While I always hate to directly contradict a colleague (particularly my immediate superior), “Comrades Unite” is not the top candidate for a one-episode drop-in on Enlightened. In fact, the series is largely immune to drive-by viewership, which is part of the reason it’s been receiving such (undeservedly) paltry ratings. To enjoy Enlightened, you need to do your homework; this is true “Comrades Unite” moreso than any previous episode. This is the episode where so much of what’s come before—everything from Amy’s in-office breakdown in the pilot to her dismal night at Bank last week—pays off. In effect, the call to organization in the episode’s title could be addressed to the many threads of the first season as well as to the main character’s Cogentiva coworkers.
Additionally, “Comrades Unite” isn’t for Enlightened newcomers because it’s an uncharacteristic half-hour of the show. Sure, this is a show that defies easy characterization, but this episode could set unrealistic expectations for pacing and unambiguous conclusions from other episodes. That said, it’s also one of the finest examples of “Enlightened as corporate satire” thus far: We’ve known from the start that Abaddon is the series’ Big Bad, but we’ve only previously seen this on the micro level. The way the extreme level of corporate competition in the Health and Beauty Department pushed Amy toward a nervous breakdown, for instance, or how the Cogentiva employees can’t afford to take sick days. But “Comrades Unite” reveals just how long, strong, and slimy the company’s tentacles are (even if that information has been under our noses the whole time): The whole purpose of Cogentiva is to reduce Abaddon’s warehouse workers to little more than replaceable parts, translating their job performance and punctuality into data that helps the higher-ups determine which parts work the best and which don’t—thereby giving them quantifiable means for termination. It is, to quote Amy, sick, and it’s all the product of Dougie’s unexpectedly fertile brain. In a genius bit of editing, this new piece of information (Omar: “He’s no monkey” Amy: “No, he’s a fucking fascist mastermind”) is underlined and undermined by a quick shot of Timm Sharp following his headphone cord like a dog chasing its own tail.
That Amy could be working on the project for so long without realizing its malevolent ends initially appears to diminish her intelligence—until you think about how little she’s actually been working. Amy’s own productivity and punctuality have her on the path toward termination in “Comrades Unite,” until she pulls an incredibly selfish and manipulative trick: In danger of losing her job, Amy uses her boss’ unprofessional behavior on the dance floor against him. One of the most interesting aspects of Amy’s relationship with her employer is how essential Abaddon is to her existence. Despite all of the progress she’s made since the pilot, she’s still willing to resort to desperate measures in order to keep her job. Is there much of a difference between prying open the elevator doors and dropping the sexual-harassment bomb in front of Judy and the woman from legal? At Abaddon, “dog eat dog” is the rule all the way to the lowest end of the corporate food chain.
And while that’s the type of move that came naturally to Old Amy, it ultimately and ironically achieves a New Amy goal. Amy’s coworkers are called to testify against their boss (which, given the gravity of Amy’s accusations, adds a touch of gray to the Orwellian shade in which “Comrades Unite” paints Abaddon), and Dougie is told that if he wants to keep his job, he has to cool it with the cussing and leering and such. In short, Amy has finally acted as an agent of change. It’s the smallest nudge toward a conscience that she could’ve given the company, but if things weren’t changing in increments, then this wouldn’t be an episode of Enlightened. In true, “hard to pin down” fashion, “Comrades Unite” is both a characteristic and uncharacteristic episode of the show.
Too bad that achievement possibly costs Amy the only true friend she’s made since returning from Open Air. Though they end the episode on vaguely reconciled terms (unless I’m reading too much into the twitch/smirk Mike White gives around the 23-minute mark), Amy’s insistence at bringing Dougie’s misconduct to light only serves to isolate her further from Tyler. In a cyclical fashion, Amy’s work life is once more destroying her personal life. Of course, the company is having a similarly parasitic effect on Tyler—he doesn’t want to speak to HR because his previous run-in with that department led to his Cogentiva assignment. He may be mad at Amy for brushing off his romantic advances, but he’s also covering his own ass.
Yet, for all the acts of self-preservation displayed throughout “Comrades Unite,” its core message is embodied by its title and “Union Maid,” the Woody Guthrie composition that bookends the episode: Change is rarely effected by individuals. Dougie’s outward reformation isn’t the result of one woman speaking out—it’s the result of at least one more, as seen in the episode’s denouement. In a sun-dappled sendup of that old, whistleblower-story standby—the clandestine meeting in the parking garage—Bayne Gibby’s Connie discloses her role as the informant who gave Amy the backup she needed to retain her job. Past episodes made Connie out to be a pushy, prudish caricature, but her conversation with Amy affords the character a bit more humanity. In fact, she’s more like Amy than previously believed. “Work can get stressful, but you can’t forget your morals” she tells our freshly empowered protagonist. It’s a callback to their conversation in “Now Or Never,” but it’s also a minor call to arms. Whatever potential for change the last two episodes of Enlightened hold, I’m betting this line inspires the bulk of it. You’ll just have to tune in for the next two weeks to see whether or not that pays off.
- For a show whose original score has proven a lot more effective than its use of pre-existing musical cues, “Union Maid” is an awfully smart choice for “Comrades Unite.” It was supposedly written at the request for a pro-union song told from a women’s perspective; of course, its final, tongue-in-cheek verse argues there’s no stronger union than marriage, so I wouldn’t expect the song to be sung at future meetings of the Women’s Association of Abaddon.
- Another line with a lot of potential to be realized in the next two episodes, from Amy this time: “I’m not used to things going my way.”