This review may contain spoilers.
4. Bolo Punch
The main conceit for this week’s episode of Lights Out was the first to ask that we really suspend our disbelief, as events transpired to put Lights inside the octagon for an MMA bout.
Fans of mixed martial arts and boxing are often quick to point out the respective strengths and weaknesses of their chosen sports when potential cross-discipline match-ups are ever posited. I’m no expert on either sport, but from what I can gather, were the two fighters to ‘stand up’ (i.e. remain on their feet and exchange blows), the boxer’s superior punching technique would win out in seconds, whereas if the fight were to go to the ground, the MMA fighter’s knowledge of the highly technical holds and submissions would end the fight almost immediately.
But who wants to watch that? In the opening seconds of the MMA bout in Bolo Punch, the MMA fighter survives at least three haymaker punches before Lights manages to easily fight his way out of a submission hold. The purists might whine that it could never happen, but I found the fight intense, brutal, captivating, and from what little I’ve seen of UFC/MMA, pretty realistic. One area where Lights Out really hasn’t let anyone down at all is in its fight scenes, which have been plentiful and brilliantly done.
What I had more of a problem with was the way the writers engineered the fight to happen, as it didn’t really ring true for me. It makes sense for Lights Out to do an episode focused on MMA. It’s very much the story of decline, but it isn’t just Lights, Johnny and his dad who are trying to reclaim faded glories. It’s the sport of boxing as a whole, which has lost a huge amount of the prestige and following it enjoyed in its twentieth century heyday.
A large part of the downfall of boxing has been the emergence of the MMA and the UFC, which is far more violent and genuinely competitive across the divisions in a way that boxing can’t claim to be any more.
I’m all in favour, therefore, of doing an MMA episode, but I thought the way Lights was put in the ring was too neat and implausible. One minute he was being sassed by a loan shark’s bodyguard (played by legendary Dutch oddball, Bas Rutten, well known to both UFC fans and fans of Grand Theft Auto IV as the psychotic host of show-within-a-game, The Men’s Room), and the next he’s challenging him to an MMA bout. And the criminal boss who he works/doesn’t work for just happens to be there in time to bankroll the whole thing.
Lights is also refusing a return to the ring at least partly because of health problems, remember. It seems odd that he would throw himself into an MMA bout (where the risk of serious injury is as high, if not higher than in boxing), even it was to potentially get his brother out of a fix.
Speaking of which, boy, Johnny really is ruining things for everybody, isn’t he? He’s lost Lights’ money and his dad’s money, and managed to lose at least some of Omar’s money in a bet with loan sharks he was already heavily indebted to. Theresa has a point when she tells Lights he can’t use the ‘He’s my brother’ excuse forever.
His behaviour is becoming so insanely selfish and dangerous that it’s starting to stretch credibility that Lights wouldn’t step in and step in hard. The fact that Johnny is still a great character that you believe in totally is down to a great performance from Pablo Schreiber, who provides just the right mix of charm, street smarts, slipperiness, desperation and even a genuine physical presence, as demonstrated by his fight scene in this episode.
The other big event in this episode was Theresa’s discovery of Lights’ bankruptcy, as she attempted to go all Carmela Soprano and make a hefty donation to the church, only to find the kitty empty. It remains to be seen if Theresa will discover the other side to their financial woes (i.e. Lights’ burgeoning criminal career) in the next episode, at the end of the season or ever, but it’s good that the writer’s aren’t dragging out her obliviousness so that she isn’t creditable any more.
I have to say, of all the leads in Lights Out, I find Catherine McCormack as Theresa the least convincing, purely because, like Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead, the American accent isn’t quite there yet. It’s not too distracting, but it is still noticeable, at least for now.
For me, Lights Out is still elevated to a cut above by the central performance from Holt McCallany, who is really something in the role of Lights. He seems larger than life, yet has a world weary grace and a commanding respect about him that truly embodies what a heavyweight champ should look and act like. When he almost physically shoves Omar out of the gym with a gun still shoved into his chest, we believe that the young boxer would be intimidated enough to put down his gun and leave. It takes some actor to pull off the dual roles of family man and violent force of nature believably, but McCallany continues to do so with great success.
Bolo Punch was another solid instalment in a what’s been a great series so far, and concluded with a very interesting coda, where Lights attempts to coax the defeated Omar back into training, only to hear him claim that he doesn’t have it in him to be a boxer anymore.
Lights, the definition of the stoic, old school warrior, keeps looking to people around him to stand up, be counted and fight the good fight in the way that he made a point of doing when he was the champ, but he’s starting to run out of surrogates. He’s a born fighter, surrounded by people who need him to fight for them. It can’t be long before we see him back in the ring.