Did I expect to think of the late Lemmy Kilmister and his “Born to lose, live to win” tattoo when I first queued up the screener for “Zugzwang”? No, but if I’ve learned anything from watching this show, it’s that no reference or plot development should be discounted offhand. That was just one of the many delightful surprises the episode had in store. Directed by Maurice Marable and written by Micah Cratty, “Zugzwang” combines the intriguing developments of “Circles” with the near-farce of “DisOrientation” to deliver the most exciting—and hilarious—episode of the season yet. Hell, it might be the show’s funniest outing ever, from Dud’s sheer joy at meeting Beautiful Jeff at Super Sales (“He’s even more beautiful than I imagined!”) to Liz accidentally popping Tarquin in the side of the head with a Champagne cork to Paul Giamatti, as L. Marvin Metz, diving heedlessly through a window.
Where most episodes have a more languid pacing , there’s a giddy energy to the latest proceedings, which ends with everyone—even Scott, who’s resisted excitement and adventure at every turn—setting out in search of the scrolls. Which means that next week, we could be looking at The Amazing Race: Lodge 49 Edition. And you know what? I am into it.
For executive producer Paul Giamatti’s fourth onscreen appearance this season (yes, I’m counting the episode with the security footage of Metz running pell-mell through the bookstore door), “Zugzwang” pulls out all the stops, giving us all of our favorite duos—and some new contenders. Although I look forward to Liz properly teaming up with Dud, I’m fascinated by her dynamic with Janet (Olivia Sandoval). The scenes they shared at the waterfront and in Liz’s apartment are as tense as they are funny; they’re like two fighters circling each other in grudging admiration. Still, Ernie and Dud working and questing together is just about everything I want from this show. Lodge 49 is as much about divesting ourselves of the desire to be seen through the prism of a profession as it is finding people who just get you, and no one captures that quite like Dud and Ernie. Their friendship is unlikely—they didn’t bond at school or even the workplace like so many people, including folks at the lodge, have—but they’ve long since transcended their odd-couple dynamic. Last week’s heart-to-heart conversation not only renewed their bond, it allowed this knight and squire to fully see each other for the first time.
There are similarly heartfelt moments in “Zugzwang,” including a shot of a very peaceful-looking Blaise, resting next to Dud in a van on their way to Mexico. But more than anything, a sense of recklessness runs through the episode—as Ernie says, echoing the above Lemmy quote, they may be out of options but they can’t let that stop them from acting. So it’s time for everyone, including Bob, who agrees to keep the Super Sales home fires burning because he’s just happy to see the return of Ernie’s fire, to “embrace the zugzwang, baby!”
Whether or not she realizes it, Liz is mirroring Dud’s actions this season, going from aimless to employed back to directionless, and now, on a quest. She’s met someone who wants to mentor her, even though she’s much less willing than her twin brother, and she also reaches a huge revelation while talking to her would-be guide. As Liz tells Janet, she grew up “wanting to go places,” so she ran away from home and stayed away for two days. After she eventually gave up and went home, she realized she had traumatized Dud and was determined never to do that again. Liz basically planted herself in Long Beach so she could offer Dud stability, then struggled to remember how to move freely again. But as she heads south with Janet and an unconscious Tarquin, Liz is no longer just “chasing” after Dud; she’s daring to reconnect with her old wanderlust. It’s not like she’s got anything to lose. If Janet’s dire predictions come through, there will be no Omni Corp to dole out consequences; but if they can figure out what the scrolls have to do with Bitcoin, the “regional conglomerate” (and Liz) could find itself back in the black.
The smash cut from Dud and Janet talking about the scrolls to Janet and Liz arguing over the specifics of Bitcoin produces one of the best gags of the night. We can’t see Liz’s frustration as she and Janet parse terms like “ledger,” “transparency,” and “money,” but we can see that exasperation on her twin’s face as he walks back into the living room with his bags and toilet paper. It’s a reminder that Lodge 49 is as smartly filmed as it is written, and both of those elements are on full display in “Zugzwang,” which demystifies Ernie’s favorite author so thoroughly that everyone’s calling him Lamar by episode’s end. Metz does a lot of that work himself, sharing his writing process with anyone who will listen, even telling Dud and Ernie that he hasn’t ejaculated in 10 years because he needs to save that, uh, energy for his books.
Not that it was ever in doubt, but Giamatti gives a brilliant and memorable performance as Lamar/Metz, who might be the first author to benefit from a little writer’s block. He blusters equally around fans and non-fans (sorry, but Blaise doesn’t read thrillers), has all of his books memorized, writes erotica under a pseudonym, and will not be dissuaded from his plan to complete 100 books about Tom Stone. Not that I felt the season was flagging—certainly not after the wonderful “All Circles Vanish”—but Lamar’s swagger makes everything around him fairly buzz with excitement. The scene where he recites one of his books to Ernie and Dud in the car is just one of the many moments that made me laugh out loud, along with his declaration that his “muscular [writing] style alienates the female reader.”
There are as many great quips as there are meaningful turns of phrase, from Ernie’s “damn, I’m glad I’m not a writer” to Blaise’s reluctant admission that he “burned the map of reality.” But more than just deliver a highly entertaining hour of TV, “Zugzwang” does the important, antepenultimate episode work of bringing story threads together. Lamar’s addition to the group gives us another theory to consider, that of a hollow earth that has... something interesting in it, I guess? It certainly looks like it’s in the painting of the one true lodge, floating above the ground. As Ernie hilariously demonstrates, it’s not clear what is desirable about a hollow earth, but the idea has certainly seized Lamar, which is why he’s been diving through glass all season. It may have also caught on among the group that bought the old Orbis plant, if that drilling equipment is anything to go by. That might also explain why Liz, while at Champ’s housewarming, ended up seemingly looking out at the Southern Lights in “Circles.” Whatever is really going on at the lodge, though, “Zugzwang” hardly paints Lodge 49 into a corner—from the vantage point of this hilarious episode, it looks like the sky’s the limit.
- The early Ludibrium scenes, with their color scheme and anachronistic fashion and technology, reminded me of Legion season one.
- Dr. Kimbrough’s (Bronson Pinchot) return was brief but great.
- So, if virtually everyone on this show is connected by Ludibrium, that probably means someone’s on Ernie and Dud’s or virtually any other Lynx combo’s tail, right?
- I guess that’s Janet’s plane we saw in the premiere flashback, which means that’s probably Janet jumping from the plane in the Omni Corp mascot costume?
- “In corporations, the less you do, the more important you are.” Lodge 49 isn’t letting up on the capitalist critique.
- Janet: “My mother always said watching television thwarts ambition.” Liz: “Yeah... yeah, it does.” Is this show trying to hurt me?
- Melonia Delacroix (sp?) is the pseudonym under which Lamar wrote the Heiress Of Zanzibar sexlet, but it also sounds like the name of a Death Eater.
- “The arc of the Janet universe bends toward profit.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Janet is the J. Peterman of the Lodge 49 universe.
- “They said it was turgid and repetitive”—I wish this show would stop coming for me.
- “Maybe he’d feel better if he ejaculated every now and then.”