Photo: AMC

To say that Lodge 49 grabs the viewer right away in its first season isn’t quite accurate, though it is an undeniably appealing show with an exceptionally charming cast. But “grabs” implies a forcefulness that is mostly absent in this drama from Jim Gavin and Peter Ocko, which is the TV equivalent of the meandering yet fruitful conversations you might enjoy after knocking back a few (or taking a few knocks). Those rambling discussions that touch on wondrous possibilities and the futility of existence often kick off in the same fashion, either following a big win or disappointment, both of which we’ve watched unfold in the first three episodes.

Given the genial nature of virtually all of its inhabitants, it’s more fitting to say that Lodge 49 invites you along for a ride, one in which the destination is almost inconsequential. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to the mystery of the “one true lodge” that Larry (Kenneth Welsh) mentions at the end of the premiere, “As Above, So Below,” or that the many crows Ernie (Brent Jennings) has encountered aren’t auguring some very real danger. And twins Sean and Liz (Wyatt Russell and Sonya Cassidy, respectively) are mourning their father’s death even though they still don’t have a body to lay to rest. But right now, these are just promising storylines that may or may not pay off down the road. The real draw of Lodge 49 is in the smaller moments, like how brother and sister both instinctively reach for limes when they’re about to get sloshed together to take some of the sting out of living in a slowly dying Long Beach. It’s the camaraderie that quickly replaces competition even in Ernie’s workplace, where everyone is getting while the getting is good (which, judging by the empty office buildings that surround them, won’t be long). This is an ailing community, one that’s been hit hard by the loss of industry—first oil, then aerospace, as Connie (Linda Emond) points out to her snot-nosed soon-to-be-former boss. But these people rarely lick their wounds in private. Instead, they gather at the eponymous lodge or flop on the couch to quietly (or not) support each other, poor in everything but spirit and friends. Who wouldn’t want to sit down for an hour every week with this lot?

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Not Dud, who has been all in ever since his Volkswagen Thing broke down in front of the local chapter of the Ancient And Benevolent Order Of The Lynx. He gets his wish in “Corpus,” which opens with his induction ceremony and closes with a literal breakthrough. Well, “wish” is a bit strong—Dud displays the same level of delight in everything he does, from buying donuts at the shop located in the same strip mall as his father’s pool-cleaning business to scouring the beach for gold, regardless of how well that turns out for him. He’s clearly overjoyed by his admission into the Order Of The Lynx, but his expression isn’t too different from the one he wears when he’s enduring another one of life’s jabs. The dude—I mean, Dud—is frequently flummoxed and set back, but mostly, he abides. There’s a certain naiveté to the character, but what Russell’s performance really radiates is inner peace. Don’t get me wrong, the character is flawed, not least of which because he’s in denial of his squandered potential. It’s all there in his name: “Dud,” as in a dud, something that fails to work or a device that doesn’t fulfill its purpose.

That’s the state he’s in when we meet him, but in “Corpus,” Dud proves surprisingly adept at following instructions at his temp job. It’s just too bad that what he’s good at is putting together termination packets for former Orbis employees, who have been in their own stasis for the five years it’s taken the company to shut down. Director Jake Schreier nods to those losses, his cameras mournfully working their way through rows and rows of empty cubicles, resting on the one office that still has the lights on—that of the human resources manager, who spends much more time laying humans off than managing them.

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Photo: AMC

Other things that are up in the air this episode include Ernie’s oversight of the lodge in Larry’s absence—Scott (Eric Allan Kramer) is Ernie’s rival for the post of Sovereign Protector and Connie’s affections—and the severity of Connie’s condition, which caused her to see some kind of aura around Ernie. The plumbing wholesaler is also having trouble securing his legacy/retirement as part of a mysterious developer known only as the Captain’s plans to turn the Orbis plant into luxury homes. These woes are familiar to anyone who’s been watching, and they all benefit from a little forward momentum—hey, a setback is a step forward in storytelling—tonight. But the biggest change, one that might be too much for Dud and Liz, is the memorial service for their father that she throws together in an act of desperation.

Dud’s sister has carried water for him and their father, and is now financially underwater thanks to their bad decisions. Jim Gavin’s script is bereft of judgment for any party. Liz is rightly pissed at Dud for taking out another loan despite already owing her $3,000, but her decision to finally hold a memorial service when her brother clearly hasn’t accepted their father’s death isn’t intended as punishment. But Liz needs to lighten her load a bit, starting with no longer holding her brother’s hand while she is also still reeling from their father’s death. There’s a hint of magical realism running through this show, but Lodge 49 doesn’t ignore economic realities; it seeks its own alchemy by blending the sublime and the mundane. The twins represent that duality, which may sound like I’m giving Liz the short shrift, but her storyline usually feels more urgent and relatable than her brother’s. Sonya Cassidy, who was a standout on another AMC series, Humans, channels her character’s frustrations, which are made all the more painful not by loss, but by hope. The way she counts her money every day before work suggests she sees a (green) light at the end of the tunnel, and that glimpse is what drives her to pull what might be a fake charity scam—that, and realizing that she’s starting to dream about an unremarkable day at work.

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Photo: AMC

Still, even though she’s about to foreclose on a loan, there’s a good chance Liz won’t go through with it. But while we wait to find out her next move, “Corpus” shifts its attention back to Dud, who, despite what he said about wanting fraternity above all else, has started buying into Giordano Bruno and the hermetic tradition. Ernie tries to get him to see the treasure he’s already found—his fellow Order Of The Lynx members, who are drunkenly singing along with their newly-repaired karaoke machine. It’s a sweet moment, one that speaks to the bond between the two men, as well as their portrayers. But Lodge 49 clearly has more up its ceremonial sleeve, starting with a mummy.

Stray observations

  • Welcome to Lodge 49 reviews! I’ve already fallen behind, and for that I apologize (it took me longer to recover from TCAs than usual). The complete first season was released via AMC.com, so if you’ve watched ahead, please be mindful of anyone who hasn’t and keep this a spoiler-free zone.
  • Liz not knowing if she’s asleep or awake because she’s dreaming about work is something that hits far too close to home.
  • Though their act deserves a better name than “Brother Drag And Sister Nag,” Wyatt Russell and Sonya Cassidy are so believable as siblings.
  • “I just want to get high.” “That IS healing.” David Pasquesi is going to repeat his work on Veep and just steal every scene on this show, too, right?
  • Pardon my little atheist heart, but Dud giving such a blasphemous speech in a church tickled me.
  • It’s a testament to Russell’s affability that Dud’s tangent about his erection comes across as anything other than creepy.

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