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“Lights Out”, “Crossroads” Review

You’re going home. It’s where you belong. – Johnny Leary

If you haven’t seen this episode, or haven’t started watching the series, do it now: http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/originals/lightsout/.

Then come back and read this because I’m gonna spoil it as if it were my only daughter.

Lights Out” is now officially midway through it’s first season and has delivered it’s finest episode yet in “Crossroads“.

It’s opening made me grin in self-satisfaction just a tad: we see Leary and current champ and career-rival “Death Row” Reynolds” sitting quietly in the Learys’ diner, chatting as Lights devours his lunch.

If you read my previous “Lights” update, you know how I’d hoped at the time that the Reynold’s character, instead of being just another bad guy, would ultimately become Leary’s biggest confidant despite the violent confrontation they (we assume) are destined to have.

I feel it would be an interesting twist and it seems to be the idea as Reynolds offers counsel to Leary, giving him a “file” on Leary’s next opponent containing all the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Reynolds wants Leary to emerge victorious and in one piece.

Leary is somewhat curious but isn’t buying it – yet.

Lights indeed gets back in the ring against “El Diablo” Morales and in the end, things almost, almost, end on a happy note.

Either way, it was good to see things go right for Our Boy (if only for, maybe, two minutes?).

When we left off, Leary was getting ready for the fight, battling an eye injury, on the verge of divorce, living in a crappy motel room and trying to evade an inquisitive reporter.

This episode?

The fight is getting closer. Father and brother Johnny – and even sister Margaret to an extent – are all bickering over Light’s training. Dad says it needs to be harder, Johnny says to ease off. Dad reminds Johnny he’s the whole reason they’re in this mess, Margaret thinks they both might be wrong …ah, family life.

Even Hal Brennan pipes in in typically smooth, Hal-fashion. He references Leary’s 1971 classic car and asks that if the car had been in the garage for five years – namely Lights’ time away from the ring - would he take it out immediately and gun it on the freeway?

Middle daughter Daniella – the good one – gets busted sneaking booze into school in the guise of a hair spray bottle (brilliant, btw). Mom’s interrupted at the hospital, Dad at the gym. All three before the nun/principal (in a great comic moment, upon hearing what the kid did, Leary turns to her and utters “what the hell?!”. He then turns back to the nun, says “sorry sister”, then turning back to daughter: what the HELL is going on?).

Mom and Dad yell and scold. Daniella is defiant: “I’m just doing what I want, like everyone else”. Mom Theresa is flabbergasted, but Lights knows the score.

Remember; Daniella is the only other person besides Leary and his physician who knows he’s been diagnosed with pugilistic dementia (he’s punch-drunk). It’s a heavy burden for a precocious 12 or 13 year old and she’s acting out. Typical teenager: act angry when you’re actually frightened (or what George Foreman would refer to as “whistling in the graveyard”: I’m not scared, I’m not scared, I’m not scared…).

In a brief yet revealing scene that adds more layers to the overall plot, Theresa confronts Daniella regarding what happened at school.

Again, the kid ain’t talkin’. When she does finally open up, she throws the whole silent treatment in Mom’s face:

Isn’t that what we do? You and dad are separated and no one talks about it. You do not want him fighting but here he goes and you just sit there. What about your family in England we never mention? What about Grandma Leary? Is she alive? Did she ever exist? No one knows!

Interesting: we’ve basically been lead to believe Leary’s mother was deceased, as Stacy Keach’s portrayal of his father had suggested a lonely widower. Also, more than one critic has made note of Catherine McCormack’s’ odd accent in her role as Theresa: McCormack is English (you’ll remember her as Mel Gibson’s doomed wife in Braveheart). Occasionally, her dialect takes a strange turn of joisee slang and English lilt. This would explain it.

Theresa counters with offers of “it’s complicated”, “now’s not the time” and “your father has his reasons”. Again, though, some more very interesting layers.

The eye is still bothering Lights and he cons his way through his eye exam. Another interesting wrinkle the writers throw in: Leary is concerned about his weight. Typical for a boxer, but remember: Leary is a heavyweight, and he’s losing weight, more and more.

