This review may contain spoilers.
For the second week in a row, I was left slightly underwhelmed by an episode of Lights Out, which seems to have slipped into a somewhat workmanlike groove in its latter episodes. I still maintain that the show is at its best when focusing on character rather than plot, so it was disappointing to have another episode that was more concerned with tying up some narrative loose ends, rather than taking us anywhere new and interesting character-wise.
Rainmaker introduced us to yet another new character, Jerry, a former champ who has fallen on hard times. Still in tip-top fighting condition, he sits at a pathetic stand in a tiny market offering photographs and autographs to a largely disinterested audience, in a sad tableau reminiscent of Mickey Rourke’s gym-based fan meets in The Wrestler.
Jerry is also clearly ensconced in the latter stages of pugilistic dementia. He repeats himself often, has to write down his plans and commitments on pieces of paper, forgetting them instantly otherwise. He also flies into a rage that includes throwing weights around the gym when Lights and Pops stop him from sparring with one of their fighters, in a tragic reminder of some of the other mental health implications of receiving too many blows to the head.
One thing that Lights Out remains excellent at is casting fantastic character actors in supporting roles. Jerry is played by the wonderful David Morse, whom you may familiar with from St Elsewhere and supporting turns in Dancer In The Dark, 12 Monkeys and The Rock (quite the diverse resume there). Morse brings just the right balance of pathos and physical presence to the role, and almost makes Jerry into a fully fleshed out, well realised character.
I say ‘almost’ because, while Morse’s portrayal is excellent, the character is, simply, nothing more than a plot device.
The irony is that the storyline details Lights supposedly taking pity on Jerry and taking him under his wing for a few weeks, before ultimately using him for his own selfish ends. That’s exactly what the show is doing, bringing in a great actor to the show and using him just to facilitate a plot twist.
Firstly, Jerry appears to be in the show to act as a stark warning to Lights about what he might end up like if he further provokes his onset of pugilistic dementia. This is all well and good, if the point hadn’t been laboured over and over again, with little of the subtlety that we’ve come to expect from the show. Lights’ worried looks every time Jerry did something crazy (which was often) were more than enough. Then we had Margaret making it even more explicit by telling Lights that she engineered Jerry being around in order to show Lights what his future might be.
Then we had the big final twist. In fairness, it was executed well enough that I was a little surprised at the reveal. (By that point there had been so much of Jerry’s antics that his presence needed to be justified by some sort of plot development.) But Lights Out isn’t a show that needs big twist endings. It felt a little bit more like something you’d see on a network drama, rather than something from a twenty-first century cable television drama, and all that that implies.
The ‘deus ex machina’ of Jerry and his amnesia was employed in order to resolve the problem introduced at the outset of the episode. A corrupt congressman that Lights had previously delivered bribe money to at Brennan’s behest has been implicated in a prostitution ring, and an attempt at leverage is threatening to take Lights, Brennan, and anyone he can down with him.
I’m not particularly bothered that this bit of plot has been introduced after not being referred to for eight episodes. What I’m more concerned about is that it seems to have been resolved so quickly. The Brennan stuff is hardly the most engaging aspect of the show, so why take precious time out of the show’s final stretch to address it, if it doesn’t amount to much more than tying up loose ends?
Perhaps it’s meant to remind us how low Lights is willing to stoop, but I can’t help but feel it could have been executed with more style and ingenuity than it was.
What these last couple of episodes has brought to light for me is probably Lights Out‘s biggest flaw: its pacing. It is inexplicably clumsy, with plot threads and characters appearing and disappearing week on week in a way that’s jarring.
There are also character inconsistencies and plot holes beginning to appear. Theresa appears to be completely supportive of Lights, despite his horrible behaviour towards her in the last episode. Johnny and Pops have been brought right back into the fold, with little by way of explanation or fanfare. How is Lights’ cut doing? You know, from the potentially fatal stabbing that happened a few weeks ago?
It’s a shame that I’ve hit this rut with Lights Out, because I still think it’s been an excellent first season. Hopefully, the show can still recover and land a knockout in the final rounds.
These boxing puns never get tiring, do they?
Sadly, we’ve learned that Lights Out has been cancelled by FX and will not be renewed for a second season.
Read our review of episode 10, Cut Men, here.
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