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Enlightened Watch: Lighting a Fire

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HBO

Quick spoilers for last night’s Enlightened season finale:

“Burn It Down,” the final episode of Enlightened‘s first season wasn’t the tour de force that last week’s “Consider Helen” was, but as a finale it had different goals: bringing together the threads of the season and setting up the show’s future in a potential second season. (Not something the ratings suggest it would get, but HBO operates by an entirely different calculus if it believes a show is creatively successful.)

I’m on record as a big fan of Enlightened, but I don’t think it’s perfect; its biggest problem, as you would suspect from a show that combines cringe humor, an earnest story of growth and a quasi corporate satire, is managing its tone. When Amy leaves Helen’s house and goes to the office, and especially when she descends from Abbaddon to the purgatory of the Cogentiva team, it’s like she’s entering another world, one that literally looks different and operates by different rules. (Among other things, the show is about literal downward mobility; Cogentiva is a kind of white-collar Island of Misfit Toys, where the customs of polite office double-speak practiced by the privileged Abbaddonites don’t apply.) So Enlightened has sometimes felt jarring—sometimes a character study of Amy, sometimes feeling like a satire of her and sometimes playing like a satirical indictment of corporate culture.

In “Burn It Down,” these various threads came together in a way that made sense. As Amy becomes aware of what her new job is actually about (developing software that allows a company to legally screw over its employees), we see that, for all her self-absorption and self-righteousness, she’s not clueless. The Carrie moment she experiences, overhearing the executives at the staff meeting mocking her when they believe she’s left, shows that her view of the world is not entirely unfounded—Amy may be her own worst enemy, but that doesn’t mean there are not awful people. And it’s fitting that her plan of action relies equally on her own lofty idealism and Tyler’s bitterness (she’s able to access corporate emails because of the password—”JULIE_BITCH”—Tyler created to hack into the account of a coworker who used him). It may or may not work, but Amy seems to have found a way to put her principles into real-world practice.

If Enlightened does get another season, I don’t see it simply turning into Erin Brockovich as Amy takes on The Man; the show is too admirably conflicted about her crusade and her refusal sometimes to think it through. (Another reason I like her pairing with Tyler, who isn’t as keen on the idea of “burning it down” when exposing the company might take his job with it.) But having taken Amy through the first uncomfortable stages of returning to the real world, I hope we’ll get a second season that deals with the conundrum of how to turn metaphysical talk into physical action.

I know I don’t have a right to expect that season, but maybe the network could find some loose change left over from making True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones to keep this little show alive. Come on, HBO: it’d be good karma.

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