“You do what you can, Amy. That’s all you can do.”
For all the self-help books and daily affirmations Enlightened’s protagonist has digested since her public breakdown, the above sentiment appears to be the one that has done the most good. Spoken by the supervisor of the homeless shelter Amy hoped to make part of her personal reinvention—before discovering that the salary offered by the shelter isn’t anywhere close to what the massive debt from her stay at Open Air requires—it underlines the folly in Amy’s goal to completely reform Abaddon. Because you can’t fix a malevolent corporate entity without first doing some work on yourself, right?
Yet, for all the roadblocks that Enlightened has dropped in front of Amy, “Someone Else’s Life” goes a long way toward showing that she could be worse off. She’s in a financial hole, living with her mother, and stuck in a dead-end job, sure, but there are aspects of her life—the caring presences of Helen and Levi; her general joie de vivre; the fact that, for all her money problems, she only has to support herself—that her co-workers would gladly accept.
We know this because the concluding voiceover and accompanying images of “Someone Else’s Life” spell it out in explicit terms. As casually paced and restrained as Enlightened is, the opening and closing segments where Amy lays out the theme of each episode are helpful reminders that there is some structure and internal logic to what unfolds between the voiceovers. But do they have to be so on-the-nose? I suppose there’s a trace of irony in Amy walking through her perception of Krista’s life, though—while we watch Krista and her husband have sex in Amy’s vision, I’m hanging onto my theory that Damon is actually the father of Krista’s baby.
At times, “Someone Else’s Life” feels like the most inconsequential of Enlightened’s three episodes—by the time the end credits roll, nothing has really changed, save for Amy’s slight attitude adjustments. But it nonetheless contains a few pivotal moments—or as pivotal the series will allow at this point. First, there’s the aforementioned revelation that Amy owes more than $24,000 for her treatment at Open Air. That’s followed by the exchange between Amy and Scott Wilson’s shelter supervisor, a moment that gives the protagonist the slightest bit of hope before dashing it on the rocks of low wages. But most crucial to the character’s development and the series’ trajectory is Amy’s decision to take lunch with her new Level H colleague Tyler, rather than Krista. We’ve seen the character struggle so hard to reconnect with aspects of her old life while hanging onto the new, higher standards to which she’s holding herself (and everyone else around her), and choosing to stick with Tyler is, to put it in a term Enlightened itself might use, a breakthrough. I doubt she’ll completely cut all ties to the folks in the health and beauty department, but this is a sign of Amy embracing her new situation, a contrast to the desperate, job application-powered escape she mounts earlier in the episode. That’d be small potatoes for any other show, but on Enlightened, the small steps forward frequently feel like giant leaps.
The same goes for the wry workplace comedy that’s slowly opening up within Enlightened. If the Abaddon material is the main source of the series’ satirical content, than Level H is its shriveled, blackened core, where corporate policy has so worn down the employees that they’re willing to come to verbal blows over the flu. The argument between Connie and Omar illustrates the petty depths that Abaddon has instilled in these people (though the corporate bigwigs would argue they were like that before they arrived at Abaddon), and the closing segment adds a crushing edge of despair to their desire to stay at work: As long as they’re at work, they can ignore how awful their home lives are. It’s not exactly “LOL”-worthy (but what on Enlightened is?), but it expands the world within Level H while also strengthening Amy’s case against Abaddon. This is a corporation that’s so manipulative, it’s reduced its employees to fighting for their rights to hang out with Dougie all day—and that’s funny, in a sad sort of way.
But before Amy can actually bite the hand that feeds her, she has other, symbolically large steps to take. And a figuratively large bill with Open Air to settle. She’s going to follow the advice of Wilson’s character and do what she can, which at this point entails making tiny improvements in her life while trying to brighten those of her coworkers. It’s worth noting that, as Enlightened takes a turn toward Amy’s improved outlook, she appears less deluded and naïve. That’s a jarring turn from “Now Or Never,” but it plays out gradually through “Someone Else’s Life.” And gradual is just Enlightened’s speed.
- Did singer-songwriter/HBO Recycling Program beneficiary Steve Earle sneak his way into the foreground of this scene at the shelter?
- To continue off of an observation made by Cinnamon Jack in the comments of last week’s review: Enlightened has so far used scenes in bathrooms to mark Amy’s lack of self-awareness. In “Someone Else’s Life,” as she’s standing at the sink of the shelter’s women’s room, she discovers that the “other people’s lives” game cuts both ways. Either that, or the episode is pointing out how outwardly rudderless Amy appears. Unlike the closing voiceover, it leaves itself open for interpretation.
- It took me three episodes of Enlightened to notice the incredibly Mark Mothersbaugh-esque score is actually the work of Mothersbaugh himself. I guess I’m so used to people ripping off the Devo co-founder’s twinkly keys and staccato rhythms that I didn’t think to check if he was actually the man who makes Enlightened’s music.
- Amy and Tyler note the torturous grind on Level H: “What the hell am I doing here?” “Not much.”
- It looks like Tyler is going to be the series’ most consistent source of humor going forward. The first two items in his list of excuses Amy can use to get away from work appears to be the result of a very fruitful improvisational take from Mike White: “Tell him your cat’s been having seizures—you got to go put it down.” “Tell him that your old babysitter died—you got to go to the funeral.” They hit the right notes for the character—bone-dry, and not at all inventive.