Enlightened: “Lonely Ghosts”
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Enlightened: “Lonely Ghosts”

If there’s anything that bonds the characters of Enlightened together, it is, ironically, loneliness. Amy and Levi once shared a life together, but their marriage eventually drove them apart. Helen has very little contact with the world outside her garden, and she drops this gem of a non sequitur in tonight’s episode, “Lonely Ghosts”: “I don’t mind being alone—conversation’s better.” Tyler’s a quintessential lonely loser, but aside from his general awkwardness, we don’t have many clues as to why he’s alone. Dougie sits alone in a glass house every workday, purposely isolated from his coworkers yet longing for a deeper connection (in his own, shallow, Dougie way) with a woman.

With the exception of Helen, each of the characters above make an attempt at alleviating their loneliness in “Lonely Ghosts.” Of course, given the events depicted within the episode and the way they just serve to isolate and alienate the characters further, maybe Helen has the right idea all along.

“Lonely Ghosts” kicks off with a fantastic dream sequence that encapsulates much of the season so far. As Amy searches for Levi, she wanders through scenery that seems at once alien and familiar—they’re rooms in the house she shared with Levi and the offices of Cogentiva, but they’re bizarre, alternate versions of those places, where everything is lit in the unsafe-for-epileptics arcade lights of Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. Chasing after someone—but never catching up—is a common enough dream motif, but “Lonely Ghosts” manages to make if feel fresh, keeping the elements of the dream grounded in Amy’s fears and realities and never delving into any explicitly “dreamlike” imagery. It’s a nightmare, but only in the fact that it forces Amy to confront a difficult truth: For all the work that she’s done since her breakdown, there are all these images and events from her past haunting her. Something’s missing from her life, and it may very well be Levi. Or the love that Levi once represented. Her attempts to reconnect with him here appear reciprocated at first, but they’re eventually met with the same, indifferent attitude Levi displayed in “The Weekend.” They spend one night together, but when Amy later return’s to Levi’s apartment, he rushes her out the door in favor of a younger woman who’s either a prostitute, a fuck buddy, or a very fetching Keystone Light delivery woman.

I feel like I write this every week, but “Lonely Ghosts” is the best episode of Enlightened yet. The dream sequence is just the start: There are some great scenes between Amy and Tyler, a spectacularly uncomfortable (yet very funny) sequence driven by Dougie’s general reprehensibleness, and a conclusion that feels like a turning point for Amy and the start down her path out of Abaddon and into whatever the future holds for Enlightened. And, somewhat heartbreakingly, it appears that she’ll be heading down that path alone.

She has to go it alone, however, because it’s during this half-hour that Amy realizes the only person she can really save is herself. This unfortunately appeals to some of the more selfish aspects of the character, but judging from the behavior of everyone at Dougie’s promotion party, the people of Abaddon are too far gone to receive any sort of life-altering course correction from secondhand Open Air teachings. In a well-played parallel to the opening scene, the events of the party are as depraved and surreal as anything from Amy’s bad dream—though, since this is Enlightened, “depraved” ends at Dougie grabbing a handful of Amy’s ass, and Tyler seeing the whole thing on a big screen TV. Amy had tried to do a favor for Dougie (in her manipulative way) by setting him up with Harper (Riki Lindhome), and all she gets in return is some inappropriate touching. She had hoped to gain enough brownie points to allow her newly advanced boss to pull some strings and allow the Women’s Association of Abaddon of the ground, but instead encounters the type of behavior that justifies the existence of such an organization—yet will keep it in the “pipe dream” stages. Not that the women of Abaddon appear particularly eager to join such Amy’s cause: After bearing witness to multiple examples of Dougie being a complete jag, Harper still finds him attractive.

Amy’s not the only one whose somewhat impulsive actions backfire in “Lonely Ghosts”: Tyler misinterprets a moment with Amy while the two are working overtime on Cogentiva, leading to an awkward kiss and an abrupt exit. Mike White’s performance has previously inspired more empathy than pity, but it’s really hard not to feel bad for Tyler at the end of “Lonely Ghosts.” His conversation with Amy outside the club is powerful stuff, and Jonathan Demme does a superb job of capturing the twitchy anguish that leads to Tyler’s brief admission to Amy: “I’m just tired of being alone.” When Amy comes back with “Well, we’re all alone, in a way.” Tyler (and White’s script) volleys with a gut punch: “Some of us are more alone.” With all of the aid Amy believes she can give the world, there are things like this that she simply can’t fix.

Demme’s second directorial effort for Enlightened is even stronger than his first, bringing further low-key cinematic panache to a series that can use a little flash every now and again. The aforementioned dream sequence is one example, as is the way the camera temporarily takes on a queasy spiral after Tyler’s unsolicited kiss. However, his best visual trick comes during a tense exchange between Amy and Dougie, where Amy’s face is framed within the circular head of Dougie’s blade-less fan. As much as “Lonely Ghosts” serves to push Amy from Abaddon’s orbit, it also makes her a target for further humiliation at the hands of the company. And with Dougie moving up the ranks, that might put her back in contact with the people who stuck her down in the basement in the first place.

“Lonely Ghosts” deals with less abstract issues than the average episode of Enlightened, getting at the core of some very basic, very human issues. And in that process, it points the way toward the fulfillment of a goal its main character can actually achieve: If she can learn to live with herself, acknowledge that their isn’t something missing from her life, then she can continuing moving forward. In that process, she discovers that saving the souls of Abaddon doesn’t have to take such a high priority in her life. They’ll save themselves—if they don’t drag themselves (and take Amy with them) in the process.

Stray observations:

  • Amy probably should’ve given some deeper thought to the name of her women’s group. Spoken out loud, the acronym is sounds like a sustained whine: “WAA.”
  • Dougie is definitely prepped for upper management: “I get to meet with top brass about bureaucratic whatnot.”
  • Tyler, in a great and telling line reading from Mike White: “He talks a big game, but I think he’s pretty lonely. Everybody wants a girlfriend.”
  • Jon Shere’s unnamed (as far as I can tell) Cogentiva worker, giving Amy reason to split the club and Abaddon: “This place is hell.”
Filed Under: TV, Enlightened

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