TV Club

Enlightened recap: Higher Power, reviewed.

How does Levi afford posh Hawaii rehab?

Dermot Mulroney, and Laura Dern.
Dermot Mulroney and Laura Dern in Enlightened.

Photo by Lacey Terrell/HBO.

Every week in Slate’s Enlightened TV club, Jeffrey Bloomer will have an IM conversation with a different fan of the show. This week, he rehashes episode 2.3 with David Haglund, the editor of Slate’s culture blog, Brow Beat.

Jeff Bloomer: When Helen tried to read Amy’s letter from Levi in the sunlight—in very Helen fashion—I thought we might spend another full episode chez Jellicoe. But then we took a welcome trip to Hawaii, where we learned that “some animals like to party.” Best defense of needing to bury a six pack ever?

David Haglund: Ha. Maybe if, for you, like Levi, God is a beer on the beach. Either way, I was awfully glad to see Levi again, who for me was one of the brightest parts of a very bright first season, but who had been sadly absent so far. I’ve never quite understood why Luke Wilson hasn’t had a bigger career; I’ve loved him ever since his hilarious performance in “Bad Blood,” possibly the very best episode of The X-Files. He’s great on this show—and especially in this episode.

Jeff: I was going to point to his heartfelt vampire hick on The X-Files as an early highlight too! I don’t think he’s ever been more convincing than he is on this show. It helps that there’s a stolid, bruised integrity to Levi buried under all those pills and coke. He wasn’t really buying Amy’s paradise, or as he calls it, the “Hawaiian prison.” What do you make of his stint in rehab?

David: I found it genuinely moving. One of the things I love about Enlightened is how it manages to be downright sincere about simple but essential human experiences without being sentimental. It helps in this instance that the show got so much about recovery right, from the physical (the “headaches, and phlegm, and farts,” in Levi’s words, that can take over a body that’s been abused for so long) to the emotional (mostly, in Levi’s case, the seemingly bottomless anger—about his dad, his mom’s death, and about the things he thought he would get, and hasn’t).

Jeff: Right—and Levi’s inevitable relapse, then eventual peace with the program, almost make up a microcosm of the drama playing out in the series. His about-face with his roommate was lovely, and I was especially taken with his second letter to Amy, telling her that he was going to keep looking for the sea turtles. This show has its metaphors, and it’s sticking with them.

David: It certainly is—and they’re becoming pretty effective shorthand. “There was no turtle,” Levi says. “Just a bunch of garbage at the bottom of the ocean.”

Jeff: I am starting to feel for poor Christopher Abbott, also Charlie on Girls, who here befriends Levi as a prototypical addict who’s nowhere near rock bottom. Those sad eyes may doom him to roles like this.

David: His crying jag after their night of debauchery slayed me; that self-hatred (“Dude, I’m such a piece of shit”) was heartbreaking. And I thought Ashley Hinshaw, as the comely, troubled blonde, was excellent, too—as was Christopher Douglas Reed as Levi’s flatulent but good-hearted roommate Tony. As for Levi, I do worry that picking Amy as his “higher power” could cause trouble down the road. I know that the higher power doesn’t have to be God, but it probably shouldn’t be your ex-wife, should it?

Jeff: No, especially not one as unstable as Amy. I also was struck by the way he described her in this episode: “She’s not a bitch,” he tells that curious blonde, which is apparently the best he can do. But he seems to be holding on to an earlier incarnation of Amy: the one from their marriage. Do you think Amy was different before? We know she was self-destructive before her breakdown, but who was she with Levi? Anything like she is now?

David: Good question. I guess my sense is that she hasn’t changed much. She’s still a “do-gooder,” right? That’s the other term Levi uses for her. And she really had an anger management problem, didn’t she? Not a substance abuse problem?

Jeff: True—we’ve seen her party hard in flashbacks, but that wasn’t her undoing.

David: As an aside, this episode did make me wonder what kind of establishment Open Air is, in that it would treat such a wide range of issues. Also: How does Levi afford it? Does he have any money? Or just the best health insurance money can buy? A very niggling question, I realize, but one I couldn’t totally shake.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s unlike Enlightened to pass off unexamined wealth as a means to an end. Amy still lives with her mother, after all, and others fear losing their jobs out loud. My sense is that his vague former life in semi-professional sports explains how he funds both his habits and his oceanside Hawaii treatment, but that’s just a guess.

David: Oh, right, the pro-sports background. I confess I’d forgotten about that. I’d also forgotten the exact cost of that bill Amy got from Open Air in Season 1; Google tells me it was $24,745. Levi must have been quite the prospect. (Granted, his expenses otherwise seem to be pretty low these days.) You’re right that, for a show that generally takes economic reality seriously, the series kind of nudged it off the stage in this episode. On the other hand, it seemed to affect Ashley Hinshaw’s character’s decision-making: Even after some coke and several drinks, that creepy older guy must have still looked terrible. But he apparently had his own plane, and she was “practically homeless,” so … Man, this episode was sad.

Jeff: Yes it was—but also appropriately cleansing, given how much time we’ve spent so far this season in the bowels of Abaddon. I suspect we’ll return there next week, so for now, I say we accept what little peace Levi found by the end. Thanks for joining me!

David: Thanks, Jeff! I don’t believe in much, but I believe in you.