I entered the viewing game late with regard to HBO’s series, “Enlightened”.
It stars Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe, a buyer in the Health and Beauty division of Abbadon, a HUGE Los Angeles based multi-national corporation with employees that operate with ice water in their veins. They’re written to be soulless, if for no other reason than to show how off center Amy’s character really is. But is this a fair portrayal of corporate America? Yeah, I suppose it’s more accurate than not. Then again, I guess a certain amount of callousness is vital. In some ways, it has to be. Caring costs money. Whether its incentive programs for its associates or donations to charitable causes. Even the PR involved to come across as a caring institution costs money.
I’m not knocking the working intricacies of capitalism or a free market. Cars run on gas; corporate America runs on myopic profit margins.
Amy suffered a miscarriage before divorcing her handsome but issue addled husband, (played by Luke Wilson). She never really got over that…or the suicide of her father or the distance at which her emotionally cold and unavailable mother, played her real life mom, Dianne Ladd has always held her. She is high-strung–even on her best days–and she consistently flirts with going over a perilously steep emotional precipice. Her drug and alcohol use only nudges her closer.
And one day, all these issues come together in this heated confluence of anger and rage and resentment and she has what can only be described as the mother of all melt downs at work. And yes, it occurred in front of her bosses, including one manager, a married man with whom she’d been having a an affair; one that most of the emploees at Abbadon Industries were well aware.
She promises to take them all down including Damon, her ex manager and lover.
She is encouraged by Human Resources to get help, which she does.
She heads west to do so, to a treatment facility in Hawaii. There she learns to mediate and forgive; to eat healthy and to let go; she gets all centered and learns yoga and acceptance; she heals and vows to be the change she needs to see in the world.
Three months later, she comes back to LA bubbling with all that idealism one naturally comes away with after a stint in rehab. Due to finances, she’s forced to move in with her mother. The dynamic between them feels very real. Her mom is cold and aloof. Amy can do nothing right.
When you learn more about Amy’s life, you can understand why she is who she is. It’s no surprise she ended up an emotional sump pump. It’s no surprise that she lived her life to the extent that she had to enter treatment and exited it all starry eyed. It was a place where her lunacy was on par with everyone else. She was accepted in the treatment facility. The bonfires on the beach; the sing alongs, the heal the world, the make love not war stance and anyone who isn’t as hip to the world’s problems AND how to heal them, are in BIG trouble. People from the past need to be healed; saved even when they don’t want to be. There seems to be a certain amount of arrogance involved in post rehab healing.
Why is that?
I think its because they have to re-enter the world with all this optimism, because life will whittle away at it bit by bit until its level with every one else’s. To walk out of treatment with fear and doubt swirling in a pessimistic soup would be counter-productive. If they can keep it up, great, but the truth is, water always seeks its own level, one way or the other.
Amy comes back to LA as a walking self-help book. She knows all the phrases and platitudes one learns ‘in program’ and can recite them like rote. She wants everyone to love life as much as she has learned to love life. Her views are immature and so sweet they’ll make your teeth hurt.
Then there’s that other side of Amy that’ll rear its head. The very same side that helped put her in rehab in the first place.
She gets a job with Abbadon but it’s not in her old role as a buyer. Instead, she’s been placed in something akin to a data entry position in the basement of the corporate headquarters. She’s working on a special efficiency, productivity and profitability program with Big Brother implications. Her new coworkers down in subterranean level H–the bottom button on the elevator bank and a marvelous hat tip to Hell–are other misfits, burn outs and social outcasts who can’t make it in the corporate world above ground. The entire department is working on Cogentiva, as the computer program is called, and the basement is basically where the hard to place are sent to work. It’s the where one goes when termination–regardless of how justifiable–seems too risky for Human Resources to attempt. It’s essentially a department of last resort.
Amy feels that she was put in level H as an attempt to make her quit and sever all ties to Abbadon. She feels this new position is stifling her, her creativity; her ability to make change. Then she decides that she can work as a community liaison, a position which doesn’t exist at Abbadon. Every once in a while, Amy goes upstairs in an attempt to interact with her former co-workers in the Health and Bauty division which sees the light of day, but they still regard her as a whack job and she gives them reason to think this way. She comes at them–barrages them, really with demands (what she calls favors) imploring them to help her with her helplessness; all coming from a face affixed with this perpetual smile–her outward display of positivity—and this need to do good in the world.
She’s selfish, but somehow, her heart is near being in the right place. That’s not a typo, by the way. She’s not there….yet. And therein lies the journey and the plotline of this series. For example, in one episode, Amy’s frustration at the monotony involved in working on the Cogentiva project is getting the best of her. She applies for a job at a homeless shelter that really seems to be making a difference with its clientele. She’s excited to be considered for the position and feels she could make a difference there, but turns down the job it only pays 25-thousand dollars a year.
See what I mean?
I am enthralled with this show. I love the writing. I love the dynamics involved in the relationships of the characters. At the end of every episode, Amy recites what she’s learned in treatment–perhaps even what she encountered that very day, in this dreamy scene in which she claims small victories in the areas of personal growth and her own humanity. Invariably, the lines the writers give her resonate with me. They resonate with a lot of people from what I understand.
And while I get the idealism, and would to love to seize each day with the same hopeful zeal, watching Amy and her encounters with everyone in her world is painfully awkward and uncomfortable. It’s a testament to the actors and writers that at the end of each 30-minute episode, my shoulders ache from cringing. The grittiness can be very, very real. Chances are everyone has known an Amy.
Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m conveying here. I completely respect what treatment facilities offer. They have saved many lives that drugs or alcohol could have so easily vanquished, but the world is a very safe one behind those walls. A person in treatment is isolated and insulated from the outside. And that’s for good reason. It was all the things ‘outside’ that brought them–nay, chased them into these centers. Everyone enters treatment sharing this certain sameness.; they’re all on the same level in one way or the other . They’re broken and addicted. And through the course of healing, they learn how to handle what would have been stress triggers in their former lives. Everyone at the center meditates. Everyone there participates in group therapy several times a day. Everyone is actively involved in self esteem and self worth exercises. Everyone there learns how to forage within their psyches and root around for that acorn of truth. They learn to let go and forgive. They learn the positives of being positive. Their one responsibility in this environment is to heal; to get better. Everyone learns to connect, not unlike that which Con Ed offers New Yorkers with a penchant for electricity. A hug, they’re taught, is a veritable outlet for this process.
Or so they think.
But once outside; once away, those who are fresh from the process of all that it takes to heal holistically, have to deal with the world again and all who dwell in it. The majority of people they encounter haven’t been to therapy much less rehab. These are the people who live lives fueled by rage. They still dilute their pain and struggles with drugs and alcohol. They live in pain and for their own reasons, are comfy in their own monotony. Many are loners, lack vital social skills and are fractured emotionally–maybe even mentally. They don’t adapt; they don’t like to be hugged or touched in any form or fashion. They are jaded–probably since birth and have no desire to see the world through freshly Windexed rehab goggles.
They don’t play well with others.
And most consider the new idealism of the newly rehabbed as just one more symptom of their delusion. He…usually she…is still the same person who used and abused before treatment ever entered the picture. All that positivity is often considered contrived and baselopfess.
Many come out of treatment and can fit back into society, but not Amy. She’s one of those annoying recovering types who imposes all her newfound knowledge and beliefs on people. She was more likeable with all her warts in tact. And now here she is, made whole by all the shards. She’s right; she’s correct and everyone must see things the same way she does. If she can change, that means anyone can, right?
In the simplest of terms, Amy is irritating. Flawed to the inth degree. Rehab and all its wound healing couldn’t fix everything. It couldn’t remove all of her self-absorption, her whininess, arrogance, her self-indulgence or passive aggressive nature. She is completely devoid of filters and is very intrusive. She can recite peace, love and brotherhood once minute, then rant away with expletives that’d make your daddy blush. She has short cycling mania. She’s needy and all of these things are rather off putting, as are facial contortions. There’s never really any doubt what Amy is feeling. She needn’t utter a word. In this regard, Dern’s portrayal of this character is outstanding–providing you can sit through how uncomfortable her encounters are. The people Amy knew before her break down aren’t mean, they just can’t handle her for all the reasons stated above. Add annoying optimism and a lack of boundaries to the equation and you have a person you from which you must run.
Amy is a liar. She’s all about this save the world stuff, yet can lie at the drop of a hat. To herself mainly. She just doesn’t fully realize she is. Amy also hates being dissed by the people she knew before her breakdown, yet has no qualms with dissmissing her current coworkers. In short, Amy is oblivious to the fact that she is as offensive as she is. She has never heard the collective sigh of relief others release when she leaves the room. She is clueless on so many levels.
I just got through watching the entire first season. The sophomore effort will start in January and I’ll be interested in seeing how much more ‘enlightened” Amy gets. Apparently, she learned a few things about managerial kickbacks and other shady deals, courtesy of a little post coital ppillow talk with her then boss. She did threaten to take them all down. Is revenge part of the healing process? is culling the evil heard even if said evil is the status quo?l
For this series, ‘enlightened’ I feel, is almost a misnomer. I think it should be entitled “One 40-Year Old Woman Becoming Increasingly More Aware” and no, not in a self-help book /Joel Osteen kind of way. Amy seems to be increasingly more aware of how life really works. And thanks to treatment, she’s learning to live and work in this new world without drugs or alcohol, but she’s also learning that some of the idealism she now has isn’t applicable in all that many situations. Prisons don’t always involve cells and metal bars and escape sometimes involves the mental process of breaking free as opposed to physically tunneling through an AC vent to a free society on the other side of the concertina wire along the fence. And often times, an addiction can include behaviors…idealogies.
In my opinion, Life is about reaching a workable middle ground and staying there, reaching for what you need when you need it, but not going to radical extremes in any direction. Rehab changed that perspective within Amy. She left treatment with a new-found defense mechanism, but in many, ways she re-entered the real world completely unarmed.
The interesting part of this series is watching Amy is slowly but surely start to grasp her post-rehab existence. I have no idea what’s in store in season two, but I would venture a guess that it involves a newfound awareness that the world sometimes involves her 360 degree view of it and nothing more. Luckily, for fans of this series, we get to view Amy’s world from a second person perspective. It’s from a safe distance and compact. It fits nicely in a 30 minute time slot. With this half hour exception, we’re free from any contact with the weightiness of her mania.
I can tell you this much, witnessing this woman’s odyssey is a lot like secretly watching her shop in a store she can’t afford to even step foot in, much less buy clothes from. While there’s humor in her selection of a coat large enough for her body and one of her co-workers to fit in, there’s discomfort in watching her struggle with a pair of shoes two sizes too small.
Is this voyeurism awkward at times? Yes. Cringe worthy? Again, yes. Am I aware that Amy is a fictional person? Most certainly, but at least this character is trying everything on. In time, she’ll learn what fits and what doesn’t.