‘Lights Out’ – ‘Bolo Punch’: The first rule of Lights’ club…

Senior Television Writer
02.01.11 56 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Lights Out” coming up just as soon as I pose with a wrestler at a Home Depot…

“This isn’t the ring, Patrick. You’re in over your head. You can’t punch your way out of this.” -Theresa

But dammit if he isn’t gonna try.

“Bolo Punch” does a couple of very smart things for this stage of the season’s development: it puts Lights back into a ring (even if it’s not the ring), and it lets him tell Theresa about their dire financial situation.

Lights taking on the bodyguard in a match with MMA rules was – like the earlier scene at the bar, where the waitress looked at Lights and his dad like they were aliens for wanting to see a boxing match – a comment on how irrelevant boxing has become in today’s sporting world.(*) Boxing has become a joke, both because of corruption and because it seems archaic compared to the speed and diversity of MMA. Lights gets his butt good and thoroughly kicked by the bodyguard, who has 4 times as many moves as Lights does, and only survives because he gets lucky – because, unlike Omar’s opponent last week, he really does land a bolo punch right when he needs to. Any other approach to depicting that fight would have rang false (or resulted in Lights getting so badly hurt that the rest of the season would be about his convalescence, not his comeback), and I really liked how things played out.

(*) The ratings remain not very good. Sports drama series as a whole have a hard time attracting a sustainable audience – the “Friday Night Lights” problem where (speaking in generalities) women don’t watch because it’s about sports and men don’t watch because it’s a scripted drama – but I do wonder if this show would be doing any better were it about MMA. Obviously, that’s a very different show, but I can see how even the FX target demo of young men might have looked at those posters of Holt McCallany in his boxing gloves and decided they just don’t care about that specific corner of the sports world.

And yet even though boxing is increasingly marginal, there’s still big money there, and what Lights and his family need is big money, just to get out of the enormous hole that’s been dug by their lifestyle, Lights’ generosity, the bad economy and Johnny’s reckless money management. (When Lights’ dad offered to loan Lights money from his savings, then revealed that Johnny manages his money, I groaned at just how bad things really were.)

While comparable cable dramas have allowed their protagonists to keep their big secrets (Dick Whitman on “Mad Men,” Heisenberg on “Breaking Bad”) from their spouses for far longer than four episodes, we were at the point in this one where I would have started to get annoyed if Theresa didn’t learn the truth already. As we’ve talked about the last few weeks, she’s a problematic character to begin with, and if she continued to be oblivious to the money thing – and kept trying to spend more of the non-existent cash on things like rebuilding the flooded clinic – she would become, through no fault of her own, insufferable. Letting her in on things, and allowing her to participate in finding a solution to the problem – or, for now, finding a solution beyond the obvious one of letting Lights put the gloves back on for a few more big paydays – was the right move, and it makes me more interested in what Theresa does going forward.

Some other thoughts on “Bolo Punch”:

• It just keeps getting worse and worse with Johnny, doesn’t it? Not only has he been reckless with investments, but he has a gambling problem – and, based on Theresa and Lights’ conversation about talking with Johnny, he at one point had a drug problem.

• Also interesting to see Johnny show a flash of the boxing skills he once had. Warren Leight told me that one of the reasons he liked casting Pablo Schreiber – who’s considerably taller than McCallany, with a longer reach – was that Johnny would be the brother who should have been the champ, but who ultimately didn’t have the inner fire that his shorter older brother did.

• McCallany carried himself very convincingly in the MMA fight, but he was even more impressive in the pre-credits scene where Lights doesn’t back down from Omar’s gun. There’s a sense of self-confidence and physical grace that the role requires that not many actors could bring to it, but he does, repeatedly.

• More of Barry Word and of Hal Brennan in this one, and both Reg E. Cathey and Bill Irwin continue to be enjoying themselves immensely in these roles.

• Given what we know of this guy and his world, would there be any reason for Lights to have bought Theresa “apology rings” and “guilt bracelets” other than adultery?  

What did everybody else think?

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