A review of tonight’s “Lights Out” coming up just as soon as I gift wrap a walker…
“The old days are gone, Johnny.” -Lights
Lights is finally back in the ring, finally training, finally back to doing the thing that he loves, and that’s been denied to him for the last five years because of the promise he made to Theresa. So all should be well in his world. There’s even a training montage – the lifeblood of any memorable boxing story (and something I’m an absolute sucker for) – and unlike in the third episode, he gets to be the one being trained. He should be happy.
Instead, he spends most of “Combinations” just seeming old. Training comes more slowly to him. So does healing, as he spends most of the episode dealing with blurry vision after getting a thumb in the eye from a sparring partner too eager to impress Barry Word(*). He and Johnny go out on the town with girls, just as he did in the old days(**), but it turns into one more big mess because Lights can’t drive a car in his condition.
(*) I’m sure some people will assume he was doing this on Barry’s orders, but keep in mind that Barry wants and needs Lights to fight Reynolds. As we’ve been told repeatedly, that fight is the only big-ticket item left in the sport, and if Barry, Brennan, etc. want that payday, it’s in their best interests for Lights to survive the Morales fight, and preferably win it. (Though if he doesn’t, Barry notes that Death Row gets to “wear the white hat” against Morales – just for a much lower dollar figure.)
(**) And Theresa’s comments about that answers the question last week about what the “apology bracelets” were for, no?
There are famous stories of older boxers making surprising comebacks, like a 45-year-old George Foreman winning the heavyweight title again, or a 93-year-old Rocky Balboa dropping some hurtin’ bombs on Mason “The Line” Dixon, but this thing ain’t easy. If Lights is going to make it through Morales and to the Death Row Reynolds rematch, he’s going to need some of that discipline and willpower that Johnny was talking about that allowed his older brother to go further with less natural talent. But even that may not be enough.
“Combinations” was another strong episode for the show, which needed to tell those earlier stories about Lights’ life in retirement but is by design more compelling now that he’s trying to fight again. The one problem remains Theresa, and at least by now the show seems to be acknowleding that, as the person who’s kept Lights out of the ring, she’s not going to seem especially likable. The scene with Lights’ sister Margaret spelled out to her what’s been clear to us for a while, but that Lights himself would never say to his wife: that Lights was a reluctant retiree, that these past five years have been a struggle for him well beyond the financial problems, and that it wasn’t fair of Theresa to fall in love with a fighter and then tell him not to fight.
It’s not that Theresa’s position isn’t entirely without merit. We know what happens when people get hit in the head too much, and we know now that the boxing lifestyle brought with it other problems for the family. But because she’s been the barrier to Lights getting back in the ring, and because of the way she’s been written, and played thus far by Catherine McCormack, she unfortunately fits the sports movie stereotype of the wife or girlfriend who’s just one more difficult obstacle for our hero to overcome. Maybe that scene with Margaret suggests a turning point. I certainly hope so.
The rest, though? Terrific – albeit choppy at times, as certain scenes (like Johnny’s argument with his dad) seemed to start and stop abruptly – with some fine physical work from Holt McCallany. Because of the nature of what Lights does, and the way McCallany plays him, the writers have clearly become comfortable just stepping back and watching him work in silence, which leads to a fantastic moment like the closing scene, where Lights figures out the exact distance he needs to be from his opponent to see where his punches are going to land.
Some other thoughts:
• Ben Shenkman returns as Mike the reporter, who’s been barely hanging on himself – as he says of Lights’ story, “The whole country’s up against it now” – and who gets screwed over, presumably by Barry and/or Brennan, who have a vested interest in protecting this fight and this fighter. I felt bad for Mike, who was never reporting anything but the truth, and also liked that he didn’t act the least bit scared when Lights tried to physically threaten him, instead asking, exasperated, what his old schoolmate was doing.
• The staged weigh-in brawl to generate attention is an old boxing tradition, and I was amused to see Johnny make an unscripted entry into the fray with a folding chair.
• The show seems to be taking turns on which of Lights’ daughters don’t appear in each episode, and weirdly keeps calling attention to that fact with scenes where characters loudly and obviously explain why, say, Daniela is always lurking just off-camera.
What did everybody else think?