This review may contain spoilers.
8. Head Games
Head Games was the best episode of Lights Out to date, with a fantastic and unexpected introduction of a new character bolstering an already superbly constructed episode. It explored the dynamic of the breadwinner and the dependent family in such a way that it was reminiscent and worthy of its forebear and most obvious inspiration, The Sopranos, in its intelligent and thoughtful dissection of the power that family members can potentially wield over one another, for better or for worse.
The new character in question is the ludicrously named Ed Romeo, former trainer to Richie ‘Death Row’ Reynolds, now a recluse and retired from the world of boxing for good. We all know how permanent retirements are in the fight game, however, and it doesn’t take Lights long to talk him into becoming his new trainer, after his father quits at the beginning the episode.
Played by Oz veteran, Eamonn Walker, Romeo is yet another fascinating support actor added to an already impressive cast, and he has an immediate impact on the whole feel of the show. With his wide-eyed intensity and obscenely gruff accent, Romeo brings a real menace and charisma to the show. Consistently leaning just on the right side between compelling theatricality and wild overacting, he stands in complete contrast to the understated naturalism of say, Stacy Keach, but crucially, he never feels out of kilter with the rest of the cast. Nevertheless, the whole tone of the episode changes on a dime whenever he’s on screen.
Walker’s most impressive moment in this episode came in a fantastic monologue delivered to Theresa, where Romeo breaks down the pseudo father-son relationship that existed between him and Reynolds, his subsequent betrayal, and his worry that Lights will do something similar. This is a piece of writing so good that it deepens our understanding of Romeo, makes us question what we know about Lights, intensifies our distrust of Reynolds, and most importantly, adds a whole new layer of drama and intrigue to the Lights Out/Death Row showdown, as if it needed any more.
Romeo’s main role in the episode was to explicitly show Lights that he’s being pulled down by his dependents. That’s a big reason why the arrival of Romeo is so effective. We realise that he’s the first character to come along who doesn’t either completely depend on Lights in order to make a living, or is trying to exploit him. He bought his sister a diner, his father a gym, he entertains Johnny as his manager, despite him letting him down and betraying his trust over and over again. And in order to provide for his wife and daughters, he lets amoral parasites like Brennan and Word manipulate him for their own ends. As Romeo memorably says to him at one point in the episode, “Damn, Lights. How many titties you got?”
Romeo also divides his family into good and bad, new and old. His wife and daughters are to be cherished, with Romeo (perhaps fittingly, considering his name) going against boxing legend and actively encouraging sex before a fight. He also praises Lights’ children and both Lights and Theresa as parents. Conversely, he urges Lights to cut off his sister, his father and his brother, all of whom he sees as negative influences.
Certainly, they all want to get shot of Romeo, ostensibly because they’re concerned that he’ll mess up Lights’ rhythm and get him hurt, but a number of ulterior, slightly more sinister motives also seem very possible.
Johnny clearly doesn’t like being cut out of anything and having his borderline criminal activities curbed in any way. His sister knows about his pugilistic dementia, yet still seems keen for Lights to step into the ring. What’s her angle? Was she really just offended by Romeo demanding Lights chuck her steak away? Pops is also a difficult one to read. He says he doesn’t want to see Lights hurt, and there’s no reason to disbelieve him. But Lights’ anecdote about his father’s reaction to him losing his first fight (“He sat in a dark room for a week.”) suggests that he has more invested in Lights winning than just keeping him in good health. Also, Romeo seems to be right when he points out his father probably cost him the championship by ordering him not to go for the kill in the final round.
Lights tells Romeo to back off when he suggests cutting off his family, but his subsequent actions, including refusing his dad’s offer to train him again, suggest that he knows Romeo has a point.
But is Romeo the inspirational trainer he appears to be? It is revealed in the shocking final scene that he has an unpredictable, self-destructive nature that could prove a big problem for Lights in the future. And is he right about the discrepancy between Lights’ two families? Are Lights’ wife and daughters any less of a drain on him and his resources, both financial and emotional, than his father, brother and sister? Or is Romeo looking on them more kindly because he is a lonely, childless widower with no family of his own?
There was a wonderful ambiguity about the motivations and actions of all of the characters in Head Games. The arrival of the mysterious outsider made everyone question themselves and each other, making for top quality drama.
Head Games had superb writing, acting, and directing right from the opening bell (sorry). Lights Out becomes more and more satisfying every week.
Read our review of episode 7, Crossroads, here.
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