reason he’s here, having broken down the door to Helen’s house in his desperation, might have something to do with the fact that in order to finally recognize he needed help, he needed someone like Amy to show him what a person who has gone to rehab and come back better actually looks like. Levi said back in the rafting trip episode that he doesn’t want to be saved, and it followed that Amy did much more witnessing than acting or reacting in Levi’s life since. 

It worked. Not that things are perfect now. In fact, as she’s kneeling there, serene and saintly, listening to Levi as he accepts rehab as the answer, she says, “You don’t know how happy I am.” Classic Amy choice; definitely not the right thing to say. Levi, all wet and gross and exhausted, his face buried in his hands, scoffs, and says, “Well, I’m glad you’re happy. Because I want to die.”

Cut to Amy’s dreamy walk to work the next day, like a schoolgirl too preoccupied with trees and birds to get to school on time (she is late to work again, of course). The yellow dress from the premiere episode is back, as is sunshine and the trees and the piano plink-plonks and the voice-over: If Levi can change … is the essence of this particular reflection. One good move can cause a domino effect. This is pretty inspirational. In theory. The trouble is that in practice, I still wish Amy would choose a different cause than Abaddonn, that all her verve and good intentions didn’t have to go to the Cogentiva office on Floor Hell every day. It’s a drag. But I get it. Amy doesn’t think small. Conquering this corporate Goliath is the only way.

Now, it seems like kind of a miracle that big-picture Amy was able to make such a smooth transition from rehab to the real world. We get the enormity of the addict’s experience just in the few lines Amy and Levi exchange between Helen’s house in the middle of the night and the security line at the airport the next day as Levi is waiting to board his flight to Open Air. Amy does seem so serene and well adjusted, suddenly, through Levi’s bleary eyes. We don’t really know all that happened before her stint at Open Air, but we do know that it involved deaths, drugs, and the demolition of a long-term romantic relationship, a marriage that was supposed to last forever. Maybe she wasn’t as bad off as Levi, but no, she was: Her particular afflictions just displayed themselves in different ways.

A lot of doors are opening in these early scenes, and I mean doors to another season of material: Once at the airport, Levi declares his intention to get “hammered” on the flight, and once again we see the hell he’s going through. Suddenly it’s very easy to get into his shoes, the way he searches for openings to do drugs or, in this case, to drink because it’s the only thing he can do, trapped on a plane with tiny, free bottles of booze. To a normal person, such an event might seem like some sort of last hurrah, a party, but to him it will more likely be filled with dread. Not only does he have to sing kumbaya, sober, for however many weeks, but he has to then come back into the real world and attempt to find people and activities that can somehow be as pleasant as the ones from rehab, and in the process just keep sipping glasses of Perrier or whatever. Jesus! But I want to see that, however bad it is. I want to see all the ups and downs of post-rehab Levi, and what the “I love you”s that he and Amy mouth at the airport will come to mean down the road.

After dropping him off, the love continues: Amy goes home, gets in her mother’s bed and rests her head on her mother’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?” is Helen’s response, of course, and then she begins playing with Amy’s hair in a slightly too clinical way. “Your hair’s getting a little bit too long,” she says. “It’s frayed at the ends.” But in the end, she puts her hand on Amy’s head. How hard this would be for both of them at any other time. But last week covered a lot of ground, and now Amy is so broken down with love and admiration and anticipation for Levi that she has to put some of those feelings somewhere, so, Mom. Good.

The next morning Amy gets another gift, part of the chain reaction that Levi apparently started: Damon is giving her a meeting to present her dirt on Abaddonn to the executives and department heads. Looking stunning in a hunter green suit and her hair done all forties-style and thick eyeliner rimming her eyes, this is a snapshot of the Amy of yore, no doubt: the powerful department head. The previous day, Dougie (with Omar as a witness since he’s decided to have a witness present during all his interactions following the harassment issue), tells Amy she can’t go to the meeting when she asks. Of course, when the moment arrives for Amy to go up to the boardroom, she dashes when Dougie isn’t looking. He tries to catch her and then slides into the closing elevator doors like a bowling pin. 

Perfect, but there’s just no way this meeting is going to go well. We’ve been conditioned to approach things like this with trepidation, and with more and more trepidation the more confident Amy seems. But she’s done a first-rate job of preparing the heads for the overwhelming information she’s about to hit them with: there’s a handout to go with her speech, a backup source of information to read after they’ve grown bored of her overly dramatic and liberal-sounding statements about how the company is poisoning its customers with chemicals and working with other evil corporations. Of course, bitchy Janice is there to try to stymie Amy from the outset, saying the company can’t just stop selling its most successful products (something Amy suggests). Damon says she should really take up her issues with the FDA.

Amy is kicked out well before the twenty minutes she was allotted is up. She shuffles very slowly toward the door. Very, very slowly. We’re waiting for her to stop, say something like, “No. You know what … ?” But she keeps moving toward the door. So for the first time we’re not dreading that she’s going to have an outburst, we’re PRAYING that she’ll have one. Just to twist the knife, as she likes to do, Amy leaves the boardroom, then stands outside the door and listens as the executives burst into laughter about how Janice has to go change her “cancer tampon” now and what a “good show” Damon “put on” having Amy come in. Was that really all it was about? The higher-ups’ boredom? The fact that they don’t actually have anything planned for their meetings because they don’t really do that much work? That squeezing Amy in for twenty minutes is beyond easy, they just make it seem impossible because they’re powerful assholes? Yes, all of that, certainly.

And that’s when Amy makes her move, charging back into the room, and mouthing off quite astutely about how blind and evil everyone is being to not care how their money is being made. My blood pressure was certainly up there with hers. Again, this is all wonderfully prescient of Enlightened — so satisfying. Amy also decides to let everyone know that Damon, back when they were sleeping together, confessed to her some pretty unethical-sounding practices that allow him and “the boys” to siphon off even more money than they’re entitled to. But, as this show would have it, there isn’t much outrage or even surprise in this bunch of suits. They all just stare blankly, while Krista displays the blowfish/smirk expression she saves for Amy. But is there a glimmer of something else in it this time? Does Krista actually applaud Amy a little bit for sticking it to the man? Probably not. 

As disappointing as the meeting was, it obviously felt good, and Amy heads back down to Cogentiva determined, more so than ever, to stay the course. But she needs a little help from Tyler, her long-suffering confidant. It is really stunning here, looking back, to realize how much of Tyler’s time Amy has snatched, and yet he still — still — has a twinkle in his eye for her. It turns out that Tyler is at Cogentiva because he hacked into the office e-mail system. In one of his confessional bursts to Amy, he tells her all about it, and she immediately sees that e-mail hacking will be the way forward (oh jeez, but if you’ve been watching ABC’s Revenge, Amy’s hacking mission will seem completely innocent — it’s for a good cause!). She begs Tyler for the password to get into system. But she’s still surprised when, at the end of the work day, he leaves having written the password on a copy of her packet of dire information about Abaddonn. Digging through the executives’ e-mails in the darkened office, all alone, all the computers glowing their Cogentiva-branded desktop backgrounds, Amy imagines setting the whole building ablaze. We watch the flames snaking through the pristine hallways of Floor H. That would be one way to end this story, but I can think of so many better, more far-off ways. Here’s hoping HBO feels the same.

Enlightened Recap: Straight to the Top