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Lodge 49 puts Brent Jennings in the well-deserved spotlight

Joe Grifasi and Brent Jennings
Screenshot: Lodge 49
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“Exile,” the seventh episode of Lodge 49's second season, takes us for a spin, the early images of donuts and industrial dryers evoking cycles of loss and debt. Blaise, who, along with Dud, looked so triumphant at the end of “Circles,” must now grapple with his past. His would-be protégé Dud finds himself sitting among the ruins of another pool-cleaning business (though Booie and his parents deserved that). Almost everyone in the core group pays a visit to Burt’s pawn shop, and none of them emerges entirely unscathed. Yet another business is about to go bust, leaving employees, who were already reeling from the closure of Shamroxx, even more vulnerable. Connie must make a decision about her relationship with Scott, and Ernie closes himself off once more.

History is repeating itself—specifically, the history of the characters we’ve been getting to know over the last 16 (now 17) episodes. But these are not the exact same people we met in the series premiere, “As Above, So Below.” They might be facing similar dilemmas or even making predictably bad choices, but they’ve all been changed by the events of the last year. So when Dud strides into Burt’s lair, it’s not to fund some lodge-related venture or even some personal miscalculation. He feels guilty about Ernie, whose spinning-out leads him to place a wild bet (one that does pay off, but not for Ernie). Ultimately, Dud trades his father’s fancy watch to get Burt to forget about Ernie’s bet, which, in Dud’s defense, was a long shot. He shows greater agency than before—although he is once again parted from a significant relic from his father’s past, doing so helps Ernie. After being saved by Ernie (and the lodge), Dud “rescues” him back.

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And, surprising football game outcome aside, Ernie is in need of rescuing, or at the very least, a confidante and friend. We’ve watched Ernie retreat further into himself with each passing episode, giving up the sales environment he once thrived in and otherwise giving up on the lodge. When Ernie told Dud to stop looking for unicorns and admire the rhinos, that was good advice about not losing sight of the good things that are already in your life—the search for meaning doesn’t have to be an epic quest. But now even Ernie’s pragmatism is hardly serving him well, which is why he makes that outlandish bet.

This flailing is new for Ernie, though, and “Exile” reveals what might be at the heart of it. He hasn’t been under a spell, as Dud believes, and neither is he suffering from a “poison” that must be drawn out. Ernie has spoken of his ex-wife Trish (Karen Malina White) before, and of the regret he feels over his missed opportunity at a family. But tonight is the first time we hear of Ernie’s daughter, Amaya (which means “night rain”), who was born premature. As he tells Dud in a heartbreaking exchange, he was able to “hold her for a year.” Amaya was his “future,” a future that was rewritten, granting Trish the family she and Ernie once thought they’d have together, and leaving Ernie with a broken-down Cadillac and a sense of obsolescence. Brent Jennings delivers his finest, most heart-rending work yet; the way he cycles through anger, bad judgment, and acceptance, it’s like Ernie is experiencing Amaya’s loss all over again. And he pushes Trish away again (albeit gently), and gets ready to cut Dud off again.

But even if he doesn’t buy into the magic (as it were) of the scrolls, Ernie is not the same person he was, some 20 years ago. Unlike his past self, this Ernie has benefitted from the camaraderie of the lodge—and Dud in particular. Dud, who reveals to Ernie that he’s “so scared that I am going to drift off again and disappear” without the lodge—and Ernie in particular. No wonder Ernie was so reluctant to be a father figure, or why Dud latched on to him the way he did. The “alchemical marriage,” or pairing, label has been bandied about on the show, with most of us speculating that it applies to twins Dud and Liz, who are like the Apollo and Artemis of Long Beach. And that theory will likely hold, but Ernie and Dud’s friendship is just as extraordinary a pairing. They both earned and shared the kind of personal revelations they’ve otherwise avoided, and as we head into the final episodes of the season, their renewed bond is more necessary than ever.

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Sonya Cassidy
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)

Dud and Ernie aren’t the only ones applying new methods to old scenarios. Rather than run from the problem (again), Connie effectively tells Scott that their marriage isn’t salvageable, and that he must now look after himself. “You have a higher calling than taking care of me,” she says, in one of the most generous break-up speeches ever. But Scott doesn’t view this “release” of obligation as anything other than the dissolution of their marriage: “I feel like I’m being punished for doing the right thing.” This isn’t selfishness on Connie’s part; she’s recommitted to life (“I’m done being haunted by the end”) and wants the same for Scott, even though she no longer sees them sharing a life. I’ve always appreciated how Lodge 49 treated Scott and Connie’s marriage, never making either out to be a villain while showing the cracks in their relationship. Connie’s illness may have intensified their union, but that was only temporary. Breaking up after such an illness passes isn’t uncommon; like any other shared trauma, it can take its toll on the relationship. Still, the sight of the dazed Scott, surrounded by the noise from all of the big-screen TVs he just bought, damn near broke my heart.

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Liz is also afforded an opportunity to demonstrate her personal growth in an all-too-familiar setting. After confirming that Higher Steaks is as big a scam as Fydro–Tarquin offers to make the employees shareholders in a fiscally insolvent company, though they wouldn’t have any say in anything—Liz takes out a pawnshop loan (from Burt, who else?) to ensure that Jeremy and Champ and the rest of the staff gets paid after their checks from corporate bounce. Now, risking her own credit for someone else is nothing new for Liz, but instead of fuming impotently at home, she goes after Janet Price (Olivia Sandoval) and follows through on a threat to punch her in the face. But anger is no longer the outlet it once was for Liz, not this level of it, anyway. She feels “sick” after punching Janet, which may be why she entertains the offer of “teaming” up with Janet despite everything that’s happened. It might not be apparent, but Liz isn’t just reenacting what she went through with her dad; she makes these moves, questionable though they may be, with clear eyes and a full heart. She not only knows what she’s getting into, she sees a way out—that’s a far cry from the Liz who couldn’t bring herself to look up from the grindstone, who couldn’t imagine things could get better.

Cockeyed optimism has always been more of Dud’s thing, as well as Blaise’s, but in “Exile,” the pot apothecary is just lost. He reveals some of his traumatic upbringing, referring to parents who couldn’t stand each other or him, who cast him out for being the “black sheep.” My read on it is that his parents were/are homophobes, but Blaise doesn’t elaborate. He tries to break the tension by talking about being free and “adrift,” a word that shakes Dud and sends him to Ernie’s house to talk things through. But the scrolls and the lodge aren’t done with Blaise yet; by episode’s end, we see him take refuge at the Luidbrium offices, where he meets L. Marvin Metz (Paul Giamatti), who takes the words right out of our mouths: “The plot thickens.”

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Stray observations

  • “The Philosophic Egg” is the name of the secret room within the other secret room, but probably not the last of the secret rooms.
  • “I’ll sleep when I wake up.” At first, this sounded like typical Blaise talk, but if he really has been an insomniac his whole life, then it could have a different meaning.
  • Connie running into the snot-nosed editor who fired her last season, just to tousle his hair, was maybe the funniest moment of the night for me.
  • “I got a lady.” “You got a lynx urine lady.” The way Dud’s disbelief gives way to acceptance in just five words is hilarious and impressive.
  • Luidbrium carries Fydro in its offices, so we know shit is about to go down next week.
  • I am sorry I cannot identify songs as readily as some of my peers, but AMC did pass along this link (which I think was posted in the comments section of a previous review) with the song listings.
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