The first 12 episodes of Enlightened’s short run have all focused in large part on Amy Jellicoe, and, in reality, “Higher Power” is still essentially about her. But it was still an interesting and significant departure for both Enlightened and television shows in general.
This episode reintroduces us to Amy’s alcoholic, drug-addled ex-husband, Levi (Luke Wilson), whom she successfully coerced into going to the Open Air rehabilitation center in Hawaii where she started her recovery at the beginning of the series. To open the episode, Amy receives a letter from Levi in which he describes all the ways in which the hippie nonsense they peddle at Open Air is wasting his time. Understandably, Amy—who tirelessly pushed Levi toward rehab—is devastated. And that’s the last we see of her. Meanwhile, Levi’s struggles with the tone of the program allow him to become the voice of unbridled, cynical rage that Amy’s optimistic drive demanded as a form of counterbalance; had the series become too rosy, it might have seemed out of step with reality.
At Open Air, Levi watches people break down in group therapy and fall into people’s arms in trust falls, and it only makes him back away further from the possibility of recovery. Eventually he berates his gassy, constipated roommate about his tendency to describe each of his bowel movements as if they were ancient Greek battles. This breaks his will to remain sober, and he agrees to escape to a nearby hotel with two of Open Air’s younger clients for a night of debauchery.
A lot of alcohol and enough cocaine to qualify as a lazy afternoon for Tony Montana later, Levi finds himself discussing his marriage with one of his young companions, Danielle, in a hotel room. When Levi describes Amy as blonde, Danielle—in all her youth and inebriation—calls her a slut and a bitch. Levi defends Amy, which Danielle, again stricken with the ignorance of youth, takes to mean he’s still in love with her. Levi’s feelings are more complex than that, but he doesn’t have time to explain it to Danielle before she’s off gallivanting with the older gentleman whose room they’re currently occupying.
That leaves Levi alone with Travis, who is played by the same actor as Charlie in Girls. In many ways, Travis is simply Charlie with an alcohol problem, which begs the question of why HBO doesn’t do character crossovers between series with any frequency. Digression aside, Charlie’s Travis’ drunken and insufferable mewling finishes the job that Danielle’s insensitivity started, and Levi realizes he doesn’t want to be like these kids anymore.
The following morning he returns to Open Air just in time to avoid raising suspicion in large part because his flatulent roommate, Tony, explained away his absence. Levi apologizes to Tony for his earlier tirade and commits himself anew to the program, exercise and Amy. As he says in his second letter, she is his higher power.
It is true that the events of the episode are something of a cliché, but that doesn’t detract from how satisfying they were. Enlightened successfully addressed the tiny, cynical voice in the back of all our minds that suggested Amy is irrationally hopeful and that her recovery is unique rather than universal. Levi’s redemption answers that voice and reignites hope for even the most skeptical viewer.