Lights Out episode 13 review: War: series finale

So farewell then, Lights Out. Paul waves off a series that, really, has ended too soon...

This review may contain spoilers.

13. War

Lights Out drew to a fairly graceful conclusion with War, an undeniably exciting and heartfelt finale to a show that, in retrospect, was trying to punch above its weight from the very beginning. War featured some of the most groan-worthy moments of the entire series, as well as some of the most brilliant ones, while tying up the season-long arc wonderfully.

After a duff closing crop of episodes, War reminded me how much I have enjoyed this season, and what a shame it is that this is likely to be the last time we see Lights, Johnny, Pops, Theresa, Brennan, and Barry K Word.

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Obviously, the focal point of War was Lights’ long-awaited rematch with Death Row Reynolds. It’s the fight that we’ve been building towards this entire season, and in dramatic terms, it didn’t disappoint, with Lights having to attempt to overcome every obstacle in the boxing film clich√© handbook: a undefeated and seemingly unstoppable opponent, a bent ref, a hostile promoter, an aging body, a damaged brain, the knowledge that his previous opponents had been gimmes, and the timely reoccurrence of a previous injury.

All good fun and you’d have to be made of stone not to be rooting for Lights during the final throwdown. However, the climactic fight is hampered somewhat by some dodgy fight choreography. Up until this point, the fights in Lights Out had a decent amount of verisimilitude about them, but Lights vs Reynolds was more Rocky than Raging Bull, with wild swinging, huge haymakers and minimal blocking very much being the order of the day.

I understand that sometimes boxing matches aren’t that exciting, and the crazy comic book action of the later Rocky films is more exciting, but it was kind of distracting, all the same.

As cheesy as the fighting was, it was nothing compared to the schmaltzy speech Lights gave at the Brennan-initiated, Wire-esque ‘co-op’ of boxers who have ended up on the wrong side of Barry K Word and wish to promote their own fights (a storyline that clearly looked like the beginning of a strand that was to be picked up in the now impossible second series).

Lights asks for ten percent of the fund to go towards helping injured and incapacitated boxers, and actually receives a non-ironic slow clap from his fellow fighters. I didn’t think a non-ironic/sarcastic slow clap was even possible in 2011, but there it was, in all its cringe-worthy glory.

Another hilarious moment (although I think this one was more intentional) came when Theresa came to visit Lights before the fight to solemnly warn him that “Reynolds isn’t taking you seriously. He’s planning on singing with Jay-Z at a victory party,” before handing him the corresponding flyer. It was a non sequitur that made me laugh as hard as anything on Parks And Recreation, Community or The Trip, largely due to the otherwise intense and brooding atmosphere.

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I enjoyed War in a campy, fun sort of way, until the end, where one moment elevated both the episode and the series up a notch. Of course, it was Lights’ sad, confused, “Who won?”, which was a real punch in the kidneys of a line, turning the whole triumphalism of the Rocky-esque climax on its head instantly.

As an episode and season ender, it’s a hell of a cliffhanger. As a series ender, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. As a professional misanthrope, I couldn’t help but admire Leight and his team for ending the show on such a thoroughly depressing and downbeat note, even though they must have thought they would have got a second season. I think, arguably, it would have been even more powerful without the brief coda showing Lights going out to meet his public, but maybe that would have been too harsh a note to end on.

So, now that Lights Out has finished, what’s the verdict? I have to say that I very much enjoyed watching the series, and I’m very sorry for everyone involved that they were unable to get a second season. However, it was a flawed first series, and in many ways, it isn’t hard to see how it failed in the ratings and with the viewing public.

I think its biggest problem was a lack of confidence in its central characters. There were too many unnecessary detours, when, really, we wanted to be ensconced in the central drama of the Leary family.

The big shining exception to this rule was, of course, Ed Romeo, who made such an impact in his two episodes that he cast a long shadow over the uneven final stretch of the season. Not resolving his storyline in the finale was pretty unforgivable, regardless of the promise of a second series.

I also feel Lights Out maybe would have fared better if it had aired on a network station, rather than cable, as it was burdened with all of the expectations that (fairly or unfairly) are associated with cable shows now, and just didn’t have the gritty feel of a Shield, or the grandeur of a Sopranos, or the darkness of a Breaking Bad to make it stand out from the pack.

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Lights Out‘s strongest asset throughout has been its tremendous ensemble cast, who have been uniformly excellent throughout the season. Pablo Schreiber, Stacy Keach, Catherine McCormack (slightly iffy accent aside) and Reg E. Cathey all deserve special mention for creating some truly memorable characters, but Holt McCallany is unquestionably the Lights Out MVP, to borrow another, non-boxing term from American sporting parlance. It’s not easy to be subtle, yet intensely physical at the same time, but the unknown McCallany pulled it off with some style in Lights Out. His reading of “Who won?” alone should earn him some sort of awards nomination, and I’ve no doubt that he’ll eventually go on to bigger and better things.

Leight and his team of directors and writers should be equally proud of making a series that did do something unique, transporting the sports movie narrative into a 13-episode cable series, and doing it with style, and soul. Leight, in particular, has been involved in the creation of some excellent TV drama, and he’s certainly someone whose next project I will be eagerly looking out for.

That was Lights Out, then, a very entertaining slice of American TV that perhaps never quite realised its full potential, but won on points by dint of the amount of heart poured into it by its creators.

Follow Paul Martinovic on Twitter @paulmartinovic, or for more babble check out his blog here.

Read our review of episode 12, Sucker Punch, here.

All the series reviews of Lights Out are here.

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