“I am jazzed on language in a whole new way.”
One of the most immersive TV experiences of 2018 had nothing to do with phase spaces or government conspiracies or any of the other stuff usually found in puzzle-box shows. In fact, with its wandering pace and preference for intimate storytelling, Lodge 49 was practically the antithesis of those more plot-driven shows. What made season one so absorbing—aside from the beyond personable cast—was the show’s inviting nature, the way the AMC drama from Jim Gavin and Peter Ocko threw open the door to allow viewers “to come in from the storm,” as they put it recently at the 2019 Television Critics Association summer press tour. Lodge 49's central mysteries, that of the identity of the “one true lodge” and the existence of some man-made treasure, were more decoy than the main draw of the series, but the first season also proved to be more than just a great way to while away the time. With the arrival of the season-two premiere, “All Circles Vanish,” it’s time to dust off the beer steins and head back to the lodge.
In the same spirit as recent teasers for the show, “All Circles Vanish” hits the throttle on the weirdness, opening with Dud (Wyatt Russell) and Ernie (Brent Jennings) aboard a flight, sighing in satisfaction over having “dreamt the impossible dream.” But the reunited knight and squire are soon interrupted by Paul Giamatti, who, in an as-yet-unnamed role, runs in to tell them the plane is about to crash and they have three—sorry, two—parachutes with which to make their escape. The Omni Capital Partners mascot runs by with its head, er, globe on fire before Dud and Ernie also jump from the plane. But before we learn their fate, a title card sends us back to “six weeks earlier” (the deliberate reveal of the date reminded me of the “five years later” from Avengers: Endgame, but that’s probably because I recently rewatched that movie on a plane).
This opening is in stark contrast to the season-one premiere, “As Above, So Below,” which began with Dud stumbling upon the [fake] gold ring that would change his life irrevocably. It’s an interesting switch-up, as for the first time, Lodge 49 appears to be working its way back from the ending or payoff. Then again, aside from Giamatti’s character shouting about his “important writer” status, and Ernie dressed as a mariachi, we didn’t really glean that much about where this is all headed—that is, aside from a precipitous meeting with the unyielding ground. And it’s not long before director Jake Schierer and writer Jim Gavin take on a more ambling approach once more, with Dud hallucinating or having premonitions involving everyone from Liz (Sonya Cassidy) to Connie (Linda Emond) and Scott (Eric Allan Kramer).
What comes next is a series of strange and fascinating tableaux which, although I’m happy to let this beautiful show just wash over me, I couldn’t resist pausing and rewinding in order to make sense of the iconography. Pretty sure I’m not alone in that, so going forward, I will keep these in the stray observations (please pipe up in the comments as you see fit, though!). But I did notice a Lynx, a plane in a nosedive, a circular maze (and Blaise!), as well as the pyramids of Egypt, maybe some soldiers in the American Revolutionary War?, and Liz holding a shovel. No idea what any of it means—aside from the maze, which seems of a piece with the episode title—but can’t wait to see just how Dud eventually finds himself wandering through hedges or some such.
“All Circles Vanish” is full of omens, including the crows Ernie kept trying to scare off last season. After his magical mystery tour with El Confidente (there are hints they did take a trip together, though he refuses to let Dud in on that), Ernie has taken to keeping one of those birds in a cage inside his home. He also, as we see in the final moments of the episode, has a new tattoo on his chest and is actively avoiding El Confidente’s (Cheech Marin) calls. But for much of the hour, Ernie is trying to make his old, pre-Dud life work for him once again. He’s back to putting up with Beautiful Jake’s (Michael Lee Kimmel) arrogant shit and drinking to forget about Connie. Ernie’s back on the road, making small sales (when he is making sales), in an effort to rebuild his “normal, quiet life.”
