“The Weekend” S1 / E4
- B+ Community Grade
Of all the obstacles facing Amy’s recovery and somewhat dubious quest for enlightenment, the only one as insurmountable as herself is Levi. And that’s partially because the two characters are more intertwined than either cares to admit. We haven’t gained a lot of insight into how their relationship functioned before their divorce, but we get a few glimpses in “The Weekend.”
It’s either because it takes some time with what’s proving to be the show’s most compelling relationship—that between Amy and Levi—or because things actually happen, but “The Weekend” is definitely an early highlight of Enlightened. I can’t say that the show would be better if more episodes did what “The Weekend” does, but it is nice to see the minimal momentum of the first three episodes finally building toward what transpires between the characters here. For an episode that talks constantly about the benefits of shutting out your personal narrative, “The Weekend” actually does a lot of work to forward the stories of Amy and Levi—and to fill in their background as well. It can’t be a coincidence that part of the episode takes place among surging rapids; then again, maybe it was just the potential danger of kayaking through rushing water implicating some legitimate narrative stakes.
The emotional stakes, of course, are consistently high on Enlightened, especially any time Levi is involved. He and Amy always seem one argument away from never speaking to one another again—a fairly likely outcome, considering they’re divorced. But as Amy’s mid-episode voiceover tells it, no matter how many time she offers unsolicited advice or he disappoints her through self-destructive means, she and Levi have a connection. It’s why she keeps ending up at his apartment, and why he initially agrees to go on the kayaking retreat. Why were they ever together in the first place? Mike White’s script is wisely stingy on the details, but the flashbacks show there was some legitimate love in Amy and Levi’s relationship once—or at least some sort of happiness. But Amy had a miscarriage, and then their dog died, and the string of minor tragedies that ensued left them alone, together. And rather than finding strength in their survival, they started looking for a way out. And a connection curdled into codependence, which led to Levi sleeping around and Amy seeking solace at the bar. For the purposes of television, it all happens so quickly, and it repeats in that quick, saddening succession in Amy’s mind. No wonder she’s so eager to drown out her inner narrative—and no wonder that inner narrative refuses to be silenced by a weekend of meditation.
For all of the melancholy biographical information provided by “The Weekend,” the episode earns a few big laughs. In fact, it begins as an outwardly comedic half-hour: The episode opens as Amy, blaring T. Rex in her car, plows into some garbage cans outside of her mom’s house; next, she imagines in horrifying detail the two options for spending her first weekend back from Open Air: It’s either puking in the line for the ladies’ room or playing “human plotting-soil stand” for her mother. It’s the kind of lighter, goofier humor that’s been missing from earlier episodes (or otherwise jarringly employed, like when Omar sneezed all over his co-worker in “Now Or Never”), and it sets a nice contrast for when “The Weekend” takes a turn for the darker.
Once Amy picks up Levi, there’s a sense that the kayaking trip isn’t going to go according to plan—and while their trip down the river doesn’t exactly lead them to Deliverance territory, it does start to get at what was (and still is) broken about their relationship. Somewhere down the line, the two mistook codependence for support, so when Amy dumps Levi’s overnight stash of pills, coke, and weed into the water, she atones by leaving the kayaking group and shacking up in a dingy motel for the night. This is not the tranquil beauty of their afternoon in the wilderness, and it’s a long way away from Open Air. And for all Amy does to stop her mind from recounting her past with Levi, the coked-up-and-drunk-on-strategically-framed-in-the-background-Pabst-Blue-Ribbon motherfucker insists on recounting a previous trip to the Kern River (the same trip Amy remembers at the start of the episode) in excruciating detail. It’s a tragicomic scene handled wonderfully by Luke Wilson and Laura Dern, one which temporarily imbues Levi with youthful verve—and almost reduces Amy to tears. (The way Dern teeters on the edge of weeping is absolutely devastating.) Of course, it’s not the low point of the night: That doesn’t arrive until Levi, coming down from his high, asks Amy with all the subtlety of a dude who just did a whole bunch of blow in front of his ex-wife, “Wanna fuck?” And that’s devastating, too.
Re-watching that scene, it now looks like something that could be removed from its original context and used by a smartass YouTube user to point out the depths of Enlightened’s pretension. But in the moment, Wilson’s half-swallowed delivery is more sad than silly, and he and Dern both get an acting workout from “The Weekend.” Wilson, so often sleepy-eyed and slack-jawed in his post-Idiocracy years really pours himself into Levi’s highs and lows, and neither he nor Dern veers into melodrama when their characters verbally spar in front of their fellow kayakers. Dern’s performance has been a dependable element in the series early goings; it’s nice to see that she can get some help from Wilson when he’s around for multiple scenes.
Placing Amy and Levi on a camping trip with characters who represent what they once were and what they could’ve been is perhaps a bit too heavy-handed, but it drives home the point that, try as they might, these characters can’t escape their narrative. We will forever live with the reminders of how we’ve spent our lives, no matter how hard we try to meditate or snort them away. Amy can shut her eyes and drift away from her past with Levi, but when she looks at her hands, she’s reminded that she has a past—and that she may have exactly as much past as she has future. Levi, meanwhile, attempts to flee from his past and his present, and on his current trajectory, he doesn’t have much of a future. Of course, the way they leave things at the end of “The Weekend,” he’s no longer standing in the way of Amy’s growth. For the sake of Enlightened, however, I hope their paths continue to cross.