Enlightened: "Follow Me"
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Enlightened: "Follow Me"

I have never been more certain of Amy Jellicoe’s self-delusion than when she counts herself among the meek who will inherit the world, but maybe that’s because I met her in an elevator bank shouting, “I will kill you, motherfucker!” Nothing scares me more on film than psychological horror—the external world is never quite as scary as being out-of-sync with it—so Amy’s increasing dissociation makes for a creepy episode. There are physical threats, too: “Follow Me” is punctuated with Dougie suddenly, loudly interrupting the action, often just staring toward the camera, toward us. But the physical threat isn’t as powerful as the abstract terror, that of Amy getting lost in her mind. She does nothing to earn her self-congratulation at the end, and then she stares at her Twitter follower count, willing an unlucky 13 to make room for another, and she’s divinely rewarded. She whispers, “Follow me,” into our ears, and then she gets even closer, invading our space, whisper-screeching again. She talks about angels buzzing and a new world, and all the while time keeps skipping. In the end, she writes a disturbingly self-aggrandizing twit about the revolution, and the violins ramp up for their superhero like it’s The Dark Knight. It gives me goosebumps.

Enlightened lives in the distance between actions and words, and “Follow Me” translates that struggle into a tension between the physical and the digital, or at least the intangible. It’s an episode where a Californian vacations via someone else’s travel website. Amy watches a Youtube video of a capitalist getting pied; the physical event is a blip, but the humiliation lasts and spreads digitally. Muckraking librarian Roberta Jackson gives a short speech about the power of Twitter. “We can now defeat tyranny in virtual space, the cyber-revolution.” Surely she knows the Arab Spring didn’t happen without physical bodies in physical space. It’s a let-down instead of an inspiration, a comforting, complacent-making acceptance speech not far from Charles Szidon’s Ted Talk, it seems, but that doesn’t stop Amy Jellicoe.

The stylistic approach for “Follow Me” derives from the episode’s two biggest threads, Amy’s impatience and that physical/abstract tension, which is to say the episode is wall-to-wall montages, five whole sequences of shots in place of scenes within the span of a half-hour. One function of the montage is to pass time, which suits Amy, who is just dying to fast-forward through these last few weeks at Cogentiva and storm the offices of Charles Szidon with her team of cool jazz clubbers. The first two even serve a physical purpose, one anchored to Amy’s date with Jeff and the second chronicling Amy’s quest for one goddamn Twitter follower. But most of the montages completely dissociate from the physical experience of Enlightened, floating off into Amy’s headspace, where time moves faster and every discrete event is logged according to its ability to glorify Amy. Jeff isn’t just talking Amy into re-thinking her position on Twitter. He’s leading her into the new world, a place of compassion and action and justice. He’s her angel. Which makes Amy a prophet. And me the creeped-out non-believer who can’t look away.

The story of the final three montages is entirely in Amy’s head, from Amy accepting Twitter as a medium of social change to her feeling accepted by Twitter in turn. First, Roberta speaks about how she brought about massive anti-corporate protests from a Starbucks in Monrovia, and Amy scoots in her imaginary office-chair rightward past Dougie, who's investigating her, to Tyler, where the momentum stops and moves backward as he thwarts Dougie’s attack. Next Amy fantasizes about how she will learn the ways and customs of this new world, social networking, trading contact info, smart-phone updates, but she’s interrupted by someone from the old world, the physical world, Riverside. What’s more, it’s someone whose relationship to her is physical: He serves her food at a corporate chain restaurant. A day later, Amy preaches to herself about how she has now learned the ways of the new world and desires and deserves to be followed. But . . . she hasn’t, has she? She just skips to the end, right?

What happens between Amy's rambling about not understanding Twitter and Amy's rambling about conquering Twitter isn’t virtual at all. She convinces Dougie to help her and Tyler bring Abaddonn down. When Dougie stays after work to prove the hilariously obvious fact that Amy, not Omar, is the Cogentiva hacker, Amy has Tyler dig up executive e-mails that belittle Dougie. A smaller time-jump yields the great smash cut from Dougie grudgingly accepting Amy’s folder as the elevator doors close to Dougie completely stressed out reading the e-mails as the doors open. Amy physically leads him outside and tells him that he does have power, that he can help them bring Szidon and Abaddonn down. He’s in. Amy justifies what they’re doing: “It’s not just about revenge. We’re really gonna do something good here by exposing Abaddonn—” “I don’t give a shit about any of that,” Dougie says. “I just wanna fuck these guys.” So does Amy with her passive-aggressive smile and reversal of fortune. So does Tyler with his feelings that he deserves more respect. But Dougie is the only one who doesn’t hide behind anything else.

