“Don’t ask me about the Mariachi costume,” Lodge 49 star Brent Jennings says as he settles into one of the ancient wooden seats in Atlanta’s haunted Fox Theatre. Sure enough, he is wearing a full-on black and red Mariachi suit.
It’s the day after Game of Thrones season 8’s massive Battle of Winterfell episode, “The Long Night” and Jennings and his costars are filming the ninth and penultimate episode of a show that at first glance seems to be on the opposite end of the pop cultural spectrum of the swords, shields, and dragons mega hit.
Lodge 49 wandered onto the television scene last August as a fully formed and tonally confident Monday night follow up to AMC’s other fully formed tonally confident drama, Better Call Saul. Conceived by author Jim Gavin and produced by Gavin, Peter Ocko, and Paul Giamatti, Lodge 49 tells the story of wayward yet unfailingly optimistic surfer bro Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell) as he tries to pick up the pieces after his father’s death, the collapse of his family pool cleaning business, and the pain he still experiences from a snake bite he sustained in the Amazon.
The material world that Dud, his family, and his friends occupy is at first disarmingly realistic in its dysfunction and decay. Gavin’s fictional version of Long Beach is a prototypical company town, left for dead after the company (in this case the aerospace glance Orbis) shuts down. The citizens of a ghost town in all but name must deal with the ramifications of capitalism gone haywire. Dud’s sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) is dealing with a soul-crushing amount of debt left by her father’s financial misadventures. Local journalist Connie (Linda Emond) must confront being laid off from her job in favor of some younger bloggers.
“I think that the truth is, almost all of Jim’s characters in the show are a bit lost in different ways,” Emond says.
But once was lost must be found. When Dud discovers the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, and the titular lodge 49, he enters a world of brotherhood and beers, but also one of magical realism, alchemy, and even a touch of outright fantasy. It turns out that Lodge 49 isn’t so far away from Game of Thrones after all.
“We think of these stories kind of mythologically,” creator Jim Gavin says. “We all play in contemporary sets but when we’re breaking story, and we get in trouble, we always try to think: what’s the storybook version of this?”
Lodge 49 is a modern fable, and much of what happens onscreen has deep thematic and metaphorical ties to the magical legends that came before it. Gavin describes many of the characters’ season 1 paths in mythological terms. Liz’s money problems are so severe they may as well have been a curse placed on her by a witch. Connie’s seizures allow her to have seemingly prophetic visions, not unlike some sort of medieval prophet (or Melisandre of Asshai). Dud’s central journey into the lodge mirrors that of a squire entering a castle, encountering an aging knight (Brent Jennings’ plumbing salesman, Lodge 49 “luminous knight,” and future Mariachi costume-wearer Ernie Fontaine), and helping him win the Throne that is rightfully his.
When Dud was attacked by a shark at the end of the show’s first season, it was akin to a young squire going up against a dragon. Perhaps that’s why Dud smiled through the experience. Not many men, squires or no, take on dragons and live to tell the tale.
For Lodge 49 season 2 the fable and Dud’s journey continue to a point reminiscent of season 2 that other swords and dragons HBO hit once again.
“The story of this season is ‘the wrong king is on the throne,’” Ocko says.
That wrong king of Lodge 49 season 2 is lodge member Scott Wright (Eric Allan Kramer), a buff Long Beach Harbor patrol officer and the husband of Connie. Scott has been named “sovereign protector” of lodge 49 following the death of Larry Loomis, even though Ernie was seen as Larry’s heir apparent. The ripples of Scott’s usurping are felt early on.
“The season is all about ‘be careful what you wish for because you might get it,’” Kramer says. “Scott has always wanted to be in charge of the lodge, he’s always wanted to be sovereign protector and through just almost brute force and some troubles that the lodge has, he has found himself in that position. The whole front arc of season 2 is him dealing with that power and imposing his will on the lodge.”
While Scott consolidates his rule (including doing the unthinkable: calling in everyone’s bar tabs), the rest of the lodge and Long Beach attempt to continue on their own paths with destiny.
Liz, having thrown off the onerous witch’s curse of debt, immediately looks for another curse to explain her dissatisfaction.
“(Liz) as we now know, is debt-free,” Cassidy says. “It’s interesting to see her now not have a huge excuse for avoiding bigger questions and bigger issues in her life. She’s got to get her shit together and she now doesn’t have an excuse. I love exploring those other aspects and getting under her skin a little bit more and seeing the challenges that are more internal for her to face this season.”
Dud will be forced to confront the realities of his new bite injury (it turns out hospitals are expensive) while also trying to help lift Ernie’s broken spirits after their failed get-rich-quick gambit with “The Captain” last season.
“For Dud, the season is going to be about keeping the lodge together,” Russell says. “He doesn’t want to let it drift too far away from what the lodge is meant to be for those people. Which is a place to share your problems and share your defeats and your victories and share your lives together.”
