My favorite moment on television this year arrived in the fourth episode of Lodge 49‘s second season. The AMC hourlong is (was?) a show about many things: California, aerospace, the possibility of community in the age of loneliness, psychedelic folk, the hidden earth inside our hollow earth, why nothing matters in San Diego, why pools are awesome, why bars shouldn’t have TV sets.
In the episode “Conjunctio,” Ernie (Brent Jennings) welcomes a new employee to West Coast Super Sales. Ernie’s worked at the plumbing outfit for a long, long time. He used to be outside on the hustle, but now he’s desk-jobbed in the home office. It wasn’t always thus, he recalls:
I spent my first year on the order desk. Then I made the jump to outside sales. The freeway. All day, every day, for years. Coffee. Maps. The radio. [LAUGHS] I loved it. Sometimes, at dusk, I’d be at the top of a transitional loop, and I’d see the whole city down below. Lights going on. Sun going down. And the fire, out over the ocean. It was beautiful.
What a performance by Jennings! What a vision of the splendor in the regular! And Lodge 49 was beautiful — is, darn it, is beautiful! Creator Jim Gavin and showrunner Peter Ocko have produced an unconventional miracle shard of televised space dust. Season 2 ended Monday night, without much buzz in whatever ratings are now. The wrap-up was all-time weird and emotional enough to give we devoted viewers hope for more.
Season 2 couldn’t initially sort out the show’s eccentric tones. When Dud (Wyatt Russell) got impulse-married and then immediately divorced, the line between whimsy and wacky was crossed. There were unexpected hiccups with serialization, probably too much time spent in Mexico. The Scrolls loomed like Regionals over a season of Glee, plot stuff forever on the horizon.
Then came the marvelous sixth episode, “Circles,” written by Ocko. Here was the full Lodge experience. Alchemical seeker Blaise (David Pasquesi) disappeared into the past, reading the secret journal of Jackie Loomis (Cara Mantella), a midcentury member of the Long Beach Lynx. Jackie’s story dug into local history, national travesty, and the peculiar SoCal blend of industrial mysticism. Director Alethea Jones fluidly shifted across eras in single shots, suggesting that contemporary characters like Dud and his sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) were moving parallel to Jackie.
In season 2, all the show’s communities had a Lynx-ian quality. Dud got a job at West Coast Super Sales and reacted like a knight joining the Round Table, thrilling to his company polo (and the jacket handed down from his dead predecessor on the desk.) In flashbacks, Orbis came off like a repressive environment in Mad Men America — but in the present, the Orbis plant became the kind of evocative ruin they write fantasy novels about, full of territorial disputes and mystic doors.
The ending of the (series?) finale is one final burst of strange. I’d call it “biblical,” but that’s too monotheist. Dud and Liz plan a trip to Catalina, just in time for a rainstorm. Liz arrives at the Lodge and meets Connie (Linda Emond) for the first time. Something passes between them. One implication: Liz will be Connie’s squire. A larger implication: Liz might be some kind of Chosen One for the Lodge, or anyhow, someone whose destiny is even grander than her twin brother’s.
Meanwhile, Dud finds himself a victim of punishing fate yet again. Inspired by the rain, in some kind of fugue state, he starts digging a hole outside Larry’s old trailer. Is he building the pool — or trying to find the hidden civilization hiding beneath humble Long Beach? Lightning strikes his shovel, and the mud fully buries his unconscious body.( I thought the show might leave him there, near-death again.) And then that curious door on the second story of the Lodge opens, and Dud falls out, transported from some starscape beyond.
Allow me to explain: DAFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHH??? It’s my shame as a TV critic that I never wrote about Lodge 49 on a weekly basis, because moments like this deserve closer attention. I hope there’s more to this story. But, if this is the end, I’ll always return to the profound moment earlier in the episode.
Ernie is in a celebratory mood, at last ascending to Sovereign Protector. He wants to make Dud a Luminous Knight. And Dud… doesn’t want that. He delivers a quiet monologue — one final starmaking moment for Wyatt Russell, who juggled so many countervailing winds of sadness and goofy optimism this season. “I couldn’t be happier than I am right now,” Dud says. But:
All I can feel is the shadow. And I wish my dad were here to see where I am. See where I’m going. But I know that the only reason that I’m here is because Liz and I lost him. And sometimes I don’t know how to square that. I don’t know if I can handle paying that kind of price. Everything is all tangled, the good stuff and the bad stuff. It just seems unfair. And on some days, all of the beautiful things in my life break my heart. Will it always feel this way?
Ernie thinks for a long moment about how to respond and tells the truth: “Yes. Always. But that’s the deal.”
The good and the bad tangles, and it all seems unfair. Only a world with five thousand scripted shows debuting tomorrow could’ve produced two seasons of Lodge 49, and only that same world would flood our attentions with big-budget spectacle and cover-bait superstars, short-term delights distracting us from the inexplicable wonders gentle enough to be human. Those little wonders are still there, though, waiting to be discovered. There’s a whole world inside of everything, always lost and always found: the order desk, the coffee, the maps, the radio, the transitional loop, the sun setting that will rise again, the door that will open.
Finale Grade: A