A boxing match presents the classic heroic arc in miniature: Our protagonist enters the ring, draped in confidence. Then later, with his lips split and swollen, eyes blackened, nose crooked and gushing, he falls to his knees. The count: 7… 8… 9… The hero rises — shakily, impossibly — to his feet. His eyes burn and fists fly with renewed fury.
A television series, on the other hand, spreads those blows of hope and failure and redemption across an entire season.
Lights Out begins with the protagonist, Patrick “Lights” Leary, nearing a figurative knockout. Leary is a once-beloved once-champion in a once-beloved sport. It’s been five years since he left the ring after losing the heavyweight title. He’s flirting with bankruptcy, and his battered brain is sliding toward dementia. It’s that classic cable-TV-character crucible, in which desperate circumstances call for unthinkable, horrific measures.
But while there have been countless old-boxer comeback stories, and while Lights Out hits many of the same points (the fretting family members, say), it becomes interesting when it diverges from formula.
Leary didn’t lose his title in a knockout, for instance. It was a controversial split-decision on points, a consequence of fighting too conservatively.
Also, a majority of the fight scenes are only shown in flashbacks — brief, harsh glimpses of Leary’s memory. It’s a daring choice, but it’s perfect for a show more about psychological blows than physical ones. In Lights Out, the past leaves dark bruises, while the present provides fresh wounds.
Leary sacrificed his boxing career for his family. “Was it worth it?” always looms.
“I don’t know what good it does to second-guess the past,” Leary lies in a television interview.
But Lights Out is all about second-guessing the past, all about how hindsight looks through a pair of blackened eyes.
The one weak point is Leary himself. His actions are interesting, but the actor (Holt McCallany) hasn’t yet imbued the role with personality. He lacks the brutal machismo of Vic Mackey in The Shield, the smirking swagger of Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, or the insecure bluster of Walter White in Breaking Bad.
But the plot of Lights Out — crackling with twists and tragedy and backroom deals — quickly takes up the slack. Soon, Leary isn’t throwing punches for his pride. He’s fighting, in every sense, with every method, for survival.
Lights Out, FX, Tuesdays, 10 pm
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