To this point it seemed clear that Enlightened was a good little show on a network that has been trending toward bigger and more epic programming by the year. The cast and writing were excellent, and the premise was engaging, but the series also required a recalibration of expectations when cast against the grandeur of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones and the more laugh-out-loud humor of Girls and Veep. Simply put, it lacked the firepower of those other shows. All of this changed with “The Ghost Is Seen,” which is the best episode of Enlightened in the series thus far.
The primary catalyst for this change is (oddly enough) Dougie. Once he allies himself with Amy and Tyler—and they sufficiently pad his self-esteem—his dirtbag paranoia flips to dirtbag charm. His insanity and self-involvement act as a perfect foil to Amy’s; whereas Tyler is too shy to call her out when she wants to sneak into someone’s office through the air ducts, Dougie instantly retorts with the gem, “Amy, this isn’t Nakatomi Plaza!” as though that’s immediately where his mind leapt. (Aside: Dougie’s line “Look, picking up a single woman in her 40s? Please, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Old fish. Sorry, I forgot that you were old.” was delivered with such perfectly nonchalant sleaze that it left both me and Amy stunned and impressed.)
The rise of Dougie has a secondary and much more significant effect: he brings Tyler out of the silence. When Amy and Tyler were a duo, it was clear that Amy was exploiting Tyler’s abundant niceness, and their relationship was unbalanced because Tyler is too shy to defend himself. With Dougie in the fold, Tyler now has a suitably egotistical support in place to rebel against Amy’s more ludicrous suggestions. Indeed, we are made aware of Tyler’s voice in a unique manner as it is he, and not Amy, who provides the opening and closing sermons for this episode.
Tyler describes himself as a ghost who is free and light and unseen. These are the benefits of his life as a nothing. We see him spend his day with the rhythmic routine of a machine. He does this every day, and he’s rationalized to himself that this is acceptable. When Amy is unable to find any incriminating emails in the work account of Abaddonn’s CEO, Charles Szidon, she, Tyler and Dougie plot to rope in Szidon’s assistant. This will simultaneously be Tyler’s ruin and his salvation.
Through some awkward flirting and a failed attempt on Tyler’s part, Dougie convinces Szidon’s assistant, Eileen (played with heartbreaking sincerity by Molly Shannon), to join the three of them for drinks after work. Over drinks, Amy tries to engage her compassion and Dougie her lust, but ultimately she is drawn to Tyler, and the evening becomes a pseudo-first date with Amy and Dougie serving as wingmen. Despite Tyler’s crippling introversion and inability to maintain eye contact, he and Eileen hit it off and grab dinner and sex the following evening.
Meanwhile, during his courtship, he inadvertently gave Dougie an access point to Eileen’s hard drive, which revealed the torrent of illegal activities Amy had so desperately been trying to find. Reaching this point should be exhilarating not only for Amy and friends but also for the audience. But of course it isn’t. It’s tempered by the reality that using this information will hurt Eileen, who in a very short amount of time we’ve come to like, and, just as significantly, it will crush Tyler. He finally finds romance and validation, but serving the greater good, as Amy puts it, might require that he sacrifice that happiness. In this instance Amy’s self-absorption manifests itself most completely and effectively. She cannot see how important Eileen has become to Tyler, and she believes that Tyler’s efforts were all made with an eye toward gathering incriminating evidence.
Tyler closes the episode with a parallel voiceover from his monologue at the beginning. He says, “The ghost is scared, he cannot float. He is heavy, he is flesh and blood
The ghost is sad. All those years invisible haunt him now. Why didn’t he try? Or care? Or be?” Eileen’s affection has awoken Tyler from the monotony of his previous life, and now he is burdened with how his actions affect other people. He is happy to be held and to be seen, but he is presented with new and terrifying dilemmas.
“The Ghost Is Seen” succeeds by tapping into the audience’s abundant empathy and sympathy for Tyler. The very least this does is make us cognizant that the change Amy seeks requires difficult sacrifices. At the very most, it challenges the notion that Amy’s and the series’ direction to this point are the correct paths to wholeness.