Like The Wire, I’d argue that Enlightened becomes better as a whole the more episodes you watch. The character work, especially in its second season, is phenomenal. In this new age of television, it is impossible to categorize it as a comedy or drama, or even dramedy. Putting it in these categories does it a disservice. Like Girls, it transcends television to display very real human emotions and interactions, capturing recognizable experiences the audience can easily relate to in their own lives. I cry, I laugh, I cringe. I want more. I hope all the urging for renewal is noticed by HBO, a network that should be championed for airing the show, and also has the luxury of supporting shows it believes in and allowing time for the audience to grow. Excerpts from “The Ghost Is Seen,” serve as a perfect example of the poetry Enlightened is serving up on a weekly basis:
It’s okay to be a ghost. It has its pleasures. You’re light. You float. You slip in and out unseen. There’s no love to lose. Or burden to be. You have so little to hold you down. You are free. Some pearls are never found. They hide under the sand of the ocean floor. No one knows they’re there. But the pearl knows. Maybe there was a time he wanted to be found. To be seen. And to be held. But now only hope hurts. I am my own secret. A secret kept by me.
Something has changed. Now the ghost is scared. He cannot float. He’s heavy. He’s flesh and blood. He must open doors, he can’t slip away unseen. The ghost is sad. All those years invisible haunt him now. Why didn’t he try? Or care? Or be? The ghost is happy. He is found. He is held. And he is seen. The ghost is seen.
Just like Arrow’s conflicted protagonist Oliver Queen, I’ve also got my own list of names; that is, a pretty epic collection of guest stars who come into Starling City and completely chew up the scenery for an episode or two. I’ve struggled with my own investment in the show, but villains of the week are usually game enough, and committed to their roles, to keep my interest alive. With the CW just announcing Arrow’s renewal, I hope to see some of these characters return (those still alive…).
Kelly Hu as China White, recurring
China White is an assassin working for the Triads, who at one point is sent to kill Laurel.
John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn, recurring
The best of the best when it comes to Arrow’s stable of recurring characters, Malcolm Merlyn is the wealthy father of Oliver’s best friend Tommy. Malcolm is the closest link in a chain that viewers have to the mystery figure pulling the strings in Starling City. Malcolm passes along instructions/threats to Oliver’s mother, Moira. When a renegade archer shows up in “Year’s End” and bests Oliver in a fight, Oliver vows to take him down. It’s revealed to be Malcolm, who seems to be the closest the show is going to get to a Big Bad this season. He also just kidnapped Walter, Oliver’s stepfather, to end his meddling and to further strengthen his stranglehold on Moira.
Kyle Schmid as Kyle Reston in “Legacies”
The son of a Queen Industries worker laid off by Oliver’s father, along with the rest of the Reston family, decide to “get what’s theirs” by becoming bank robbers. Since Kyle is all over the place (Being Human, Copper) it’s not too surprising he wandered into the Arrow world.
Tahmoh Penikett as Nick Salvati in “Muse of Fire”
The right-hand man of Frank Bertinelli, Nick kidnaps Oliver and Bertinelli’s daughter Helena, when he discovers that Helena has been attacking her father’s business partners. Like Kyle Schmid (and other actors on this list) many of these guest stars are indicative of where Arrow shoots (Vancouver); naturally, many Canadian actors or actors currently living in Canada to film other shows are available for one-off appearances on this series.
Ben Browder as Ted Gaynor in “Trust But Verify”
Ted Gaynor is introduced as Diggle’s former commanding officer. Also, he’s on Oliver’s list. Oliver believes he is part of a gang of thieves robbing armored trucks. He turns out to be the mastermind of the operation, and Oliver narrowly saves Diggle by killing Gaynor first.
Seth Gabel as The Count in “Vertigo”
A new drug has hit the streets and its creator goes by the name The Count. He supposedly earned that moniker during the experimental phase of his drug when its test subjects were found dead on the street with two puncture wounds in their necks. At the conclusion of the episode, Oliver injects The Count with Vertigo, which we can assume will make him even more insane than he already was. This is my absolute favorite performance of the season and I really hope Seth Gabel gets to come back and throw his crazy around some more.
Janina Gavankar as McKenna Hall in “Vertigo”
An old friend of Oliver’s that works as a vice cop in the police department. I thought it was fairly random for her to play such a bit part but I think she will recur in future episodes. Unlike some of the main cast, she seamlessly fits into the show’s world. That, or she just has more acting talent…
David Anders as Cyrus Vanch in “Betrayal”
A recently released criminal, Vanch immediately sets to wreaking havoc. Oliver gathers evidence to put him back behind bars but Vanch realizes Laurel’s connection to the vigilante and kidnaps her.
Re-watching New Girl (yes, the entire series up to “Cooler”), I was struck by just how deep and complex Jess and Nick’s friendship has become over the course of two seasons. Nick usually takes a very protective stance over any and all strange situations Jess finds herself embroiled in, and Jess is always there to reassure Nick when he feels down or ends a relationship. And unlike, let’s say Ross on Friends, there was no unrequited pining going on before “Cooler.” That does not mean, however, that there weren’t hints that a Nick/Jess endgame was in the works. So with that in mind, I took a more analytical lens to their relationship over the past two seasons and came up with 10 episodes that highlight their relationship in particular (which is probably useful if you aren’t a crazy person like me and can’t mainline all the episodes in a few days).
