Performers of the Week: Molly Shannon and Mike White From Enlightened

molly_shannon_mike_white_enlightenedA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMERS | Molly Shannon and Mike White

THE SHOW | Enlightened (HBO)

THE EPISODE | “The Ghost Is Seen”

THE AIRDATE | February 10, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | “It’s OK to be a ghost,” declared Mike White’s Tyler, taking over the role of narrator for an episode that delved deeper into the life of his introverted computer whiz. And as we followed Tyler slinking unnoticed through his typical work day, dropping by the grocery store, eating dinner alone in his sparse apartment, White made quietly palpable his character’s sense of loneliness, his lack of connection to the world around him. “Some pearls are never found. They hide under the sand on the ocean floor,” Tyler mused. “No one knows they’re there. But the pearl knows.”

What a surprise then, when Tyler — reluctantly teaming up with coworkers Amy (Laura Dern) and Dougie (Timm Sharp) to expose the sins of their company’s CEO — found himself being truly noticed by Shannon’s executive assistant Eileen. Tyler’s response when Amy informed him of Eileen’s potential interest in him was both tragic and comical: Holding his hands in front of his face like an embarrassed child and pleading, “Don’t look at me!”

Shannon, for her part, brought to life Eileen’s longing to find love (or something close to it) without ever making her character seem pathetic or the butt of some fortysomething-and-single joke. “I’m trying to be more open and, you know, let people in,” she explained with a pretty smile to Tyler, using the same kind of therapy-speak we often hear from Dern’s protagonist, and yet with some actual enlightenment behind it. By being truly open, Eileen was able to see the value of the “sad,” “sweet” Tyler standing before — and to plant a nervous, purse-lipped kiss on him as they bid farewell after a post-work group outing. Later in the episode, back at Tyler’s place after their first date, Eileen poured out her heart: She doesn’t have too many expectations, but she also doesn’t want to deal with someone fake or mean. “I’m just too old to get kicked in the face, y’know?” she said, with a mixture of hope and pragmatism and heartbreak, her eyes communicating to Tyler her intention to be careful with his heart, too.

The start of the duo’s unglamorous sex scene — Eileen in bed, using Tyler’s sheet as a shield, and Tyler entering the room stripped down to his tighty whities — was refreshingly matter-of-fact: Dougie might find Tyler to be “white as f***” and Eileen just an “old fish” in a barrel waiting to be shot (so to speak), but in White and Shannon’s hands, their physical union eschewed any comical indignity. Instead, when Eileen clutched Tyler’s hand as they woke the following morning, we saw the beauty of two hidden pearls who left behind their shells and found some fleeting happiness.

Yeah, that’ll make it all the more heartbreaking for both characters if/when it’s revealed that Tyler played a role in helping Dougie and Amy access Eileen’s computer (and bring down Abaddon), but with Shannon and White at the helm, it’s sure to be a beautiful catastrophe. WATCH TYLER ASKING EILEEN TO STAY THE NIGHT HERE:

Which performers rocked your TV this week? Sound off in the comments!