Enlightened Season 2 Finale Preview: Mike White Talks Renewal Hopes and Happy Endings

mike-white-enlightened-hboSunday night’s Season 2 finale of Enlightened (HBO, 9:30/8:30c) will see the ultimate showdown between protagonist Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) and the unscrupulous overlords at the corporation that employs her. But the outcome of Amy-vs.-Abaddon isn’t the only news that’s keeping the cult favorite’s fanbase in a state of suspense.

TVLine caught up with show creator, executive producer and star Mike White to find out whether Sunday’s installment might be a series finale and to determine if its motley band of characters are likely to get happy endings — or at least a close approximation.

TVLINE | The penultimate episode of Season 2, “No Doubt,” had this amazing exchange where Tyler asked Amy, “Can’t this have a happy ending for everyone?” And Amy’s answer was, “I seriously doubt it.” Was that in any way foreshadowing what’s to come in the season finale?
For some reason, that line made me think of my mom, because whenever she watches the show or anything I do she’s like, “I just hope it has a happy ending.” Most things I do have happy endings, but they’re…not exactly galvanizing happy endings. In a sense, it feels like [Amy and Tyler’s] roles have changed because now Tyler has a lot more to lose. I liked the idea that Amy’s been the eternal optimist [for most of the series], but at this point is starting to lose hope that everything’s going to come out for the best. And it felt amusing to have Tyler hoping for some version of events where everything can fall into place, even though, obviously, at this point there’s so many balls in the air, there’s no way they’re all going to be caught.

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TVLINE | With the article on Abaddon about to hit the paper, and Tyler’s role in secretly gathering the information for Amy through his new girlfriend Eileen’s computer, how will it affect his friendship with these women?
He feels completely powerless, and the only thing he can do is come clean. It’s really now in Amy and Eileen’s hands as to whether he’s going to find any kind of solace or happy ending. He’s not somebody who is going to have some moves up his sleeve to figure out how to make it all right.

TVLINE | Amy’s other ongoing relationship at Abaddon is with her former assistant Krista (Sarah Burns). Their interactions are always so horrifyingly awkward, and I know it’s been teased that the season finale will have yet another confrontation between them — in the hospital, after Krista has given birth.
Amy sees Krista as the epitome of the complacent person who is just content to take her [preordained] role in society. She’s not caught up in all of these bigger issues and problems that Amy obsesses about. I mean, we see Krista as a normal person who’s just trying to get through her life. Amy’s always this unwelcome agitator who’s trying to get her to sign up for something or quit her job or take up the cause. The pleasure of writing the show is that hopefully both readings [of their relationship] can coexist: That Amy’s desire to do good is seen as something that’s noble, and at the same time, that Krista’s not some kind of villain or bad person just because she’s occupied with problems that the average person is usually dealing with. Krista’s desire not to rock the boat at Abaddon is a completely natural reaction to things. What’s funny to me, the pleasure of comments on the Internet or Twitter, is how some people view Krista as, “I hate that bitch.” And some people are like, “Amy, leave Krista alone!” Both responses exist, and they should.

TVLINE | I loved the conversation Amy has in “No Doubt” with [Abaddon CEO] Charles Szidon where he’s asking her, “Do you want power or do you want to do good in the world?” She’s confronted with the idea that she wants both. And at the exact moment where the company’s sins are about to be exposed in the press, Szidon offers to create a community-outreach job that she’s wanted all along — and with a six-figure salary.
The thing is, Amy has been defined from the beginning as somebody who has no power. Every revolutionary in modern history has been somebody who’s taken on a tyrannical power structure and then…it’s just the sad reality of revolution in our time that once [the revolutionary] has the power, it’s like a different form of tyranny. It would be interesting to see what Amy would do if she actually became a powerful person. It’s easy to see what’s wrong with a system; it’s much more difficult to rule in a benevolent way. I do believe that Amy comes from a place of compassion, and definitely she identifies with the powerless. But other than putting the last first and the first last, what is the vision that she really has for a better world?

TVLINE | Before we wrap up, I have to ask you about the Tyler-centric episode, “The Ghost Is Seen,” from earlier this season. What is it like writing an episode where you know you’re going to be at the center, portraying all these complex emotions with Tyler’s unexpected courtship of Molly Shannon’s character, and even a subsequent sex scene? Is it stressful as you write to think “I’m going to have to now bring all this stuff to life on screen as well”?
I love Molly and I did a movie with her called Year of the Dog. Not as many people saw it as I would have hoped, but I’m always impressed with her as an actress, and I felt like this was another opportunity to really give her something to do. But in order to do it, it felt like it had to be told from Tyler’s point of view. As far as realizing that I was going to have to perform it, as I’m writing it in my head I [identify with] all the characters and try to hear all their voices. So, it’s when they do start to do costume fittings or they’re like “This is the sheet you’ll be under,” when I’m like, “Oh my God, yeah. I’m actually going to do this.” There’s a little bit of a disconnect between when I’m writing it and realizing the performance of something. That’s why, for me, it’s really important to have finished all the writing before we start shooting — because it’s really difficult for me to keep wearing my writer’s hat when I’m on the ground, in the trenches with the making of it.

TVLINE | So I saved the toughest question till the end: Will we get a Season 3 of Enlightened? Do you have a sense of which way the network is leaning?
To be totally honest, I usually have a gut about these things, but this time around I really feel like it could go either way. I felt like we had little chance of coming back as of just a few weeks ago. But it seems like in the last couple of weeks, we’ve had more people voicing their affection for the show. And internally at HBO, the executives themselves are big fans. I’ve met with them, and I know the pros and cons. I just hope that they’ll decide soon. All day long I’m being asked this question by journalists, by actors who are on the show, by people in my life. Psychologically, I’m either free as a bird or I have eight or 10 episodes of television to write as quickly as possible. It’s a lot to deal with. We’ve kind of been on the precipice for a while.