Is there something wrong? Is dad over training him?

Leary eventually convinces Theresa to join him in Miami for the bout (and yes, the old “I need you in my corner” line rears it’s ugly, tread worn head). This leads to sister Margaret being left to watch the kids back home. And in another outstanding scene, after prodding Daniella to join her and oldest daughter Ava in the living room to cheer dad on, Daniella lets loose and tells aunt Margaret all about Light’s dementia diagnosis.

Both Ryann Shane as Daniella and Elizabeth Marvel as Margaret do good work here: when Margaret touches her and tells her “let me handle this from now on”, you can feel the kid’s relief. It’s all very understated: no hugs, tears, dramatic music.

It’s fun how the writers make their little nods to us die hard fight fans. “El Diablo” Morales, Leary’s opponent and the “villain” of the fight promotion, brandishes a machete, speaks in broken English (I keeelllll you old man! Keel you until you are dead!), makes crude references to Leary’s wife and family and even smokes a cigarette while on the scale at the weigh in.

Boxing fans reading this know where I’m going: Ricardo Mayorga.

The former welterweight champion was wild, brash, vicious…and a helluva lotta fun. He’d threaten his opponents lives, their families, and often step on the scale drinking a beer and eating a piece of pizza to show how easily he could make weight. He’d enrage state officials by smoking in the ring after a victory.

In one particularly flammable moment, he told his opponent, former welter champ Cory Spinks whose mother had passed away, you miss your mother? (Brandishing a fist) You be with her soon!

Not a tremendously gifted fighter, but a promoters dream nonetheless.

Another highly accurate scene, which took place in the previous episode, shows Morales speaking at the fight’s press conference through an interpreter.

He and Leary exchange heated words, a “fight” breaks out and the two have to be separated.

Cut to the back dressing room: they smile, hug, shake hands, congratulate one another on a job well done and – again, the writers nail it – Morales speaks in clearer, more fluent English than Leary himself (he then does end things with an monious threat).

Hispanic fighters have a long held tradition of refusing to speak English within the media. It is often their belief they would appear “less Mexican”.

Leary weighs in at 201 pounds and no, he’s not puny, and there actually was a time that a heavyweight champion would be in shape around that weight.

But if you’re at all familiar with current boxing, you know that the reigning heavyweight champions – the brothers Wladamir and Vitali Klitschko – go roughly six-foot six-inches+ and 250lbs +.

Heavyweights weighing only around 200lbs are advised to proceed with caution in current times.

This episode also features what is probably the finest work so far this season from Pablo Schreiber as brother Johnny.

Johnny’s been fired at Leary’s manager. And he’s feeling hopeless as he’s left out of all the activity for the upcoming bout. Like his older brother, he’s missing the action, the thrill, the adrenaline rush and it’s killing him.

Slowly, he’s allowed back into the fold but as an observant only.

Over the past few episodes, we’ve grown to loathe Johnny. He’s Leary’s Eddie Haskell: even when he means well, he effs up. He’s nowhere near as smart and sophisticated as he thinks he is. He always has an answer for everything, and tends to use the best friend/blood relative element as an ace card when confronted with his screw ups.

But in “Crossroads”, it was interesting to see Johnny stripped bare and left behind.  Less is more is the formula here, and Schreiber hits all the right notes. It’s a balance between Johnny knowing better than to push his luck with Lights and Dad and still desperately needing to be involved. It’s as if that desperation brings out the best in the character.

Schreiber gets his home run moment in a scene that has Johnny and Lights sharing a moment alone in the dressing room before the fight. For a moment, it’s not about business, and they’re brothers again (and kudos to the writers once again: usually a drama calls for this to truly be an intimate, one-on-one time. But as they speak, in the background stands a state athletic official: you don’t get totally unsupervised time in your locker room before a fight – ever.).

They chat about all the difficulties that Light’s has had to endure recently. And then Johnny ends the conversation with the closer you get to the ring, all this other crap is going to fade away, cause you’re going home.

To be honest, I’m not totally convinced the writers intended for that line to be as awesomely powerful as it is, but I’ll give them credit.

