This review may contain spoilers.
12. Sucker Punch
Trust Zack Snyder to come along and ruin Lights Out for everybody. This week’s episode, Sucker Punch, heralded a big swing in mood for the show, as the usual quietly intense character drama was replaced by scantily-clad dragons, slo-mo steampunk kung-fu, and an almost total lack of substance.
Of course not! Unfortunately, the fact that Sucker Punch isn’t that other Sucker Punch doesn’t mean that it was a good episode. It was another middling, frustrating effort from a show that showed huge promise in its initial stages and has sadly lost its way in the final stretch.
It’s especially a shame because, as we pointed out here last week, Lights Out will not be renewed for a second season. It is a real pity, despite the recent downswing, as I still think that, if the kinks of this first series were to be ironed out, we would be left with a really great show.
Sucker Punch, however, made a mistake that Lights Out has been guilty of a lot recently, with the sudden introduction of yet another new character who doesn’t hang around long enough to make much of an impact. It was particularly irritating in this, the crucial, penultimate episode, as this was very much the time to get us excited about the finale, and instead offered up a meandering muddle, another example of the show’s bizarrely lumpen and haphazard pacing.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of the penultimate episode in cable series. In a tradition originated by (surprise) The Sopranos, this episode nearly always features the majority of the action and the ‘wham’ moments. This works particularly well for character-focused dramas, as the finale can then be used to wrap up character arcs as they react to fallout of the cataclysmic events of the previous episode. It’s a template that works very well, and not coincidentally, is one that has been adopted to stunning effect by the two best cable dramas since The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and The Wire.
You couldn’t do this in Lights Out, of course, because it has to end with Lights battling Reynolds. There’s just no way that it can’t be the final scene (or at least, one of the final scenes). The show and audience both know this, so this might explain why this home stretch has been so frustrating. There’s only so much fight build-up that they can do, so other stories needed to feature. The trouble is, they’re filler stories that aren’t relevant, and feature characters we’re not interested in. Like Lights’ mother.
The whole storyline of Lights’ mother just fell flat. The character came off as a weird hybrid of Jessica Walters’ monstrous matriarch characters in Archer and Arrested Development, and the walking non sequitur that is Lisa’s mother in cult classic/nightmare, The Room.
We watched the characters react as the ex-showgirl, ex-rehab troublemaker ingratiated herself back into the family. Johnny and Margaret’s reactions were predictable angry stuff. Lights, too, played the trusting, welcoming role that he so obviously would. Pops’ reaction was weird, barely a bad word to say about the woman who walked out on him and left him a single parent for seventeen years.
I preferred Grandpa Simpson’s reaction in a similar situation: “You left me to raise the boy on my own! You were a rotten wife, and I’ll never, ever forgive you! (pause) Can we have sex? Please?” Actually, watching Pops’ gusto in salsa dancing with his ex-wife suggests that perhaps their reactions weren’t so different, after all. I did really like Stacy Keach’s reaction on being informed that she’d skipped out on them once again: a shake of the head, a wry smile, and a softly spoken, “Pretty lady.” What a great actor he is.
Elsewhere, the whole storyline with Margaret being shot at was pretty stupid. Lights convincingly made a case, while threatening Brennan a few episodes ago, that he would transform into the world’s meanest motherf**er if there was even a hint that someone might harm his sister. Here, it’s suggested that he is all but convinced that Barry was responsible for the shooting, yet not only does he let him relatively off the hook, he continues to work alongside him in promoting the fight. This kind of inconsistent writing is pretty sloppy, really.
Another thing Lights Out needs to stop doing is ‘lampshading’. Readers of TV Tropes will recognise lampshading as the process of a show bringing attention to its own tropes and clichés in the script, but Lights Out does it in a way that I’m not entirely sure is intentional, and as a result, is rather distracting. Early on in this episode, Lights’ mother asked of her grandchildren, “Is it too late for them to have a grandma?” Well, possibly not, but it’s probably too late for Lights Out to have a grandma.
Similarly, after sending his nefarious mother on her way, Lights saw her off with the line, “Let’s just pretend you never came.” After watching the mediocre Sucker Punch, it’s a sentiment I think we can probably all share.
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