I was living in DC when Ally McBeal ended. It was May of 2002 – a weird time. The entire east coast was experiencing a kind of collective Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and ever so often a news segment about Enron would flash through it. I had never been so into TV as I was at that time. It began as a way to get some information about 9/11, learn about Osama bin Laden, figure out if we were going to war or not, catch a few minutes of the updates about the collapse of Enron Corporation and basically zone out. Slowly I began to change the channel off CNN, feeling guilty as I did so, and it was during this hazing time, that Spring of 2002, that I began to watch Ally McBeal. It was at the end of the series – but I didn’t care. It just took one episode to catch me. If it can be said to be “about” anything, it was about the fact that Ally McBeal would never have the one person she loved more than any other. Ally and Billy had grown up together, then gone to law school together. He then moved away. Ally assumed when he returned, they’d get back together because, well, they just fit. A perfect click.
He returned with a beautiful blonde wife, Georgia, and all three ended up working at the same law firm. Ally tried to move on with her life. She dated. She even got serious with a few people. But Billy was her One. Then one day, in court, he dies.
Incidentally, if you can watch that scene without crying, you are dead inside.
Ally, again, goes on with her life. She is full of aching, unrequited love, but she’s an optimist. She tries hard. The law firm becomes her family – and rarely in TV history have I loved supporting characters so much. They were loopy, memorable, and warm. But what I remember most is that when Ally decides to leave Boston and go to New York for her daughter, there was a searing ache in my chest not for Ally but for her friends at the law firm where she worked. She is what made that company special, and after she left, it became – in my imagination – just another law firm full of bloviating morons.
I think maybe Enron was like Ally’s law firm at the end. I think the old guard who had made it so special had gone, and so the place seemed to have lost a little of its shine. No matter what had happened, it would never be like it was.
I try to imagine what it would be like today, if the bankruptcy had never happened. I go all muzzy. It’s hard to say. I like to think it would still be thriving and the people there would be inventing. The fact that I don’t really think that might be a failure of imagination. I think it was that perfect mix of personalities and timing that made it so special. It is difficult to play with the timeline, but imagine if it was today that Jeff Skilling announced his departure from Enron. Enron Broadband Services would be making money. Even as every other department fell apart, EBS would have made money. It would be like Apple today. Can you imagine?
Enron saddens me for the same reason Ally McBeal saddens me: something good was not realized because of forces that couldn’t be countered. It was nobody’s fault and there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. It just had to collapse the same way 9/11 had to happen eventually. In retrospect, doesn’t it seem like 9/11 was fated? Do you even remember a time when we weren’t at war? Likewise, I try to imagine a thriving Enron, and though I love the executives who worked there, and I respect them and think they are brilliant, and I would want them on my team… I just think they were too small to do anything more than stand there and take it. I can barely stand to look at their pictures now, the ones taken before the collapse, before everything went to hell. Their faces look so innocent; they can’t sense the tension in the distance.
Anytime I start to wonder “Why” in the cosmic sense, I bump into Godel very quickly. Those questions of fate and destiny always leave me more irritated than calm, and I find that I am just better off not thinking along those lines. I am, after all, a practical girl and I see the world in terms of physical things: torn veils of spider webs. The lower wisdoms evade me.
But sometimes I can’t help it. Sometimes against my better judgement, I stubbornly demand to know WHY. Why did Jeff Skilling have to go to prison? What good is that doing anyone, especially himself? And Ken Rice and Kevin Hannon and Rick Causey and the NatWest Three and the Nigerian Barge defendants and, oh God, the Broadband Three and the others – - why? They’re good people. Why them, and not the petty, backstabbing, criminal people who get away with things? Why is life so goddamn unfair?
That is a child’s question and I don’t ask it often. But sometimes I look around and I think of the things that I am personally losing – like Ally McBeal – for no reason I can quite name. It’s not another woman whose tires I can slash who has stolen my boyfriend. It’s just this shifting, perspective-less, entity that has no name, we just feel its consequences. It’s the thing that makes me wake up shaking in the middle of the night, reaching for him. It’s the thing that makes me want to cry when I get those notes that ask, “What happened to So-and-So.” Because the sad fact is, nothing happened to them. They’re the same damn person. They’re still beautiful and funny and sweet and calm. They still have their whole lives intact. They might have changed in some microscopic way – most are very jaded by the justice system, for instance – but they are the same person. All this stuff was for NOTHING. It means nothing. The collapse of Enron, the prosecutions, it means absolutely nothing just like 9/11 means nothing. A lot of things changed – but it ultimately means nothing at all.
The triumph is in the fact that it means nothing at all. They are the same people. The same names, the same sweet souls, the same goodness. I cry sometimes when he tells me he loves me, for the same reason I wept when I learned of magnitude of 9/11.
Because, ultimately, this is where the nothing led. This is where we found ourselves. Alive together.