Enlightened Has Been Cancelled

I was not on Twitter last night to hear about Enlightened‘s cancellation, but I’m glad I heard about it when I did–the next morning at work. While my workplace is not like Abaddon Industries (the company in the show), it still felt like the most appropriate environment to experience this tragic news.

Enlightened fans knew a cancellation was probable, but like the main character Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern), we still had hope. When I saw the news, I wasn’t angry, just incredibly sad for the third season that might have been. Also, Enlightened is one of the most emotional shows on television–it’s brought up feelings in me I’ve never felt before in front of a screen–so when the news sunk in I found myself in my work bathroom, crying.

Enlightened bathroomWhat was lovely about that experience was that I had posted to Twitter that I needed to cry in the bathroom over this news, and fans of the show Tweeted that they understood and fully supported that reaction. Enlightened has great fans.

I didn’t watch the first season of Enlightened when it aired in the Fall of 2011 but caught up last summer after reading praise from TV critics, most notably Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker. I had also read that it had a complicated female protagonist, which pretty much guarantees that I’ll like both the show and character. The critics and I were right. I devoured Enlightened‘s ten half hour episodes on HBOGO.com.  The show was miraculously renewed for a second season despite low ratings, even for HBO’s standards, and the second season was just as wonderful as the first, if not better.

Part of the problem with Enlightened is that it’s difficult to describe and, really, not like anything else on television. The series begins with Amy having a nervous breakdown at work, heading to a rehabilitation center in Hawaii, returning to move in with her mother and get her old job back, only to be put in the basement doing data entry. This all happens in the first episode. Enlightened is not about the path to becoming enlightened. It’s about what happens after one becomes enlightened, when a person returns from their journey to change a world that doesn’t want to be changed.

The cold, corporate world is juxtaposed with lyrical speeches and beautiful images, creating haunting, transcendent moments.

Warning: These next paragraphs contain spoilers for the end of the series.

After I finished the end of season two, which is now the end of the series, I went back to the first scene of the pilot. Amy’s a mess. Her mascara stains her face. She’s flailing around her workplace like a wild animal as her breakdown escalates. She sees the man she knows is responsible for transferring her out of her own department–a man she’s also been sleeping with–get into the elevator, and as the elevator door is about to close, she pries it open to unleash a few last desperate words.

Enlightened Elevator
In the final episode, when Amy has her showdown with CEO Charles Szidon, she calmly and collectively tells him off and leaves the room for the elevator. He follows her, yelling that she can’t walk away from him while he’s talking to her. But now Amy is the calm one in the elevator and Szidon (not the same man from the pilot but an even bigger opponent) is the one desperate and unhinged. As the elevator doors close on Amy, Szidon screams into the crack as Amy watches. She looks up the guard with her in the elevator, and, with a shrug, says, “He seemed upset.” She will probably be sued, her life is as uncertain as ever, but at least now she’s the one closing elevator doors in people’s faces. She’s made it to the other side of the elevator.

Not only that, but she’s accomplished her goal of taking down the company. She’s helped Tyler find happiness, and the reporter even framed the article to make her the hero. There’s more story here to tell, as creator Mike White describes in this Vulture post, but as far as endings go, this is a pretty great one.

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