Keeping the lodge together won’t be Dud’s only modus operandi, of course. On his squire’s journeys there are still trolls to be fought (which will happen in the season’s second episode. You’ll definitely know who the “troll” is) and scrolls to be found. Dud’s next big quest will be to hunt down the scrolls that lodge mystic Blaise St. John (David Pasquesi) believes holds the key to unlocking the secrets of alchemy and therefore the Order of the Lynx’s true potential.
Paquesi’s Blaise is often the only character on Lodge 49 aware that he’s part of a larger mythological scheme. Obsessed with alchemy, philosophy, and alternative medicine, he looks to the always pliant Dud to help with whatever potentially supernatural mystery that needs solving. In this season, it’s the case of the missing Egyptian scrolls, thought to be hidden in Mexico and containing the secrets of transmutation.
In addition to being the day after “The Long Night” aired, Pasquesi’s day on set also happens to be the day after his character suffered an unfortunate fate on Veep.
“They reassembled me,” Pasquesi says of his miraculous Lodge 49 recovery. “The rest of television is bound by the physical world but we’re not.”
In preparation for this season, Pasquesi read books on alchemy and spagyrics (and kind of medicinal aspect of alchemy) provided by Gavin and Ocko. But ultimately even the Lodge’s resident mystic still lives in the real world, abandoned by Orbis paychecks and possibly the gods as well … though they ofen seem one in the same.
“(The show) is grounded and its also fantastical but somehow it’s not a huge stretch,” Pasquesi says. All those things like alchemy are believed in. It’s like Ernie says in the first season, ‘I don’t need a unicorn; we have rhinoceros and narwhals.’”
Rhinos and narwhals may be enough for Ernie Fontaine but they’re not enough for Blaise St. John and they’re not enough for Lodge 49, itself. Lodge 49 season 2 keeps up the show’s courtship with magical realism. The season’s first episode opens with a brief and hilarious flash forward, which also introduces the series’ next big guest star: erstwhile producer Paul Giamatti playing a charismatic writer/adventurer a la L. Ron Hubbard.
“Without apology, we wanted to signal to the audience that the heart of the show is big and bright,” Ocko says. “We may start out quiet, but we want to remind people we get pretty loud by the end.”
Following the bombastic open, the first episode continues on with an eerie, seemingly prophetic series of visions.
“It’ll keep you going, ‘What was that?’” Russell says. “That’ll be fun for people to see. I think it sets the tone for the season in the right way.”
“No, we just threw some stuff together. There’s absolutely nothing meaningful there,” Gavin jokes, before adding. “Our goal is that when you get to the end of the season, you go immediately back and watch the beginning.”
Going back to the beginning is something of a theme for Lodge 49. When asked midseason what he most wants in the world, Dud responds that he merely wants to go back to the way things were before, back before dad died and took Dudley and Son Pool Supply with him. Meanwhile Liz can’t help but fall back into old habits, Ernie realizes that the good old days may be long gone after all, and a figure from Liz and Dud’s father’s past unexpectedly turns up.
“I would say that (time) is maybe the central core of the show on some level,” Gavin says. “The Lynx (sigil) is holding an hourglass and it reflects our characters relationships to time and the lodge’s relationship to time. We do go back in time this season about midway through, and so it’s a huge part of it, that the one way nature of time is a great burden to all of us.”
“I think with Dud too, we’ve established in season one his nostalgia,” Ocko adds. “Unlike most characters who are aspirational and want to move into the future and achieve, I think Dud’s main impulse is to try and go back and capture what he lost, and I think in many stories, that’s impossible. I think in this world, with the background of the Lynx, there is a sense that that may be possible.”
The frustratingly forward arrow of time looms large in Lodge 49, which is fitting given the show’s eponymous lodge setting. Fraternal organizations like the Order of the Lynx seem to be a remnant of an earlier time. Once a staple of small town life, organizations like the Masons, Elk’s Lodge, and more have shrunk in influence as the world grows bigger.
“It’s been a huge part of American life for a long time, and it’s fading,” Giamatti says of lodge culture. “I think part of the interest was this kind of sadly waning world that’s still there and still important. I want to know more. What are they actually like? I like the aspect of taking away the sinister, conspiratorial nature of them and restoring them to their fraternal, transcendent, optimistic nature. But also just like, ‘We’ve run out of beer.’”
Setting Lodge 49 within the constructs of a fraternal organization like the Order of the Lynx marries the grandiose vision of an Order’s self-sustained mythology with the simpler reality that human beings just like to hang out with other human beings, and need to go on beer runs from time to time. But the mundane realities of secretive groups mean little when there is a closed door in front of us and a potential mystery or adventure to be had.
So why is Brent Jennings wearing a mariachi costume? Is Ernie undercover? Do the scrolls only appear to those dressed in red and black? Has he abandoned Long Beach altogether for a life of music and revelry? I don’t know. Like a faithful, smiling Sean Dudley, I was told not to ask about life’s grand mysteries. So I didn’t.
Lodge 49 season 2 premieres at 10 p.m. on August 12 on AMC.
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