Season finale review: ‘Enlightened’ – ‘Agent of Change’

“Enlightened” has wrapped up its second season, and I have some thoughts on the finale, and this great season as a whole, coming up just as soon as I finish my young-adult novel…

“Who are you?” -Szidon
“I’m just a woman who’s over it.” -Amy

If you pay attention to the larger TV critic community online, you may have noticed an awful lot of glowing things being written about this season of “Enlightened” in the last week or so, whether it was Todd VanDerWerff at The AV Club, Richard Lawson at The Atlantic Wire, Margaret Lyons at Vulture, James Poniewozik at Time or Emily Nussbaum at The New Yorker, to name a few. Mike White has also been making the rounds to talk about the decisions behind this season, and what he might do if HBO orders another, including with Mo Ryan at Huffington Post, Kate Aurthur at Buzz Feed and Denise Martin at Vulture.

I link to all these pieces not to suggest that this is an unusual volume in this day and age of TV coverage – most acclaimed series (and some less-acclaimed ones) get this much coverage or more at the ends of their seasons – but that this is some of the best, most thoughtful writing I’ve seen these people do, and those Mike White interviews are among the smarter and more candid I’ve seen from a show creator. There is something about “Enlightened” that, for the people who love it, inspires a level of passion and creativity that’s rare even among the most devout TV lovers. It’s a special show, and this was a special season.

I don’t know if it’ll have the afterlife VanDerWerff writes about when he says, “And like ‘The Wire,’ Enlightened’ strikes me as something people will keep discovering years from now, as they mainline the series after finding it on an out-of-the-way corner of HBO Go, then wonder why they didn”t hear about how good it was,” but that’s because it’s a tough show to love – tougher even than “The Wire,” I think. I’ve written before that I was very slow to warm to the series, and it really wasn’t until we got to this season – which was more plot-driven than the first, and featured two non-Amy POV episodes in the vein of season 1’s brilliant “Consider Helen” – that I felt I was seeing what so many of my colleagues were.

White’s command of mood and emotion are just so impressive, as is his commitment to making Amy such a difficult character – what Nussbaum describes in a more recent essay as the new “hummingbird” archetype of emotionally-challenging female protagonists – rather than trying to soften her up so you’ll get on board with her mission.

Amy Jellicoe is a character who genuinely wants to change the world for the better, but she’s also so emotionally needy, so socially tone-deaf, so tough to be around that I tend to view certain “Enlightened” scenes like the moment in the slasher movie when you know the killer is about to pop into the frame. I’ve watched the final twice, and getting through the scene where Amy goes to confront Krista was unbearable each time, which is exactly how White wanted it.

The finale did a beautiful job of bringing Amy’s story to an end in the event there aren’t more seasons – though in the Mo Ryan piece, he talks about what the shape of a third season would be, and how it could continue to involve the entire cast – and of summing up the character’s many contradictions. She’s someone Dougie can honestly call the worst employee he’s ever had, and yet someone he’d want to get a beer with. She’s someone who can be temporarily composed enough fluster a powerful man like Charles Szidon into an epic rant from guest star James Rebhorn, but also someone naive enough to be surprised when Jeff the reporter (who’s less noble than Amy takes him for) says he knew all along that she would get sued. She inspired Levi to try to improve himself, but only so much. (He has beer in the fridge to offer her, after all.) She destroyed many old relationships, yet helped create one between Tyler and Eileen. She’s going to bring down Szidon, but Abaddon itself will likely keep chugging along. (In that way, “Enlightened” is very much like “The Wire.”)

This was a really stunning season of television, one that makes me eager to see what else White might do in this universe even as I accept that this would be a perfect ending if HBO decides they want a different show to be their charity case in 2014.

If “Enlightened” goes away, I can imagine its replacement as being more accessible (probably far more). After the eight episodes we just got, though, it’s hard to imagine one being better.

Fantastic season. Fantastic finale. Bravo, Mike White.

What did everybody else think?