1. Season One, Episode Three: “Wedding”
While Nick emerged as my favorite of the guys from the pilot, I didn’t think of them as a will they/won’t they couple until this episode….and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Jess pretends to be Nick’s girlfriend at a wedding in order to make his ex, Caroline, jealous. While that ruse backfires, Jess pep talks Nick out of his photo booth refuge and out to the dance floor. It’s also funny has Nick labels Jess as a “ruiner” in this episode, setting it up perfectly for her being called a “cooler” in the second season.
2. Season One, Episode Five: “Cece Crashes”
Cece’s prolonged exposure to her best friend’s new roommates leads her to the conclusion that Nick likes Jess. Jess vehemently denies this but can’t help to notice that Cece was right about one thing: Nick’s feet are always pointed toward her, a sure sign that he likes her. By the end, Jess stops acting weird and apologies when they are both brushing their teeth (with clear camera emphasis on their feet).
3. Season One, Episode Nine: “The 23rd”
Jess is seriously questioning her relationship with Paul. Noticing her distress, Nick advises her to talk to Paul about her misgivings. Nick then accidentally talks to Paul about it before Jess has a chance to break the news. Knowing she is upset, Nick misses his flight home for the holidays in order to cheer Jess up by driving her down Candy Cane Lane.
4. Season One, Episode Twelve: “The Landlord”
Nick and Jess get into an argument over being too nice vs. being cynical. When Jess convinces their landlord to fix some things around the loft, Nick worries that Jess doesn’t realize the landlord’s real intentions toward her and keeps an eye on him. The landlord interprets this turn of events as a threesome, neither Jess nor Nick want to give up their side of the argument and stop the situation. Eventually, Jess admits she was wrong. The stakes of the situation (especially when the landlord tells Nick and Jess to start it off) are reminiscent of the “Cooler” scenario.
5. Season One, Episode Fifteen: “Injured”
Jess accidentally injures Nick in a game of touch football and takes him to her OB/GYN friend for some medication (as Nick doesn’t have health insurance). There, her friend finds a cyst on Nick’s thyroid and makes him an appointment to get it checked out. While Nick is reluctant to go, Jess and the gang insist he goes to the appointment. They spend the night on the beach, where Nick tells Jess, “I like you a lot.”
6. Season One, Episode Twenty-Two: “Tomatoes”
Jess observes the passion between her boyfriend Russell and his ex-wife when they get into arguments. She attempts to create the same level of passion with Russell but he isn’t interested in that sort of relationship. Jess says, “I want passion. Even if it’s harder and hurts more,” ending the relationship. Upon entering the loft, Jess gets into a shouting match with Nick, illustrating that passion she was just so adamant about finding. This was the show’s clearest indication that the series is leading up to a Nick/Jess coupling in the first season.
7. Season One, Episode Twenty-Four: “See Ya”
Jess struggles with Nick’s decision to move out of the loft and in with Caroline throughout the episode. When she finally realizes that Nick’s happiness should be paramount, she tells him as much. And this exchange happens: Nick – “I think you need me too much” Jess – “No, I’m gonna be fine. You know why? ‘Cause I met you. That’s why I’m okay”
8. Season Two, Episode One: “Re-Launch”
Jess gets laid off her teaching job and gets pretty down. Nick spends much of the episode attempting to “be nice” to her, when Jess only wants him to yell at her. The episode ends with Jess finally coming to terms with her new situation, sitting with Nick on her car outside her former school.
9. Season Two, Episode Three: “Fluffer”
Nick unwittingly becomes Jess’ “emotional fluffer,” filling in a boyfriend role so she can have a sex-only relationship with Sam. Jess and Nick end up on a quasi-date at a fancy restaurant and getting into a fight over an IKEA dresser. Winston councils Nick that building the dresser leads to the assumption that one day they will share the dresser, as a couple. Nick and Jess both admit they they’ve thought about each other in that way. Nick concludes that people telling him what he should and shouldn’t do for his friend pisses him off…and he builds the dresser. They both decide they are “two people that want to be friends but are sometimes attracted to each other.”
10. Season Two, Episode Fourteen: “Pepperwood”
Nick goes into protector mode when he believes that one of the students in Jess’ creative writing class wishes her harm. After showing up to her class and stealing the student’s notebook, Jess reluctantly agrees to investigate with Nick. One interesting thing I noticed in this episode (not sure if it has happened before) is Nick calling Jess by her full name Jessica multiple times. Enough times that it stood out. To analyze the significance would definitely be going overboard BUT…it did stick out.
- BuzzFeed created an awesome compilation of fan created odes to the kiss here.
