Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Enlightened: “Sandy”

Illustration for article titled Enlightened: “Sandy”

I’m going to be more forthcoming with my feelings about this episode of Enlightened than I’ll ever expect from the series itself: “Sandy” is a fantastic piece of television. It continues to open up Amy’s world, it wrings some solid laughs out of the Cogentiva characters, brings the visual flair of a great film director to the small screen, keeps some of its big answers to itself—and yet, in one brutally honest moment between Amy and Helen, reveals a tremendous amount of information about Laura Dern’s character. As mother and daughter discuss Amy’s visiting friend—the titular Sandy, whom Amy met at Open Air—we learn that her impulsive, flighty fixations have led to and destroyed several friendships throughout her life. It’s another heartbreaking realization for Amy, but one that might lead to a greater deal of self-actualization and healing than any amount of vaguely erotic yoga. Top that off with the big reveal at the episode’s end, and it stands as a big reward for being patient with Enlightened.

It’s entirely surprising to find that Amy’s had these sort of infatuation-like friendships before—she’s just begun one with Tyler, and she’s simultaneously recovering from one with Krista. The opening montage shows just how surface-level her connection Sandy is, as the two seem to spend most of their afternoon together talking about the new fixations they picked up after their time at Open Air—yoga, New Age literature, etc. Among the snippets of dialogue to which we’re privy is the reveal that Sandy has barely contacted Amy since she left the facility—it’s entirely possible that Sandy didn’t call her “friend” until she realized she didn’t have a place to stay for this yoga seminar.

And so Amy’s voiceover meditation asks crucial questions about how we can know whether or not we’re actually connected to the people we call friends. This is a major part of her recovery, because it helps her to investigate the depth of her delusions and the authenticity of the bonds she has with other people. And I like that Enlightened is starting to help Amy discover these things about herself. Sure, she still needs Tyler to connect the hypothetical dots between Sandy spending the night with Levi and Sandy spending the night with Levi—Mike White’s reading in that scene is phenomenally droll, tempered with the slightest, sophomoric smirk—but that’s also the type of observation she would’ve brushed off at the start of the series.

Nonetheless, “Sandy” goes to great lengths to show how closed off Amy still is from the people in her life, with the camera isolating her from Levi and Helen in separate scenes and a wall blocking her from a phone conversation Sandy has with an unseen caller. That’s as good a segue as any into noting the visual touches director Jonathan Demme brings to the episode, the first of two he helmed for the series’ first season. Demme’s style is more kinetic than anything we’ve seen on Enlightened thus far, bringing a slightly jittery feel that echoes Amy’s excitement for Sandy’s visit. The opening montage does a fantastic highlighting the superficial similarities between the two Open Air alums, from their willowy outward appearances to their flowy fashion sense to their nigh-identical reactions to spotting one another in the airport. There are a few longer, lingering shots during “Sandy”—the one on Helen’s dog, for instance, or the transitional path between the two ends of AC vent—but they don’t stick around for as long as some of the series’ other moments of visual contemplation. Credit for those go to the episode’s editors, Dody Dorn and Dorian Harris, who complement Demme’s approach with some great cuts, like the one with Amy’s announcement to the yoga group that Sandy won’t be showing up for the session after all.

The thing about setting Sandy up as the mirror image of Amy is that mirrors reflect back everything to the person standing in front of them, warts and all. If there’s one thing that Amy doesn’t pick up on throughout “Sandy,” it’s the way that people’s reactions to Sandy put many of Amy’s flaws and faults on display. She berates Helen about cutting processed foods from her diet and giving a feng shui makeover to her house. She gets on Levi about seeking treatment. She flakes on her appointment to introduce the Cogentiva staff to the wonders of yoga. Sandy’s presence helps a lot of the characters reiterate the way they feel about Amy—but they can do it to her directly this time around. Levi’s text to Amy about Sandy—“Kind of annoying—nice ass”—is undoubtedly something that he’s thought about his ex-wife. It’s a funny device, and slightly tragic in Amy’s inability to pick up the signals. But it wouldn’t be Enlightened without a few frustratingly disconnected actions from Amy. But with Helen’s help, she ends up repeating the same phrase I’d been thinking to myself for the whole of “Sandy”: “Let it go, let it go.”

Of course, for all the time “Sandy” spends on Sandy and her relationship with Amy, she ultimately becomes less important to the overall arc of the series than her journal. The leather-bound volume takes on an “elusive object of desire” feel throughout the episode, a tome that calls to Amy so that she can unlock the secrets Sandy may or may not be hiding from her—and possibly learn a little bit more about herself. Of course, in the slippery tradition of Enlightened, [SPOILER ALERT] it turns out Amy hasn’t been writing anything in the journal at all—she’s just been sketching flowers. It’s a way of journalling, sure, and there’s probably some way of decoding it, but the reveal is another example of the show’s refusal to provide any direct answers about some of its characters. How you react to the reveal probably depends on how long you’ve been able to stick with the series—though I’m professionally obligated to have stuck with Enlightened for this long, I found the camera’s closing swoop around Sandy to be incredibly satisfying. (Still, I’m betting it’ll be a departure point for a few people.) It’s somewhat predictable—but less cliché than a reveal of a blank journal—but it’s in line with the episode’s thesis that there are some people in our lives whom we’ll never fully know. Likewise, we never see or hear Sandy having the conversations with Helen or Levi that she relates to Amy, so there’s no telling if the connection she feels to those people is really as deep as she claims. Sandy’s journal is a lot like Enlightened in that way, couching its feelings and point-of-view in open-ended images and other indirect means of communication. Are these journal entries any less meaningful than Amy’s journal entry that consists entirely of the two-word exultation “SANDY’S HERE!!”? They’re certainly more honest. And that seems to be Enlightened’s goal for “Sandy”: honesty through ambiguity. People are never so direct in real life, so why should we expect the same from television characters? In that way, there are a lot of people on your TV set that you’ll never know fully—Sandy and Amy included.


Stray observations:

  • Dougie makes a crucial realization about Amy’s proposed yoga session in the Cogentiva office: “It’s for girls, right?”
  • Helen on why she chooses time with plants over time with other people: “My flowers don’t judge me, and they don’t ask me to move my stuff around.”
  • Tyler, student of human behavior, after Sandy flakes on the yoga session: “Nobody wanted to do it anyway.”