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Streaming TV Party: ‘Enlightened’ season 2 ends with a quiet victory

This week, Amy is over it.

 

Audra Schroeder

Internet Culture

Published Dec 9, 2020   Updated Dec 9, 2020, 3:16 pm CST

Warning: This newsletter contains spoilers for Enlightened. Catch up here with Streaming TV Party’s previous newsletters—and sign up to receive the best of the internet straight to your inbox.


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A woman who’s over it

“Blessed are the moments in life when the decision is clear,” Amy says at the beginning of “No Doubt,” the penultimate Enlightened episode. This declaration is, of course, complicated almost immediately. 

That’s been the flow of Enlightened: Amy sets her intentions and they’re knocked down, or something accidentally goes her way. This is part of enlightenment. Final episode “Agent of Change” is filled with little moments of it: Dougie’s speech to his employees about how they were just “serfs” waiting to be “voted off the fucking island”; Louis saying he’s going to “catch up on sleep” now that he’s unemployed; Amy looking for her turtle in the elevator, and seeing only dull grey lighting.  

Her fantasy of walking into Abaddonn with a posse doesn’t happen; she’s alone, but her decision is clear, and she stands up for herself. In “No Doubt,” her meeting with Charles Szidon, and his offer to pay her $100,000 a year for this new “position,” is framed as a goodwill gesture. But isn’t it more likely Szidon knew what was up, and the job was a way to keep her in line? Isn’t that what corrupt people do? 

Amy’s enlightenment isn’t complete—she still accosts Krista right after she’s given birth, sure that it was her who ratted her out. She doesn’t have control over her anger yet. But Enlightened is a mirror: At the beginning of the series, Amy’s trapped in a bathroom. By the end, she’s walking down a sidewalk in slow motion—“into the light,” as she said in the pilot. In the beginning of episode 1 she claws open an elevator to scream at Damon. Here, Szidon is the one frothing at her as the door closes. She returns from Open Air committed to being an “agent of change,” and is given the chance to do something many of us aren’t: Tell the agent of destruction to its face to fuck off. 

Second seasons of acclaimed shows are often iffy, but this one blew past the first. It felt a little hurried, a little too short. But its quiet conclusion is still satisfying. Enlightened isn’t the kind of show that’s going to indulge a 90-minute finale.


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How the whistleblower storyline resonates now

Mike White told NPR in 2013 that the whistleblower plot was partially inspired by his father, Mel, a former ghostwriter for Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who came out as gay in 1994 and became an activist. (The two have also competed on The Amazing Race together.)

Just months after Enlightened was canceled, Edward Snowden revealed the scope of American surveillance, and Chelsea Manning was convicted of espionage for her role in exposing classified information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are well-known examples. It’s not as common that a corporate whistleblower gets a front-page spread in a major newspaper (including a photo) like Amy did. There are thousands of people who raise flags but don’t get asked for comment.    

Whistleblowing during the Trump administration has been dizzying—and chilling. This week, Rebekah Jones, the Florida data scientist who was let go from her job in May after she alleged she was asked to manipulate COVID-19 data, was visited by armed state police and her hardware seized. Two whistleblowers working on Trump’s border wall came forward to allege that contractors smuggled in Mexican security to guard the wall. “Whistleblower” is also being applied to bad actors who are trying to drum up bogus election fraud claims. NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, who leaked top-secret reports about Russian interference in the 2016 election, contracted COVID in prison and was denied compassionate release this week.

The pandemic has produced its own whistleblowers, doctors and scientists who sounded the alarm but were met with skepticism and derision. Compared to our current reality, Amy’s mission seems almost quaint. Though, of course, we never see if retaliation or punishment was part of it.


The subversively sexy costume design of Hustlers

In this week’s episode of Behind the Seams, we cover Hustlers‘ thoughtful attention to detail, its subversive political themes, and its unique use of Jennifer Lopez’ star power. 

Subscribe to Behind the Seams so that you never miss an episode.


Could season 3 still happen?

In the wake of Enlightened’s cancelation in March 2013, there were fan campaigns to save it, and multiple celebrities joined the chorus. These campaigns still happen, but the reasons shows are canceled (especially on Netflix) aren’t as clear these days. Enlightened’s fate was more straightforward: It was beloved but didn’t have the numbers. 

White, who directed the finale, said in 2013 that season 3 might have been “Abaddonn strikes back,” and that all the main characters would return, but there would be more lawyers. Flender’s L.A. Times article includes a photo of protestors marching on Abaddonn headquarters in 2009, so it’s clear there’s some history the show didn’t really get into. Dern said in interviews that she and White visualized what season 3 would be about. But the finale feels pretty final. Do we need to see the legal fallout? That’s not as interesting seven years later. Perhaps a movie showing where everyone ended up would be satisfying?   

White is currently in the middle of production on a new HBO Max limited series, The White Lotus, a “social satire set at an exclusive tropical resort.” This is great news for fans, and the cast (including Molly Shannon) is impressive. White working with HBO again is promising, but maybe this series will have to fill the Enlightened-shaped hole in our hearts.

For now, at least. 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What do you think Amy is doing for work now? What about Dougie and Tyler?
  • Are you satisfied with the ending? 
  • What would be your ideal scenario for a potential season 3?

For next week: We’re not done just yet! I’ll be doing one last newsletter looking back on Enlightened as a whole, its influence and fandom, and what the show can teach us in this moment of spiritual and social disarray.

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*First Published: Dec 9, 2020, 3:15 pm CST