The premiere is a bit more focused on the Dudleys, but Brent Jennings owns every disillusioned moment he’s in, backing away from the flame of hope that is Dud; he imbues the already pitiable line, “I got my hopes up, I got everyone’s hopes up and it was like poison,” with such despair and anger. It makes Wyatt Russell’s unbending optimism feel all the more necessary, but also painful. Ernie’s taken a few more knocks than Dud—the elder Lynx defined himself by his work more than his mentee ever has, and he’s still very much grieving that loss of identity. The prospect of a new identity both isn’t enough and it’s too much: like Liz, Ernie is apprehensive of possibilities. In season one, Ernie was always the voice of reason and caution, but now that he’s gone done another apparently unfruitful path, he’s even less willing to go out on a limb—he’d rather retreat to the familiar, even if it is unfulfilling.
And who does that remind us of if not Liz, who ran at the mere mention of her potential beyond Shamroxx last season? Okay, so she probably avoided being indoctrinated into some cult when she jumped from that boat, but despite being debt-free, Liz still struggles with looking up from her feet to envision a different life for herself. We’re beyond pragmatism at this point—as she blurts out in a speech about crushing reality that wouldn’t be out of place in Office Space, “I’m a zero. Nothing in my life adds up.” When Dud suggests they go out to the rooftop to stargaze, she’s quick to remind him that “you can’t see stars in Long Beach.” For Dud, being in “open water” is thrilling because it means they can go anywhere; for Liz, it’s just another chance to drown.
Lodge 49 doesn’t pretend that getting out from under financial debt is a cure-all for anyone’s problems, but like its irrepressible lead, the show also reminds us that zero is, after all, a positive number. Liz might be scared to start over, but she’s got Dud, who tries, really tries, to get along with the new pool cleaning business that sets up shop in their old spot in the strip mall. But Greg, Greta, and Buoy are gentrifying assholes who sniff about “emerging neighborhoods,” so it’s not long before Dud changes tactics and just steals some of Buoy’s equipment with some help from Herman (Sam Puefua).
With “All Circles Vanish,” Lodge 49 gets right back into its irresistible groove, teasing new developments in Connie’s research trip to Lodge 1, the grudge match between Scott and Ernie (which is, for now, more in Scott and Dud’s heads), as well as a new job for Liz that will see her regularly fielding calls and shredding documents for a shady boss with “a Ph.D. in accounting” played by Bronson Pinchot. I don’t know about you, but I needed this return trip to TV’s most welcoming show, so I can’t wait to see where we and the Lynx go from here.
- Welcome back to Lodge 49 reviews! Your sashes are in the mail.
- They are not, we don’t have the budget for that.
- It’s not surprising, coming from Jim Gavin, but this episode is full of so many great exchanges: Bob and Ernie’s conversation about new hobbies/interests in poetry early on followed by the “open water” talk among the Dudley siblings, and then Connie replying to Clara’s (The Walking Dead’s Pollyanna McIntosh) query about what she’s looking for with “my mind”? All so good. But it’s the tiny bit of sneer at the end of Dud’s “Emerging from what?” response to Greg’s “We really feel like this is an emerging neighborhood” that takes the cake.
- Sonya Cassidy continues to make carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders look easy, but Wyatt Russell’s performance in this premiere is also noteworthy—Dud is still looking on the bright side, but he’s also taken some time to process his recent setbacks. They may have just reinforced his hopefulness, but it’s clear that they’ve also changed him somewhat (see: “’Cause I’m your friend, dickhead.”)
- The new additions also look promising: Mary Elizabeth Ellis as a shady lawyer (or “law provider”) and Bronson Pinchot as a shady accountant? Yes, please.
- Blaise calling austerity measures “a puritan’s wet dream” is so Blaise. After Avery, I just want good things for him.
- Is that commercial the first time we see Liz and Dud’s mom?
- Between this and the upcoming On Becoming A God In Central Florida, it’s the summer of (Eric Allan) Kramer!
- Symbol and reference repository: I noted some of them above, but I also wonder how Evan S. Connell’s The White Lantern will come into play.