Yet this isn’t just a show about Amy, either. It’s a scathing corporate satire. It’s a subtle attempt to wake its audience up to the really awful things going on in the world around it. It’s a show about a marriage that fell apart, and a mother and daughter who have never been able to pull their relationship together after a tragedy in their past. It’s a keenly observed relationship drama. It’s a show about how much harder women have to work to make their voices heard. It’s a subtle commentary on privilege, class, and race in modern America, told almost entirely from the point of view of people who are privileged, but not as privileged as some. It’s a story that seems to act almost as a corrective to decades of corporate misrule of the American body politic. Oh, and it’s occasionally a daringly experimental tone poem, bordering almost on an art film.
Central to this has been Jeff, the aforementioned Times reporter, played by Dermot Mulroney. At first, Jeff seems like a weird interloper on the show, taking time from other characters who are remembered fondly from season one (particularly Amy’s mother, Helen, played by Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd). But as time goes by, it becomes clear that he’s Amy, only slightly more put-together and male. And, what’s more, he’s celebrated for his commitment to the kinds of issues that Amy is written off for. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine a TV show about a crusading journalist, writing wrongs and putting things back together again.
But Enlightened isn’t that show, and it’s not interested in being that show. At all times, Jeff is in the background, except when his actions directly impact Amy’s emotional journey or attempts to bring down her company. Jeff starts out representing a way for Amy to get across all of the information she wants to use to bring down Abaddonn, but he very quickly becomes something else entirely, a way for Amy to imagine a different life for herself, or a world where people could take her actions and thoughts seriously, if she could get out of her own way every once in a while. Yet Jeff has trouble getting out of his way, too, but he’s praised for his brash investigative reporting, for his confidence. The show quietly lays out all of the double standards that hold Amy in place, but it never bothers underlining them. Its security in its audience’s ability to pull apart these layers is remarkable.