A review of tonight’s “Lights Out” coming up just as soon as I bring my machete to the weigh-in…
“Think you haven’t been fighting? This whole year, all you’ve done is fight.” -Johnny
There are times where the logistics of my job means I’ve seen an entire season of a show before I write any individual episode reviews. Sometimes, that turns out to be very helpful, while other times, it’s a challenge to not let my reviews be too informed by what I know is coming. In the case of “Lights Out” – and this episode in particular – I’m glad I’ve switched to watching episodes one week at a time, because not knowing what’s coming makes me completely comfortable in asking the biggest question raised by “Crossroads”:
Did Morales take a dive?
We’ve seen Lights struggle with his vision, his conditioning, his shrinking weight and his age over these last two episodes, at the same time we’ve seen Morales look young, fast and mean, even beyond the dirty punches. And what we saw in the first round of that fight was an old man who wasn’t remotely ready for this opponent, followed by a break in the action where Morales made eye contact with Hal Brennan, followed with the fight doing a complete 180 – not in the 8th or 9th round after Morales was tired, but right from the start of round 2.
Between way the fight played out and the reaction of Lights’ dad – who clearly had more to say in the episode’s final scene, but didn’t want to wreck his son’s confidence – I’m going to assume that was a work until it’s made explicit otherwise.
And given what we know about the fighters, and the promoters, and the state of the heavyweight division – in which the only fight where anyone stands to make real money is Leary-Reynolds III(*) – that makes sense, and fits the show’s deglamorized aesthetic(**). Lights knocking out Morales for real wouldn’t be completely implausible, but I think it’s more interesting if we go into the inevitable Reynolds fight having no idea whether our man can actually still fight.
(*) There was a reference to a second Reynolds fight in the episode where Lights sells his gloves on the home shopping channel, which isn’t a big surprise. Top fighters square off against each other many times – the famous Thrilla in Manila was the third Ali-Frazier fight – but I do wonder if we’ll ever get much detail about what happened in Leary-Reynolds I.
(**) It also would help cover for some fight choreography in that second round that seemed a few beats too slow at every moment. I know actual prizefights don’t always unfold at the rate that the movies would have us believe, but for a round in which Lights was supposed to be shocking Morales and the world with a relentless assault, both actors seemed a little hesitant. If the idea was that Lights actually was slow and Morales was trying to move down to his pace so it would look convincing, then it makes more sense.
But whether or not I’m right, putting Lights back into the ring for the first time in five years helped bring a lot of the show’s ongoing stories to a boil, leading to another strong hour for the series. As the midway point of a 13-episode season(***), it did its job, and did it well.
(***) Ratings still not especially encouraging in terms of a second season. Based on what I’ve heard from those critics who did watch all 13 in advance, it has more in common with “Terriers” than low ratings, in that the finale provides enough closure that viewers won’t feel too cheated by a non-renewal. It’s frustrating, but when you take the idea of a sports drama (which usually has trouble gaining traction on TV) and add a sport badly fading in popularity, it shouldn’t be too surprising.
For starters, seeing her man in the ring forces Theresa to accept that, yes, she fell in love with and married a fighter, and it’s counter-productive to (pardon the pun) fight that. Warren Leight told me that in the writers room they had a bunch of index cards with different story beats they wanted to hit at some point during the season. One of those cards read “Best Sex Ever,” and they kept waiting on when to play it. This seemed like a perfect time, and I’m hoping this isn’t a one-time thing, for all the reasons we’ve discussed in previous weeks about how Theresa has been a drag on the show. And if she really is back on Team Lights full-time, then the shift has added power because of how long it took her to make it – even if it wasn’t a lot of fun to watch in the previous six episodes.
And faced with her father actually getting back into the ring, Daniela starts acting out, and then spills the dementia secret to Aunt Margaret. Between saying the words aloud and then getting to see her dad (allegedly) kick some ass in the ring, Daniela seems to be feeling better by episode’s end – as opposed to Margaret, who’s just as troubled by what she knows as her dad was by what he saw in the ring.
Finally, Johnny gets brought back into the fold. This could be a bad thing, given his previous incompetence, or a good thing, given that Lights needs every man and woman in his corner that he can get now that dad is gone and Barry and Brennan are circling. But the gravy train is back in town, however briefly, and now we’ll see if Lights can survive Reynolds, and if Johnny can keep him from being swindled out of the purse.
A few other thoughts:
• This episode, like most of the series, has been in the can for a while, so nobody involved had any way of knowing that an Oscar-nominated film about an aging boxer making a comeback would prominently feature The Heavy’s “How Ya Like Me Now?” in several scenes. “Lights Out” isn’t stylistically very similar to “The Fighter,” but the musical coincidence this week is kinda funny.
• Speaking of music, I know some of you aren’t fond of the theme song, which feels anachronistic. I think that’s the point: it sounds like something that would either introduce an actual prizefight from the ’70s (a peak period for heavyweight boxing), or else a drama from that era. It’s a contrast between how Lights and the boxing world in general wishes things were and then the show itself, which is how they really are.
• I liked the Lights/Reynolds conversation in Margaret’s diner, and laughed when Lights tried to cut through Reynolds’ pomposity by saying, “I just like to punch people.”
• I was confused at first why Lights kept muttering that phrase about the “Fantastic Electric Light Orchestra,” until we got to the eye test, and it was revealed to be a mnemonic so he could cheat with his bad eye. I wonder who tipped him off.
• There’s finally a reference to Theresa being from England. Huzzah!
What did everybody else think?