This review may contain spoilers.
10. Cut Men
An episode like Cut Men is probably necessary at this stage in the storyline. The pieces of the plot need to start converging together with an eye towards what will hopefully be an explosive and gripping climax for what unfortunately looks likely to be Lights Out‘s first and only season, due to consistently underwhelming ratings.
There were a lot of big plot developments in this episode, but ironically, I felt that this was responsible for losing some of the momentum that Lights Out has built up recently. Plot isn’t Lights Out‘s strong point, in all honesty. It’s much more effective and interesting when operating as a character study, or perhaps more accurately, as a study of familial relationships.
It’s not that I don’t thoroughly enjoy the boxing stuff. It’s the ‘hook’ (pun intended) that got me into Lights Out, after all. Television series about families and the way they interact are hardly hard to come by.
It’s just that this plot-heavy episode felt overly mechanistic in its ‘moving chess pieces on a board’ feel. There isn’t the same sense of unpredictability or urge to find out what happens next, when compared to a more mythology and plot-oriented show. Lights Out isn’t Lost, after all.
And it isn’t that the story is bland or uninvolving, far from it. What Lights Out can’t avoid are the clichés inherent within the boxing genre. We’ve all seen the tropes of the life of a boxer many, many times before, and we know roughly how things are going to play out.
As a result, any show that is burdened with a familiar, well-worn narrative needs to layer it with a lot of deep, thoughtful and interesting characterisation in order to convince the viewer that it’s a story worth caring about and investing in one more time.
Lights Out has, in the most part, accomplished this very well, but this week I saw the joins a little more than I would have liked to. Even the very the best scene of the episode suffered. When Johnny went to confront Reynolds, after learning that, not only is he replacing Lights in their upcoming match-up with another fighter (due to Lights’ injury potentially postponing the date of the fight), he also plans to retire straight afterwards.
We know that Lights is going to fight Reynolds for the title. This has to be the finale of the show. I realise I’ve made a point of decrying predictability in stories like this, but to rob the audience of the showdown that we’ve been waiting for all season at this point would just be perverse.
Unfortunately, though, it means that this scene, as well played and adrenaline inducing as it is, plays out beat for beat as we expect it to, right down to Lights and Reynolds going through the plate glass restaurant window they happen to be standing by. As I said, there are pleasures to be had with the formulaic, and an episode like this had to happen to set up the finale, but I’m still a little disappointed that there weren’t more surprises along the way.
Also, the one unexpected twist in Cut Men, involving Margaret Leary’s romance with crime boss and Light’s bête noir, Hal Brennan, just didn’t work for me. For one thing, their romance came from absolutely nowhere and therefore seemed too obvious as a plot device, as opposed to an interesting relationship in its own right that would yield some good drama in episodes down the line.
Furthermore, the scene where Lights confronts his sister and warns her off Brennan was another that hit a lot of predictable beats. “You just don’t want me to be happy” and “Why can’t he just love me for me?” It was a scene you would expect from a show with great deal less nuance than Lights Out has demonstrated being capable of.
If it seems harsh to pick on these moments, it’s because Lights Out, for the most part, has nimbly worked its way around cliché, or at least used them for its own advantage. It’s especially notable, then, when it has an off week.
Another problem with the show that really needs to be sorted out if there is a second season is the use of the ensemble cast. The actors themselves are uniformly excellent (even the kids are pretty good!), but they seem to appear and disappear with an irregularity that occasionally proves to be jolting.
The situation with Lights’ kids has already become a running joke. The rule seems to be there can never be more than two of them on screen at the same time. Whether this is due to budget constraints or some California labour laws, I’m not sure, but it is distracting.
Similarly, Margaret has been almost entirely peripheral up to this point, and is now thrust into a crucial arc of the story. Where’s Pops? And after the intense, wall-to-wall Ed Romeo show of the last two episodes, it’s hard not to miss the sandpaper-throated nutty man just a little bit, even if his absence was understandable.
Lights Out is still proving to be a great show with huge potential (I really hope it gets given the opportunity to do a second series), but I wasn’t too keen on this episode. Hopefully, next week we’ll see it back to its best.
Read our review of episode 9, Infight, here.
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