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Enlightened: “The Ghost Is Seen”

Illustration for article titled Enlightened: “The Ghost Is Seen”
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Enlightened is that rare show that can make you cry within minutes. “The Ghost Is Seen” announces itself as a Tyler episode with a peek into his thoughts as he goes about his day. “It’s okay to be a ghost. It has its pleasures.” Jesus Christ. He thinks of himself as a ghost? And only sometimes in the first person? Tyler isn’t even the most far-gone of the Cogentiva drones. Louis can’t even comb his hair, and he’s most memorable (apart from the repeated desk shot) for muttering, “This place is hell,” as he wanders past Amy. But Tyler is officially invisible. “Maybe there was a time when you wanted to be found, to be seen, and to be held. But now, only hope hurts. I am my own secret, a secret kept by me.”

Not to keep boiling Enlightened down to its bookend monologues, but this is a show about growth, and each episode offers such handy markers in the form of characters poetically describing their emotional states. “The Ghost Is Seen” advances many plots, works in many modes, and is hilarious, heart-breaking, and hopeful, but this isn’t Amy’s Hollywood conspiracy thriller. This is Tyler’s story, a caper/digital heist that blossoms into a romance about a ghost who starts to let himself feel alive. In one of the first lines of the episode, Amy says, “Wake up, Tyler.” Tyler exaggerates his helplessness because he’s stuck in his head, the same way Amy embellishes her revolution; clearly, Tyler lets himself want things like more respect and a girlfriend like that good runner in the company gym. But the visuals tell the same story he tells himself. Tyler wears khakis and lightly tinted button-downs on top of his pale skin, blonde hair, and tighty-whities. His walls are bare, his furnishings are spare, and his sheets are tan. So much negative space. He even dissolves onto the couch. When Amy and Dougie size him up for a date with Charles Szidon’s assistant Eileen, he holds his hands in front of his face and says, “Don’t look at me.” He's off to the side while they walk to their cars. When they peel off and Eileen looks at him expectantly, he says, “Hi,” like he just appeared there.

There’s a mini-speech in the middle that helps Tyler materialize, but it’s Eileen who gives it. On their first official date, Eileen gets him on the subject of Julie_Bitch, but he stops in the middle of the story and gets nervous. Eileen frowns, takes a moment, and puts on a sympathetic face. “Things change. You think you’re stuck, and then, suddenly, you’re not. It’s like you have a fever forever, and suddenly, you wake up, and one day you don’t. And also therapy helps.” She smiles, and he mirrors her. Molly Shannon’s face is almost at Laura Dern levels of animation, and it serves a similar function. Amy Jellicoe is comically upfront about her feelings. The look on her face when Dougie talks about shooting old fish in a barrel is still making me chuckle. She’s trying to be open and honest and giving, sort of, and her supernaturally expressive face is her biggest tool. Eileen is similar but she comes without the ulterior motives. She’s completely sincere throughout. She openly bristles at Amy’s anti-Abaddon talk without feeling the need to politely nod. She asks outright whether she’s being set up. She’s a learned extrovert. “You can’t just be afraid of rejection all the time.” And like Amy's ideal, Eileen is really helping people.

“The Ghost Is Seen” strips romance down into two people finding genuine connection and the wellness that ensues. The meet-cute is delightfully awkward, what with Tyler getting flustered and just walking away, but this isn’t about hijinks or big gestures. The episode barely remembers there’s a hacking plot going on the whole time. Instead, this is about Tyler and Eileen growing together. It’s about that final shot, with Tyler wearing color as he sits there on his date with Eileen next to a vase of living flowers. Tyler is flesh and blood again. He has regrets now, serious active regrets, and Mike White is so vulnerable it’s heartbreaking. “The ghost is sad. All those years invisible haunt him now. Why didn’t he try?” But that’s the cost of being alive. And Tyler accepts that! The sadness just underscores how happy he is now that he has Eileen.

