This review may contain spoilers.
3. The Shot
Lights Out is now officially on a hot streak, following up two solid introductory episodes with the first truly great one in The Shot.
After the violent conclusion to last week’s episode, it would have been safe to assume that The Shot would carry on the gangland storyline and perhaps shed some more information on the shadowy Brennan, who appears to be pulling strings that will embroil Lights, both into his own criminal empire and back into the fight game.
However, in this episode, Brennan was largely a nonentity (with the exception of a brief but key moment where we are reminded of how deep and far-reaching his political influence is), as we focused on the main players in Leary’s Gym, manager Johnny, coach Pops, contender Omar, and, of course, Lights himself.
A prevalent theme in this episode, and I suspect in the series as a whole, is how damaging and powerful the influence of the male ego can be. In The Shot, all of the extended family of Leary’s Gym are guilty of reckless acts, driven by a crippling fear of failing or appearing weak, and as a result, by the end of the episode we find them all teetering on the precipice of total ruin.
Pops, father of Lights and Johnny, is putting in dangerously long hours at the gym training super-middleweight contender, Omar, and is even avoiding his medication in an attempt to stay focused. His health problems are surely going to leave him susceptible to stress, and it’s safe to say that, if Lights and Johnny continue along the same path, there will be a whole load coming his way in the near future.
Johnny, meanwhile, is charged with making Omar’s title shot happen, and he throws everything he has at the sax-playing, ice cold boxing promoter, Barry K. Word (played by another familiar face for Wire fans, Reg E. Cathey), in an attempt to get the fight, including deception, flattery, bribery, and begging. He even uses his now established reputation as a swordsman to pump Word’s secretary for potentially useful information.
Johnny does end up getting his fight in the end when he manages to cut a deal, but at what cost to Lights, the gym and himself?
Omar himself is blessed with raw talent, but is incredibly vain and arrogant, not to mention distracted. There’s a nice running gag about his crew and his attempts to rap his entrance music. Not only that, but he’s been doing meth in order to lose weight in time for the bout.
Lights does his best to drum the vanity out of him, and delivers a truly awesome monologue to the cowering fighter in a darkened broom cupboard (“All you have is what’s in this room.”),that provides one of the most entertaining moments of the series so far. At first, this works, as we see a more focused Omar under Lights’ tutelage in the first (but surely not the last) training montage of the series.
But, as Omar finds his way into the fight, his arrogant spirit gets the better of him, as he gets unceremoniously knocked out in the final round, leaving the financial future of Leary’s Gym in the balance.
As for Lights himself, he is still adamantly against a return to boxing, shooing nemesis ‘Death Row’ away from his house when he shows up to taunt Lights with his own championship winning gloves. However, after a genuinely sweet scene between Lights and his family on his birthday, we see him lying awake next to his sleeping wife, disturbed and distracted, the championship fight in the next room calling to him.
His eagerness to return to the fold is consistently simmering underneath his otherwise idyllic family life. This is demonstrated with some inspired pieces of editing. Firstly, when Lights, rapping on his daughter’s bedroom door, is rapidly intercut with flashes of Lights’ violent encounters, literally, his greatest ‘hits’. Then secondly, in an extended end sequence where Lights’ family birthday party is intercut with the build-up to the title fight.
While The Shot took us out of the main narrative in the sense that we didn’t get any more of the criminal plot, it did a great job of demonstrating the desperation of Lights and his family, and really increased the sense that the noose is tightening around them all.
When Lights chastises Johnny for letting Omar do meth under his watch, Johnny replies, “Lie, cheat, steal. I don’t give a shit. We just have to survive now.” If he’s saying that in episode 3, it’s clear that we’re headed to some dark places with these characters, which is going to make Lights’ inevitable return to the ring even more redemptive power. It’s much more interesting and believable that he will be heading back to the ring as a combination of a last resort to a desperate situation and an innate, primal need to fight.
I really have no complaints with The Shot, and Lights Out as a whole, so far. The writing, direction, plotting, editing and acting are all first rate. Holt McCallany continues to anchor the show with a great performance, doing some wonderful facial acting in the episode’s quieter moments that really sell Lights’ inner turmoil.
Also, showrunner, Warren Leight, is doing a great job of guiding us through a story, that could easily turn trite and clichéd, in a way that snaps with verve and confidence.
Put it this way, if you’re a fan of the good stuff (Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos, and The Shield), you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. It’s the best new TV series of 2011 so far.
Read our review of episode 2, Cakewalk, here.
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