“Follow Me” is the first time Dougie has really broken out of that shallow, middle-manager mold, the guy with a bad attitude and a night club appointment. He rants about his little domain, another feudal reference, while standing in front of the blinking green lights of worker efficiency, a tiny merciless technocracy with Dougie on the iron throne. But he’s never been The Bad Guy in relation to Amy’s plans, even if he has been an obstacle. He’s so impotent that when he delivers an ultimatum to Tyler, claiming to have a lot of sway and to protect Tyler if he comes clean about Amy, Tyler is the one with the upper hand in the scene. Tyler! He knows that Dougie has no power and is just as finished as he is. The finale hurts even if it is inevitable. It’s not pretty to watch someone realize how insignificant he is. And for such petty reasons. Instead of complaining about his competency, the executives mock his hair and call him a dirtbag, which immediately brings to mind Amy’s season-one grievance, but there are bigger fish to fry. Dougie flashes Tyler a solidarity fist, and Tyler awkwardly returns the gesture. Amy really is gaining support.

And then Amy tells herself she is a veteran of the new world. But she’s not. It’s the physical world of personal connection that she puts to good use. She’s a whole person removed from the digital data that helps turn Dougie. Tyler’s electronically digging up dirt on Szidon, and Amy’s bumping into him at the symbolic intersection of the bridges over the plaza. Amy isn’t all wrong, though. The episode begins with Amy and Jeff disagreeing over whether technology brings us together or pulls us apart more. Amy’s take comes from her Hawaiian treatment center, no doubt: “I have to say, I feel like technology is cutting us off from each other, you know, like no human connection. Just like we’re all these zombies staring at our phones.” True enough, as Amy recites her mantra about social networking bringing about hope and change at the end, the montage includes some dry shots of baristas facing each other but looking into their smartphones and four tech-savvy customers sharing a table while worlds apart. One shot sees three customers on their laptops looking toward the camera like zombies, mouths hanging, barely conscious, recalling the Cogentiva digital assembly-line workers. Even Jeff, Mr. Telecommunications himself, is engaged in person and distracted over the phone. The answer isn’t one or the other on Enlightened. Technology unites and divides, mobilizes and cultivates complacency. It’s a tool. The impact is determined by the user.

Stray observations:

  • “Follow Me” is the third episode in a row written and directed by Mike White. Fortunately there’s another such episode coming up that’ll give us the chance to talk about auteur television. Other elements I worry I’ve been complacent in praising: Laura Dern, whose face responds to every little stimulus, and Cogentiva, which is a masterpiece of production design. In the mean time, feel free to pick up my slack.
  • Did I mishear, or is Charles Szidon’s Ted Talk an anti-bureaucracy speech? LOL.
  • Part of what’s unsettling about Amy is how brazen she is, still acting like she wants to get caught (and before she’s found the prosecutable evidence, no less). She tells Szidon, “We’ll see each other again, I’m sure.”
  • When Amy gets back to Cogentiva, she tells Tyler, “I just saw Darth Vader in the lobby.” She’s wide-eyed like she can barely contain her excitement. Most of the time it’s an open question whether Amy is being cunning or naive, but that Szidon scene is open-shut: Amy’s a smooth operator.
  • Does nobody in Hollywood actually use Twitter? Tweets don’t appear at the bottom of your screen, even when you only have four.
  • In other not-really-annoyances, that shot of the Cogentiva worker in the floral top and hurricane hair was also in the season premiere. I guess they underestimated how often they’d need automaton coverage.
  • I will never get tired of Amy calling people on their petty bullshit, like when Krista says she doesn’t know where her phone is and Amy points to it from across the room.
  • Michaela Watkins’ Janice just does not give a shit. At first it feels unbelievably broad, but by now, it’s clear that’s just how she is with Amy, who is supernaturally good at ignoring signals. So when Amy walks in, Janice gives an exaggerated sigh and shoots a meaningful stare toward Krista. Then she stands up and crosses her arms in defense. When Amy points to Krista’s phone, Janice picks it up and drops it in Krista’s hand with the grudging movements of a teenager being told by her mom to clean up her room. And when she leaves, it’s with the excuse that someone might be stealing her money. Janice is amazing.
  • Amy tells the valet, “Wow, beautiful house!”
  • That’s Monrovia, CA, by the way, not Liberia.
  • What do you make of Jeff kissing Amy? They both seem nonplussed in different ways, but nobody acknowledges the weirdness. I haven’t seen any future episodes, but the moment made me wonder if Jeff isn’t just patronizing Amy’s cause because he likes spending time with her.
  • Jeff’s sporting a John Kerry T-shirt in his final scene. Not exactly the kinds of pure, grassroots mobilization the rest of the episode is about, but I like the cheery omen of doomed causes. 

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