“No Doubt” is a bit of a disappointment. It’s still Enlightened, which means it follows Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe as she pries her ribs apart and shows everyone her heart, and it keeps bumping into running themes. But it’s also an uncharacteristically plotty thing that just lies there in the shrugging visuals, and there’s this maybe-accordion that keeps nagging us about how silly everyone is. In a terrific interview with Alison Willmore at Indiewire, Mike White talks about how the first season of Enlightened wound up so digressive: “Originally we were going to do the whistleblower stuff in the first season, but then I started writing all the scripts, and I got more into these meditations on [Amy’s] relationship with her mom, or her friend coming to town. I wanted to explore aspects of her character and stuff that was interesting to me.” Enlightened normally has that meditative quality in its bones.
But now, at the end of the shorter second season, there’s no time for contemplation because everything is coming to a head. Jeff’s article is coming out soon. Cogentiva is expired, and Dougie and Tyler and Connie and Louis and everyone else get to follow Omar out the door. Eileen is doing special favors for Tyler and Amy, the time-bomb just waiting to go off. Krista renews her friendship with Amy out of what would be nowhere if there weren’t obvious plot reasons: That gesture gets Amy to tell Krista about her whistle-blowing. Krista’s even inducing labor just so all these stories can wrap up in eight episodes.
“All I Ever Wanted” looks like an especially ironic title now. Amy has a choice at the end of the episode, but she starts this one sure of her decision. She meets Levi at what looks like an Olive Garden bar—he’s drinking water, though, and he’s still wearing button-downs, so it looks like the new Levi survived seeing Amy drive off with Jeff—and tells him why they can’t be together: She wants a big, full life. She even tells Jeff her past is over, and she’s ready for the next stage of her life to start. Then Eileen scores her a meeting with Charles Szidon to talk about possibly opening a community outreach position or department or honorary certificate. Amy nails the meeting in that she acts appropriately awed/chilled when Charles talks about his responsibilities to the serfs that toil on his land, so he offers her a position with a starting salary of $100,000.
Suddenly it’s easy to imagine an alternate direction for Enlightened. Amy might have befriended Tyler, helped him meet Eileen, and scored that meeting with Szidon without any of the drama, as Tyler calls it, and made money doing so. It’s so tempting Amy fantasizes about it, even knowing Jeff’s article is coming out any day now. Jeff reminds her that corporations tend not to support exposing their own crimes. He doesn’t add that profit motive tends to overrule conscience in business, that sociopaths are disproportionately powerful, and that those six digits are coming from the serfs. But Amy knows it’s a fantasy and comes down just in time for Jeff to tell her they can’t be together when the story breaks. Days ago Amy had all (she thought) she ever wanted. Now she loses her current job and a future job, her current beau and an ex. Attention might be all she has at the end.
If it’s moving, it’s because of Laura Dern, but this is nothing compared to “All I Ever Wanted.” Director David Michôd has his moments: the geometric maximalism of Dougie’s speech, the dollhouse vulnerability of Amy calling Jeff from her bedroom to tell him her life is over, the cogs-in-the-machine shot of Amy in line at the office park food court. Where is that wit at the country club? Amy surveys the valet, the pool, the grounds with a suspicious eye, all that money circulating among the leisure class, but Michôd is more neutral. He saves his handheld for the big reversal of fortune at Jeff’s, but even that doesn’t much heighten Laura Dern herself, broken-voiced, telling the man she chose that the obvious truth that they couldn’t be together wasn’t so obvious to her. And that maybe-accordion! In the final scene, with Amy totally lost and pissed and driving off to somewhere while the ironic score plays her off, it reminds me of Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, which builds to this scene of some heavy shit set to a cutesy tinkle.
At least Mike White finds as much fundamental character revelation as possible in this avalanche. Levi is still clean for now, but he leaves with his future sobriety in doubt, knocking over a cup of water and telling Amy to have a nice, big life. Levi seems shaky, but Amy is clearly rubbing off on Krista and Dougie. Krista’s so unusually open and appreciative of Amy that she’s definitely been doing some Janice-free soul-searching, and her upfront appreciation of Amy is a truly sweet gesture. And in his “We’re all fired” speech, Dougie tells his employees, “You can’t count on life for anything, so fuckin’ be free, Cogentiva. Be fuckin’ free. Live for today. Love each other, you know? And for whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry for each and every one of you.” It’s definitely been run through a Dougie filter, but that’s unmistakably Amy’s call for compassion and connection. Eileen is proving to be as genuine as she seemed, too, and she’s scrambling to get Tyler and Amy jobs at Abaddonn post-Cogentiva. On the other hand, Jeff is really living up to that line about not having a life. Amy calls him to tell him that her whole life is changing and he can’t put the goddamn peanut butter down for two seconds. Later she reminds him that a head on a plate is not the highest priority. But it would make a great headline.
The real fundamental clash comes in what could have been a showcase showdown between Charles “End Times” Szidon and Amy “Rebirth” Jellicoe but ends up a still revealing barrage of one-shots. Their conversation begins innocuously enough—a “Loyalty is all” here, a strained fake laugh there—but these two aren’t playing around. Charles tells Amy that Abaddonn does good via charitable contributions. Amy calls bullshit and says her proposal is “about choosing to make ethics a priority.” He tells her, “If the rain stops falling and the crops die, the king will be killed.” He’s been hanging out with Dougie. She responds, “You’re not gonna be killed. You’re gonna get a $50,000,000 parachute and move to Pebble Beach or something.” Already it’s mesmerizing, at least conceptually. Here’s this laid-off worker in grand debate with her CEO, making him face up to lies the rich tell themselves. It could be a national catharsis. But then the conversation gets more Enlightened as Charles tells Amy what he really thinks: He looks out his window and sees a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a dog-eat-dog world of people fending for themselves. Amy sees an equally corrupt world, but she wants to change it. Charles Szidon just gives up and hoards wealth. And then he goes into this “Everything I did, I did for this family” kind of speech, which is a sharp rejoinder to the history of workplace sitcoms telling us offices are big, happy families as well as an obvious contradiction. Best of all, Charles tells Amy that accepting responsibility is important. Which promises to be a nice, little moral for both of them this season.
- Dougie pulls rank: “This is a direct order from your superior, Tyler. Smoke this fucking joint with me.”
- If it isn't clear, I'm pretty musically illiterate, so is that an accordion or what?
- The one-upmanship between Amy and Janice had me dying. “Yeah, I just saw her.” “Oh, okay, well, I guess you know that they’re inducing tomorrow.” “No, they’re inducing Monday.” “No, I’m Krista’s best friend!” “No, I am!”
- At the end of “All I Ever Wanted,” Levi forces Amy to face the consequences of her actions. In “No Doubt,” he forces her to consider the compassion she preaches about. “Fuck you. Yeah, ‘cause I got feelings, too.” That’s a common marker for coming-of-age stories, accepting that other people matter and have valid feelings. What’s more, there’s an uncomfortable resemblance between Amy telling Levi not to make a scene and Damon telling Amy not to make a scene.
- The entire night phone call between Amy and Jeff is frustrating, but I really started to hate him when he responds to “Good night, Jeff” with a totally informal, “Bye.” Later, after their formal cessation of sexual relations or whatever he calls it, she goes out the door upset and he calls after her, “Amy you’re amazing,” without leaving his stool. Speaking of unfeeling lizards.
- Tyler asks Amy, “Can’t this have a happy ending for everyone?” “I seriously doubt it.”