Quick Take: Lights Out, "Rainmaker"
"What I've done makes me sick." - Lights
Review: Lights Out, "Rainmaker"
(S0111) I'm a few days late getting around to writing my review on this week's Lights Out episode. Usually this would be a problem, but as it turns out, the delay has proven to be sort of a blessing in disguise. On Thursday, two days after "Rainmaker" aired, news broke that FX has decided to cancel Lights Out. So, the extra time gives me the chance to reflect on the news.
Fans of FX will undoubtedly notice the similarities between the fates of Lights Out and another short lived drama from the cable network, Terriers. Both shows, despite praise from critics, underperformed in the ratings and failed to generate the critical mass needed for a renewal. The comparison between Lights Out and Terriers is not lost on FX executive John Landgraf, who says in a phone interview, “I think they’re both similar in the way that you ask yourself the question of whether you really want a television show that’s very different from anything you’ve seen before — and I mean different in big ways, not small ways. You look at Terriers and you say, ‘Well, that’s a buddy cop show. I’ve seen that before.’ You get into it and you find out that it’s actually subtle and good and special and, in many ways, different from what you’ve seen before. But on its face, it looks pretty much the same. And I’d say the same could be said of Lights Out. It seems vaguely familiar if you’ve seen Rocky or The Fighter. But then you get into it and you find out it’s got richness and texture and it’s quite different. But if your fundamental point of view is ‘I don’t want to see something that I’ve seen before,’ it’s easy to dismiss both those shows on their face, because in a conceptual way, they’re not radically different than other movies and TV shows you’ve seen.”
It's interesting that Landgraf mentions The Fighter specifically, as I (and many other critics) made the comparison between the two in my review of the pilot episode. If FX execs realized that Lights Out was too similar to other boxing dramas to market effectively, I wonder why they would greenlight the project in the first place?
I (mostly) agree with Mr. Landgraf sentiments, but I think he's a little off base in two regards. First, I don't think he gives enough credit to the audience. He seems to suggest that television fans, en masse, are unable to detect subtitles. To say that Lights Out failed because it was a show about boxing that didn't reinvent the wheel is a bit of a cop out. There have been a million shows about cops in the past, but The Sheild was still able to succeed. Audiences quickly discovered that Vic Mackey (subtly or otherwise) differed from other police officers they had seen on TV in the past. If Lights Out were a better show, that did a better job differentiating Lights Leary from Rocky or Mickey Ward, audiences would have noticed. Secondly (but along the same vein), it's unfair to Terriers to compare it to Lights Out in terms of quality and nuance. Terriers will be regarded (at least by critics) as one of the best single seasons of television of the decade, Lights Out... well, won't.
While the cancellation isn't exactly a shock, it is a bit disappointing that the decision was made following the absolute best episode the show has turned in to date. "Rainmaker," while not perfect, is an example of Lights Out completely living up its potential.
The episode begins with a chance run-in (that turns out to be not-so-chance) between Lights (Holt McCallany) and fellow former champ Jerry "Rainmaker" Raines (David Morse). Jerry, after countless blows to the head, is permanently punch drunk. He can't remember anything that he doesn't write down in a little notebook he carries with him. Lights feel sorry for the guy (especially because "when (they) fought, (Lights) hit him hard") and invites him to the gym. When Jerry comes to the gym, he gets the itch to get back into the ring, but Pops (Stacy Keach) shuts that idea down for Jerry's own good. Jerry goes ballistic and has to be restrained before being tossed out. He shows up the next day, even though Lights made it clear that it is everyone best interest for him to stay away from the ring, because he completely forgets about the incident.
Lights discovers that his sister Margaret (Elizabeth Marvel) orchestrated the meeting with Rainmaker to give Patrick a glimpse at his possible future. Now that Lights can talk to his sister about his medical issues, it takes the weight of the secret off of his teenage daughter and leads to a sweet, well-acted scene between Lights and Daniella (Ryann Shane).
The meat of the episode hearkens back to the dirty work that Lights did on Brennan's behalf at the beginning of the season. I'm glad that the show circled back in this direction, I was worried that the plot had become so focused on the Reynolds fight, that the crime stuff would be left by the wayside. The underworld angle from the is one of the more interesting aspects of the story.
The councilman that Lights delivered money-cake to is scooped up in a prostitution sting, igniting fears that he could blab to the authorities about Light's bribe. Johnny, at his most sympathetic in "Rainmaker", offers to take the fall for his brother, but Lights says he will take care of it. Patrick's fears are confirmed when Councilman Hess (Patrick Collins) shows up at the Leary residence wearing a wire. "I've taken one bribe from you, now I'm going to take another. If I'm going to fall on my sword, my family has to be taken care of," he says, trying to bait Lights into a slip of the tongue. Now, let's think about this for a second. A politician is busted in a prostitution sting, and in order to get his sentence lessened, he admits to being involved in an influence peddling scandal. Does this make any sense? Isn't, as a public official, accepting a bribe much more egregious than soliciting a whore?
Lights is visited by a federal agent who tries to reason with the champ. Patrick isn't the main target of the investigation, the fed tells him. If he cooperates and gives up the name of the financier, he will still be able to step into the ring and win his title back. If Lights continues to stonewall the cops, he will be arrested and subject to an embarrassing perp walk. It's hard to tell, but it seems like the agent is a Lights Leary fan and he genuinely wants Patrick to get another shot at Reynolds. Nevertheless, Lights dismisses the guy and the next thing he knows, the fed is back at the Leary residence with a search warrant.
Theresa (Catherine McCormack) watches as the FBI removes items from her home for evidence. Lights is forced to come clean to his wife about everything; Brennan, the dentist, the birthday party. Theresa's reaction is surprising. She eschews her normal shrewiness and opts for something more calm. This is not the Theresa we have come to know and be love...errr...know and be annoyed by, rather. Sure, she's disappointed in her husband, but instead of going into hysterics and getting all screechy, she takes a drag of his cigarette and thinks about to do to get Light's off the hook.
Brennan (Bill Irwin) shows up with an address of the hotel where the councilman is holed up waiting to testify against Lights. The assumption is that Patrick will go make sure that he doesn't give up Lights, and, by extension, Brennan. Now don't get me wrong, I think this a pretty riveting plot device (Will he have the nerve to go through with it? Is Lights capable of murder?), but why would Brennan, a seasoned crime veteran, trust a novice like Lights with such an important task? I know Hal wants to keep some distance between the councilman and himself, but why not just hire a discreet hitman to take care of the job? Lights has no experience with this type of thing.
The fed keeps his word and arrests Lights publicly. Margaret bails him out and in the next scene we see a masked man with a strong right cross beat the living daylights out of Councilman Hess and the police officer unfortunate enough to be guarding him. Initially I think the assailant is Lights. Then I considered Johnny, but Patrick tells Theresa that the two spent the evening at a public gathering, thus creating an alibi. The final scene was a pretty great reveal. Even as Lights hands Jerry a roll of bills I didn't immediately realize that The Rainmaker was the man in the mask. "You know me, Lights, if I don't write it down, I can't remember nothing."