Enlightened: “Agent of Change” (Episode 2.08)

TV Reviews
Enlightened: “Agent of Change” (Episode 2.08)

Enlightened, at its most basic level, is an office show. The series takes place primarily in the main characters’ place of work. This is the only criterion. That story setting carries a certain set of connotations in American television, among which is that the characters generally have a disdain for life. The hopes and dreams of Liz Lemon, Jim Halpert and Selina Meyer are largely a source of ridicule and are overshadowed by their respective series’ unbridled cynicism. This is why Enlightened is so perplexing. Amy’s optimism is at direct odds with the general paradigm of the American workplace. Yes, she hates her job and is trying to destroy her company, but it seems the work life hasn’t completely defeated her.

That said, we are all trained to expect negativity in this paradigm and were simply waiting for Amy’s plan and her life to completely fall apart. The nagging voice in our heads said she would never succeed. “No Doubt” seemed to be the episode where this downward spiral began. She had ruined most of her interpersonal relationships and blew an opportunity to create the change she wanted to see in Abaddonn. That spiral continues in “Agent of Change.”

The episode opens with Krista preparing for the arrival of her baby. This choice seems to have been made as a matter of coherency in Amy’s voiceover than for its significance to the story. Amy ruminates on the peculiarities of being born and the responsibilities that are forced upon a baby against its will. She asks how strange it is to be born into a beautiful and upsetting world, and the scene cuts to Amy watching with unguarded horror the news of rioting and protests in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. She speaks aloud the question that silently plagued her in the previous episode: “Am I an agent of change or a creator of chaos?”

Her self-doubt leads her to call and wake Tyler and tell him that Jeff is running the story, which sets into motion a chain of events that had been waiting to happen since “The Ghost is Seen.” Tyler is visibly upset by the phone call, a fact he cannot hide from his bedmate, Eileen. All along Amy undervalued the significance of Tyler’s contentedness and emotional attachment to Eileen, and this finally comes back to bite her. Tyler tells Eileen, who subsequently tells Charles Szidon, whose lawyers call the L.A. Times, whose editors inform Jeff Flender, who finally relays the information to Amy. It is the most tragically predictable game of telephone, and it was spurred entirely by Amy’s selfishness and lack of foresight. The article is still going to run, Jeff explains, but the process won’t be as smooth as it could have been had she been more in tune with Tyler’s emotions and motivations.

Before Amy receives the call, however, she explains to her mother that she has blown the whistle on Abaddonn. Helen responds with a child-of-The-Great-Depression smackdown and is incredulous that Amy would do that to the company that gave her a job after her in-office mental breakdown. She asks if the Times is going to pay her, get her a job or put a roof over her head. Amy has created anew all the damage she and her mother had repaired during the course of the first two seasons, and it is unclear whether they will ever heal again, as Helen is appalled by Amy’s willful antagonism of her employer.

In another of Amy’s relationships, there is little doubt that her damage is permanent. Immediately after receiving Jeff’s call, Amy assumes that it was Krista who informed Szidon and storms away to find her and unleash her rage. The timing would clearly suggest it was Tyler who whistleblew her whistleblowing, but Amy’s narcissism pushes her mind toward her own personal slights. She can only process how events are related to her, a fact that becomes abundantly clear when she finally does reach the radiant Krista, who is surrounded by family and friends as she holds her newborn baby. Agitated, she tells Krista she knows what she did and shouts “Krista, you have fucked me for the last time” to the great shock of everyone in every fictional maternity ward ever. Amy and Krista’s relationship had already been tenuous, and this absurd lack of foresight and discretion will almost definitely prove to be its death blow.

Back in the office, Dougie is bidding fond farewells to his employees whose post-Cogentiva plans involve catching up on sleep and writing a young adult novel. This Cub Scouts moment is interrupted when the scary human resources lady from season one retrieves Tyler and takes him to be waterboarded (presumably). In a final act of awesomeness, Dougie tries to exert his little remaining power to keep them from taking him. He is unsuccessful, but still shows his solidarity with a bro-tastic fist pound on his heart. Amy arrives shortly thereafter to retrieve her belongings and hard drive. Her escape attempt is unfortunately thwarted by another scary human resources minion who bears the same coolness of her fellow corporate vampires.

As Amy takes the most uncomfortable elevator ride of her life, her remaining hope is that somehow Szidon’s unique worldview, which he displayed for the first time last week, will provide an out. Perhaps his own enlightenment allows for a different perspective. Before her meeting with the penthouse wolves, Amy attempts to save Tyler and Eileen’s relationship. She explains that it was her mission alone, and Tyler would never do anything to hurt her. Their conversation is interrupted, and Amy walks into her impending slaughter.

The following scene is presented like a police interrogation, except in the corporate world there are no Miranda rights. Abaddonn’s lawyers are not required to inform her that she has the right to an attorney or that anything she says can and will be used against her in a court of law. Szidon’s lackeys overplay their hand, however, and Amy realizes that she has nothing to lose by remaining silent. When threatened with legal action, Amy reminds them that she has a car that doesn’t work and $20,000 in debt, which essentially makes her untouchable. Amy’s difficulty planning her attack on Abaddonn was based in her unfamiliarity with the offensive. When she’s forced to play defense, her game rises the level of Szidon’s. She explains that she did it because she’s tired of seeing men like him rig the system and screw everyone else to line their pockets. “I’m just a woman who’s over it,” she says. Szidon responds with an enraged but wholly accurate psychoanalysis of Amy: “You feel but you don’t think,” he says. “All you have is these fuzzy-headed idealistic notions that don’t fucking apply.” Szidon’s aggression backfires as well, as it further fortifies Amy’s defensive position. She explains all that he feels is satisfaction. He is the one facing jail time, not her.

Following the fallout of her clash with the titans, Amy drives aimlessly and winds up at Levi’s apartment. Levi’s position within this game of corporate intrigue is fascinating in that it is simply nonexistent. It is curious that Amy would confide exclusively in people whose knowledge presented a risk and never in the one person in her life who seems likely to be sympathetic to her cause. When she finally does explain what she has done, Levi shows why she loved him despite his problems. He explains that she’s not crazy but full of hope and that her hope is beautiful. It was her strained relationship with Levi that likely served as the impetus behind her affair and subsequent emotional breakdown at work before the first season, and in an act of well-executed symmetry, the implosion of Amy’s work-self has partially repaired that same relationship.

When the second season ends, its thesis seems clear. Although Amy says you can wake up to your higher self, the events of the episode seem to present a less rosy perspective. When the exposé finally runs in the paper, Helen reads it alone in her kitchen and marvels at what her daughter has done. Eileen reconciles with and forgives Tyler. Dougie walks out of the darkness of Cogentiva and into the bright sunlight. But Amy undoubtedly caused a significant amount of collateral damage with her actions. Her friendship with Krista is finished, and, more importantly, Abaddonn’s lower employees will likely take most of the brunt of the corporation’s financial losses as a result of the story. Amy will be sued by the company’s lawyers, and it is unclear how many heads will roll at the top of the company. Szidon will go down, but the ideology of corporate greed will remain intact and cagier than ever.

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