When we’re at home, truly where we belong, all is right.

The fight happens. It’s choreographed well enough but you can see the writers doing their tough balancing act: make it authentic while make it dramatic for the casual viewer.

Real life referee Arthur Mercante Jr. and commentator Steve Albert are used to further authenticate matters.

The Morales character has been referenced leading up to this moment as “dirty” fighter more than once. Low blows, elbows, rabbit punching, holding and hitting, everything.

In truth, most upper-level fighters do have little tricks they employ to gain an edge: Tyson’s elbow to the face was not uncommon. Ali, with his long arms, would pull your head down thereby making you expire energy resisting him. Fight Evander Holyfield and be as weary of head butts as punches.

So as the first round gets underway, Morales’ usage of low blows is a bit over the top. He then opens up a cut over Light’s eye via headbut.  Blow after blow for “El Diablo”. He bullies and batters Leary around the ring.

The round ends and Steve Albert punctuates it with “All Morales!”.

Another clever element the writers have slowly, carefully yet deliberately introduced is (what was) Johnny’s style of boxing that is continually preached by the brothers father: move, box, jab, on your toes, dance, defense.

The slender, 6’5″, long armed Schreiber is believable as such a fighter.

The shorter, thicker, far more muscular Holt Mccallany? Not so much.

Lights is a born brawler. He’s there to fight.

Straight up, trade blows, you go or I go.

If Johnny (who we eventually learn was Olympics bound before an injury cut his career short) was Ali, Lights is Tyson.

We slowly start to realize this and we slowly begin to see - over numerous training montages – that trainer Dad is enamored with the more technical, more defensive style, just maybe not fully seeing that his sons are simply two very different specimens.

Of course this will cause future problems for the fellas, but we’ll get to that later.

Back to the fight.

Dad is yelling at Lights in the corner, saying Morales should be disqualified, trying to drive home his message of boxing and moving. Theresa and Johnny are freaking out at ringside. Ava and Margaret look all concerned watching at home.

Leary looks out at the audience and makes eye contact with Theresa.

And, in what is probably Mccallany’s finest moment of this first season, Leary and his wife stare intently at one another.

Slowly, she nods. Slowly, smiling slightly, he smiles back.

The stare says it all: sorry, Pops. But to deal with [crap], you gotta be [crap].

The bell rings, Lights goes to the center of the ring, drills Morales directly in the gonads, and as El Diablo is doubled over in pain, drives home a right cross that sends him sprawling to the canvas.

The crowd erupts. The ref is enraged. Johnny and Theresa are ecstatic.

Morales is given time to recover. The bout resumes, and Leary demonstrates to his opponent that the “Lights Out” nickname isn’t just for show.

A bevy of blows and Morales is o-u-t. The referee doesn’t bother with a full ten-count.

KO 2, Patrick Leary.

The knockout itself was a little over the top, with Morales falling face-first, unconscious but I’m nitpicking.

The crowd roars it’s approval. The reporters swarm Leary in the ring. Johnny and Theresa laugh and hug.

We cut to the dressing room and Lights is showering and dressing for the post press conference. Theresa runs in smiling and kissing her husband. “I’ve missed you”, she says.

“I couldn’t have done it without you”, he replies.

Next is a bear hug from Johnny who whispers that Word had pulled him aside and reiterated the 10 million dollar offer for the Reynolds fight.

“See if you can get more”, Lights says.

And there we have it: brothers, wife, husband, all reunited.

Yet in the background is dad, staring silently out the window.

Success or not, the trainer did not like what he saw.

Lights and Theresa arrive home to a barrage of hugs and kisses from the kids.

But like father, like daughter, Margaret sits quietly in the background, now burdened with the secret her brother wants so desperately kept.

So again, for about two to three minutes of screen time, Lights’ life is good.

But “Crossroads” – again this series watershed moment thus far - ends with Leary telling his father he’s going to take the ten mill from Word and go after Reynolds.

Dad disagrees, saying they need to slow down and take more fights first. Neither budges.

“You’ll be doing it on your own, then” says dad as he gets up and leaves.

“Lights Out” airs Tuesday at 9pm central on FX.

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