The episode also sees incremental growth in Amy’s plot to nail Szidon. Not through any of her hard work, of course. She spends the day lying on Dougie’s couch dreaming up Die Hard tactics to get Szidon’s personal e-mail. But Dougie gets it off of Eileen’s hard-drive when Tyler logs her onto the company network in order to give her some music. They wind up with “the mother lode” of damning e-mails to people in high places, but it’s hard to know how much of that is Amy blowing smoke up her own ass. It’s rare to see Amy live up to her ideals so much—maybe she’s just happy to point Tyler away from herself—but she’s genuine and supportive to Tyler throughout. Which is nice, because she’s cartoonishly conspicuous everywhere else, all but shouting, “You’re welcome, everyone.” She practically gives the game away in one chat with Eileen. At Cogentiva she’s standing on couches, poking through ceiling tiles, and dressing a bit too much like Ellie Sattler to blend in, what with her coral button-down and swooping bangs and ponytail combo. The worst is when Dougie gets into Eileen’s hard-drive, which takes almost no effort. Amy jumps up and down, hugs him, loudly tells him she loves him, and then stands up and gives him a double high-five. Everybody notices. Which is what she wants, of course.

As a caper plot, it’s low-intensity, but the focus is on Tyler’s romance anyway, and Mike White does wring some good jolts out of it. Eileen interrupts Amy’s spiel about how bad Abaddon is by saying, “Am I being set up?” When she asks Tyler if he’s ever been in therapy, you want him to answer correctly rather than honestly; you want him to pull off the caper. Eileen also talks about how she used to feel like dating was akin to cheating on Szidon as she’s on a date with someone who is reluctantly using her to betray him. It’s an unsettling seed. Amy runs with the ghost theme, telling Dougie that they have unfinished business with Szidon before he can tell the Cogentiva workers they’re up. Of all the unflattering metaphors for Cogentiva, I hadn’t thought of them being the company’s dead, but of course they are. Amy justifies with a bit of thesis: “Guys like Szidon own this country. They own our government. I mean, people have to know about this. This is bribery. It’s illegal. And this is for the greater good.”


It wouldn’t be Enlightened if a personal, little story like Tyler finding some hope in his life didn’t reflect on everything around it. Consider Tyler being his own secret next to Amy being the loud and proud savior of all humanity. Even the way Dougie refuses to let Eileen weasel out of a bar-hang—“Anything but but”—gets subliminally cross-referenced with Amy’s determination and Tyler’s spinelessness. Eileen’s breast cancer 10k causes Dougie to tell her she’s a good person, another central topic of the show. Is that what makes someone a good person? What about Tyler downloading music illegally? Eileen tells Tyler to get some plants and defines them as symbols of life. Immediately it brings to mind Amy’s love of the park versus Abaddon’s love of framed close-ups of cucumbers. Eileen really is like an honest Amy.

Most of all, the same way Levi’s story “Higher Power” rhymes with season one’s “The Weekend,” “The Ghost Is Seen” resonates with “Lonely Ghosts.” That episode focuses on Dougie-Amy-Tyler, too; Dougie is never a bigger V.P. than in the ghost diptych. It’s an episode where Tyler watches Dougie hit on a woman Tyler’s into from across the room. It starts with a scheme—Tyler telling Amy that Dougie would be more lenient on her if she set him up on a date—then skids into some disarming emotional honesty. By the end, there’s an uneasy hope. “The Ghost Is Seen” ends the same way. Tyler’s cathartic monologue may emphasize the happy relationship, but Tyler’s actions (and inactions) silently undermine it. “Lonely Ghosts” fades out with Joanna Newsom singing, “Kindness prevails.” I hope so.


Stray observations:

  • “The Ghost Is Seen” was written by Mike White and directed by James Bobin, who directed The Muppets and Flight of the Conchords, which he co-created.
  • Amy still can’t find her WMD, but her confidence is not shaken. “There’s plenty there. We just don’t have it yet.”
  • Dougie encourages Tyler. “Dude, you need to have more confidence. Maybe you should get a spray-tan. You’re white as fuck.”
  • Tyler brings the dirty talk: “I have a huge, um, library.” This is the funniest episode in a while. The timing of the cuts during the pick-up sequence is perfect, not to mention Tyler telling Eileen Yucaipa isn’t far, slamming the door, and then revealing that it’s an hour and a half away.
  • Dougie acting like the big man on campus isn’t just thematically relevant, as another questionable self-assessment, but also hilarious. He tells the woman who indirectly shot him down, “Alright, cool, uh, I gotta get back. I got a hot date waiting for me, a girl, so, uh, you know.” Then for her benefit but to his employees, “Don’t be late tomorrow, or I’m gonna dock you.”
  • The first kiss looks really weird and nervous, but it’s magical. Afterward, Tyler stands there kind of giggling, and Eileen gets into her car with a Cheshire Cat grin. Also of note: They both changed clothes for their date. My new second favorite ship after Levi and Charlie from Girls.
  • Oh, Dougie. “Life’s short. Get laid. Sorry, Connie.”