- The kiss almost didn’t happen. Schmidt was going to be with Jess behind the Iron Curtain. Creator Liz Meriwether says “We’re just trying to be honest about how we think this relationship would actually go down.” That’s the most refreshing thing in my opinion. I’m all for breaking down the walls of traditional sitcom dynamics. That this happened in season two, and not season four or five, says a lot and gives me more confidence in the show’s future. Read the full story on EW.
- Need to just rewatch the kiss over and over? I got ya covered below:
- Nick: “We like you,” end of Pilot
- Nick: “Jess is one of the good ones,” Fancyman Part Two
- Jess says Nick is attractive “in a rumpled small town PI kind of way,” Kids
- When Jess attempts to talk Nick out of moving in with Caroline she tells him, “You don’t have to settle,” Backslide
- Nick: “I think you’re the kind of girl a guy would come back for,” Santa
- Jess: “You’re not that guy…she didn’t deserve you,” Cabin
I don’t even know where to begin a discussion on FX’s new show about two KGB spies (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) in deep cover, posing as a married couple living in Northern Virginia. When you think about it, one of the most compelling aspects of the show is the centrality of the Soviet spies themselves. Spending virtually all of our time following “Elizabeth Jennings” and “Philip Jennings” (and their kids), means we are supposed to root for them…right? Obviously if they get caught, the premise ends, but it’s more confusing than just that: unlike most of television’s anti-heroes (the Don Drapers, Walter Whites, Tony Sopranos of this world), the Jennings are actively conspiring against the West. It makes for some complex emotions, surely.
If, like me, you are infatuated with Matthew Rhys, then this show is pure GOLD. It’s all you could ever hope for and more. How could you not love him? How could you not see him as your prearranged husband and think “jackpot!!!” Let me count the ways. Sure, he’s a Soviet spy, but he is accustomed to the American way of life: food, air conditioners, the new mall with cowboy boots on sale. He’s in an arranged marriage but in love with his wife nonetheless, a fact made painfully clear when he listens to surveillance of Elizabeth sleeping with a mark to get information. It’s made even more clear when he kills FOR her. What else? He loves his kids. Yet another reason to simply defect and disappear into obscurity. While Elizabeth also loves the kids, she cannot fathom telling them the truth when simply raising them “American” is painful enough.
At the mall, a creep (already with a young companion) makes a pass at Philip’s thirteen year old daughter. He keeps it cool in the moment but dons a disguise and goes after him later, if you didn’t think Matthew Rhys was in full on badassery mode yet. Later, when a certain counterintelligence FBI agent decides to check out the Jennings’ garage for their hostage (long since killed and disposed of), Philip is in silhouette, ready to eliminate the threat if any evidence is found. A gorgeous moment in cinematography. I would like to note that being this crazy about Matthew Rhys is not a fluke. This article from Maureen Ryan does a great job of pointing out some of the flaws of the pilot, but also serves as an example of how smitten one can be with Mr. Rhys: “I mean, this guy is played by Matthew Rhys — maybe it’s me, but I can’t help but think well of him from the first frame.” Preach!!
I don’t want to ignore Keri Russell: I am one of the legion who grew up debating the issue of Ben Covington vs. Noel Crane on Felicity. (I’m a Noel girl, but this might change if/when I revisit the series as an adult…maybe). She’s great, and ageless. One of the greatest testaments to her abilities is how much I dislike her character for the majority of the pilot. I want to like her, but I can’t. She’s a cold fish. And this is also where conflicting feelings about our “protagonists” also come into play: whereas Philip is ready to defect and disappear into Western consumerism, Elizabeth remains committed to her job over her children and whatever she might feel toward Philip. Through an important twist, I couldn’t help but give her some license for her actions. You know, the KGB defector they kidnap at the beginning of the pilot? He raped Elizabeth back when she was just a young teenage cadet because, that was one of the many perks. So while she may be more zealous than Philip, she also has a very real reason to want their hostage dead.
Having this little tidbit of information float to the surface (at a very convenient time, granted) stops Philip from wanting to defect and instead engage his fierce protector mode. Cue the need to dispose of the body cut to “In the Air Tonight.” Elizabeth finally gets intimate with Philip in two ways: physically and emotionally. While sleeping with him might have resulted from the adrenaline rush of disfiguring and dumping a body (I assume?), it may have also been an “atta boy” for killing off her rapist. Later, the reveal of her real name and birthplace (a big no-no) seemed a much more important step, one sure to muddle their quasi-marriage even further from here on out. Executive Producer Joel Fields commented that the marriage is an allegory for international relations. I think I am going to table that notion because it seems a little ridiculous to me that writers would follow this template for a show taking place during the Cold War.
Where does The Americans go from season one? I can see one of two things happening. Either, we get the Dexter/How I Met Your Mother reliance on stall tactics, dragging out any real narrative upheavals to one per season. This seems untenable for The Americans, especially since the show is built on suspense. However, the other way I see it playing out involves the writers taking a few pages from Homeland’s playbook, turning the tables on the characters and viewer expectations for next season (if there is a next season). Having the writers take chances will push them to keep the story fresh and engaging. But until then, I’m invested and ready for more conflicted espionage.