“Everything can be transformed,” said Laura Dern’s character, Amy Jellicoe, on last night’s first-season finale of Enlightened, walking to work and then through the corridors of her office. “Every single thing. Goodness exists. It’s all around. It’s just sleeping. It can be wakened.”
HBO, which is reputedly on the fence about renewing this critically acclaimed but low-rated series, should recognize the goodness on its schedule Monday night and give Enlightened another season. It’s charming, intelligent, uncomfortable, often moving. Executive produced by Dern and writer-producer Mike White, and written by White, Enlightened is doing things that no series has ever done, in a tone that no show has ever attempted. And on top of that, it feels like a definitive statement on a troubled era.
If you saw the finale of Enlightened last night — only half-jokingly titled “Burn it Down” — you know that Amy made good on her promises to confront her employer, the giant drug company Abaddon, about the callousness and illegality that she uncovered through research. You also know that Amy, who survived a breakdown so severe that it sent her into rehab, is especially outraged about her own department, which is developing software that figures out how to work employees as hard as possible while paying them as a little as possible. Enlightened is not an explicitly political series — not in the way that South Park is, or that The West Wing was — and yet the corporate intrigue aspects strike to the heart of the moral crisis that’s convulsing this nation. The image of Amy fantasizing about pouring gasoline on the floors of Abaddon’s headquarters and setting it ablaze was chilling — and as metaphor, perfect. Do we continue to accept business as usual out of a weary belief that change is just too hard? Or do we say something, and do something, even if means enduring humiliation and abuse? Do we continue to live in this rotting house, or do we burn it down?
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Matt Zoller Seitz is publisher of Press Play and TV critic for Salon.