Maybe I’m just thinking about Emily Nussbaum’s Hummingbird Theory, which name-checks noted smiler Carrie Mathison and highlights Sue Heck’s smile experiment, but “Agent Of Change” is all about the smiles. Eileen and Tyler exchanging smiles at the end hit me like Bubbles going upstairs. Helen beaming as she reads Jeff’s article is all I ever wanted. And then there’s the final image of a great season, Amy smiling to herself as she walks off into whatever the next phase of her life will be, an anonymous strip mall on one side and a row of trees on the other. She doesn’t even read her own press yet. “Agent Of Change” is so deliriously uplifting that I can’t wait to see where everyone winds up in season three.
Not that writer-director Mike White indulges Amy. No, the finale is beautifully Enlightenedish in its state of flux. It’s an episode where “Um, yeah, no” is actually assertive. The opening monologue talks about “certain uncertain parents” and “this beautiful upsetting world.” It’s never either-or on Enlightened. With the front-tuck and midday sleeping, Levi physically looks like he’s caught between new and old. (I’ve been grinding my teeth ever since I first heard him facetiously offer Amy a beer.) Helen’s proud mama moment comes only after she puts her foot down and tells Amy to move out, skeptical and supportive. Tyler endures a lot for Amy, but he also asserts. In one of many huge tiny moments, he hangs up on her, quite an expressive move for the former ghost. For her part, Amy walks out on a meeting with Charles, and she hangs up on Jeff. Nobody suffers the disingenuous long in “Agent Of Change.”
As always, Amy swings the widest. Her cool, triumphant dopeyness doesn’t arrive until another selfish embarrassment in which she dresses down Fucking Krista after she just had a baby. If Amy would stop and think for two seconds, she’d realize that Jeff’s been fielding calls from Abaddonn lawyers all of a sudden because just a few hours earlier, she told Tyler to prepare for the article and Tyler is dating Eileen. Maybe that's not so obvious, and Amy isn’t privy to Eileen’s frantic escape from Tyler’s apartment, but confronting Krista in her hospital bed is such a blatantly old-Amy move that I prepared for the worst when Amy enters her top-floor meeting. At least Amy’s scene makes the most of the show’s irony. Eileen exits to an unconcerned tinkle in a sequence that underestimates how heart-breaking it is, but Amy saying, “Krista, you have fucked me for the last time,” in a room full of Krista’s family is hilarious.
A bigger-than-usual fuck-up must be the price of a huge victory, because that board-room scene is delicious, like the country club scene from “No Doubt” cranked to 11. Once again, Amy Jellicoe and Charles Szidon don’t really mess around. “I’m just a woman who’s over it. I’m tired of watching the world fall apart because of guys like you. I tried to take a little power back.” She refuses to cooperate and calmly tells him how rich he got by lying, cheating, and hurting. He resorts to the historical hysteric offense and tosses off a “cunt” or two. Amy makes us proud. She slowly looks back up and says, “Well, if caring about something other than money is dopey, I’m a fucking moron.” She gets up, walks out, and stands there almost laughing at Charles’ rage, and he’s the one who shouts obscenities through a closing elevator door this time. Enlightened is rarely so high-contrast. Amy is finally heroic, and Charles is utterly despicable. There’s that national catharsis I was looking for.
It hurts to realize Amy gives his insults even a moment’s thought, especially after he flaunts his misogyny (in front of right-hand woman Eileen, no less). Not that Amy is a shining beacon of New Age feelgoodery, but a mental patient who doesn’t understand anything is quite the exaggeration of someone who simply refuses to go with the capitalist flow for once. But after hanging up on Jeff, who idiotically repeats his “We knew this was gonna happen” catch-sentence, Amy shows up on Levi’s porch lost and worried. She doesn’t have a house or a job, the acquaintance she left on the best terms with is Dougie, and her victory moment wasn’t exactly the penthouse storming she imagined. So possibly-old-Levi sits next to her on the stairs to his complex and tries his best to cheer her up.
That exquisitely complicated happy ending allows for a little gushing in the final montage. Besides all the smiles, there’s Krista, who is so tangential to Amy that the shots of her holding her baby have nothing to do with the voice-over. Now that she has a baby and a dependable husband, she really does have everything Amy wanted, begging for a perspective episode in season three. Eileen shows up at Tyler’s door directly thanks to Amy, and Dougie is walking, talking proof of Amy’s communicable ideals. He holds a touchy-feely what’s-next session with the Cogentiva workers, and he even stifles a joke about Ken’s plans to finish writing his young adult novel. No wonder Dougie gets the most satisfying farewell scene outside of the montage fly-bys. Helping Amy make a clean getaway, he tells her at the elevators, “I gotta say, you are the worst employee I have ever had.” She says, “You’re the worst boss I ever had.” Through the closing doors he says, “We should hang out some time.” Solidarity!
The happily-ever-after parade makes “Agent Of Change” a comfortable series finale, but Enlightened has never been about comfort. It’s about a weapons-grade irritant bragging about her self-actualization. Another season isn’t just a chance to see what this climax means for everyone. It’s a chance to study everyone’s varying degrees of enlightenment after the dust settles, apart from the Abaddonn mission, outside of the thriller crucible. Dramatically, thematically, cinematically, Enlightened stands alongside the very best of television drama, and I hope HBO renews it. I don't have any inside info, but its horse mortality rate speaks for itself.
- Amy watches footage of the Syrian uprising as she wonders whether she produces change or chaos (as if they’re mutually exclusive). Amy’s wake turns out to be fairly ordered, no? The ex-Cogentivans would have wound up free agents regardless, all the other main characters affirm connection at the end, and the response to Jeff’s story is characteristically corporate and lawyerly.
- Jeff’s article isn’t the only thing Helen reads. She’s halfway through Holy Terror: Lies The Christian Right Tells Us To Deny Gay Equality.
- That 3 x 3 array of televisions with different clips of worker bees in Charles’ lobby is somewhat more suggestive that the cucumber wall-art.
- Jeff’s article is accompanied by a picture of a protestor whose sign reads, “We Abaddonn,” followed by what looks “Need” crossed out. It’s the “We Peacock Comedy” of protest signs.