Photo: AMC

There’s no such thing as paradise.”

Maybe not, but we do have this bizarre and bewitching little show. It’s now midseason, and Lodge 49 continues to elude easy categorization or even offer a discernible plot, making good word of mouth almost impossible. But the lack of a succinct log line doesn’t make “Paradise” or any of the preceding episodes a frustrating viewing experience. Quite the opposite, really—every week, Lodge 49 throws open the door to anyone interested in spending some time with the Lynx members and the Shamroxx crew, for whom a mundane errand can lead to a life-altering revelation, or a huge epiphany can turn out to be an utter crock. The fact that either result is equally engrossing highlights the show’s ineffable appeal, as well as its greatest strength: characterization. Often, there isn’t much going on, and if there is, we understand little of it (those of us who aren’t up on our Paracelsus, that is). But in the moment, it’s captivating, and we absolutely care about the people involved: from Dud, the beatific fool, to Liz, the dutiful daughter and skeptic.

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Indeed, few other shows have been so focused on and content with living in the moment as Lodge 49. As it moves from Liz and Dud’s morning chat about the existence of the afterlife to Ernie’s work meeting, during which Beautiful Jeff takes ageist jabs at him, it does so almost regretfully. Foundations are being laid for future developments, including a literal housing development that could set Ernie up for life, and the momentum never stalls between vignettes, however unrelated they may seem at first glance. But whether it’s a one-on-one between Dud and Blaise or the latest round of golf for Ernie and Larry, these encounters are framed as if they’re all that’s going on in the world. It’s such a gorgeous and simple way to reflect how Lodge 49’s characters are living day by day, either by necessity or philosophy—two camps inhabited by the Dudley siblings.

Liz and Dud are in similar circumstances, but for different reasons and with different approaches. She’s on the hook for her father’s loan, which means she can’t just quit her job at “the third or fourth most popular breastaurant” in the country. Liz keeps her head down, putting one foot in front of the other, refusing to look up at the executive training pamphlet that the guy from corporate drops off (Hayden Szeto, who was delightful in Edge Of Seventeen). Dud, on the other hand, just goes with the flow. He may be intent on uncovering his destiny, but historically for Dud, making a plan (or a choice) means closing the door on an untold number of other options. Ultimately, they’re both practicing a form of caution, which is why they’re both in limbo. Liz has been struggling to keep her head above water for so long that she’s lost sight of land; Dud, meanwhile, has just been floating or drifting along, looking up but not forward. They’re so different and yet, along with virtually everyone else on the show, they’re stuck.

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The siblings’ past, present, and future collide in “Paradise,” a dreamily rendered episode from veteran TV director Tricia Brock and The Mindy Project writer Alina Mankin. Connie’s hallucination, Blaise’s tapeworm, and Ernie’s botched appointment aside, tonight is mostly focused on the Dudley family history, and the harm that people can do while searching for themselves. Liz has borne the financial and emotional brunt of her father and brother’s quests, responsibilities that have almost snuffed out the light we glimpsed last week when she defeated her fellow Shamroxx employees in a parking-lot joust. But Dud suggests this is a weight—or cross—that Liz has gotten used to carrying, one that she’s not ready to give up yet. Liz’s summary rejection of Corporate’s offer (“I am not trying to move up, I’m good here”) certainly seems to support that theory. Right now, family is an albatross for Liz, and a life preserver for Dud; what is dragging one down is keeping the other afloat. That’s how Liz sees it, anyway, and given Dud’s reliance on pawn-shop loans, it’s not hard to agree with her. Dud is more responsible for his own inertia, borrowing against his future just to be “okay for now.” But even he can’t escape the economic reality of this part of Long Beach, where Larry camps out in front of an oil well that’s long since run dry.

One of our players states that limbo is just as bad or even worse than hell, which “Paradise” makes a good case for with its sibling confrontation. As Dud and Liz allocated and accepted blame, I was reminded of the famous (and famously misunderstood) line from Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit: “Hell is other people.” The French existentialist didn’t mean that the people around us make life hell, but rather, that our attachment to them or fears of their expectations do. What we want and need from others, and the fact that we have no control over what they want or need from us, is what makes life difficult. Similarly, we can be immobilized or rendered inert by what we think we owe to others, whether or not it’s what is being asked of us. Liz mocks Dud for believing there’s always a way out, and he pities her for not being able to see one: “You’re wrong about Dad. He didn’t wanna die. But you do.”

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Lodge 49 wraps tonight’s episode on a lighter note—Kenneth Welsh loves to doff his duds, doesn’t he?—but it doesn’t rush through the knock-down, drag-out between brother and sister. These are things that need to be said, and might finally snap them out of their ruts. As enjoyably aimless as the first half of the season has been, I’m looking forward to seeing what Lodge 49 can do when it has more direction.

Stray observations

  • Another great Ernie and Dud moment: “No, we’re not in cahoots.”
  • Brent Jennings’ reading of “I was fighting ethnonationalism” is the perfect combination of deadpan and exasperation.
  • Tricia Brock has a long list of credits, but I’m singling out her work on Mozart In The Jungle here because that’s another show that was happy to live in the now.
  • Dud and Liz’s big dust-up in the kitchen was one of the highlights of “Paradise”; the way the lighting dimmed as they grew angrier seemed to symbolize their loss of hope.
  • Parasite, Paracelsus… yeah, I got nothing.
  • I do not think the show is literally set in limbo (apologies for not completing my asterisked thought last week). But I’m fascinated by the theories that point to that setting, especially now that the term has been uttered repeatedly on the show.
  • This is such a talented cast overall, but Sonya Cassidy is just stunning week in, week out. The way she sets her jaw while making a tough decision is heartbreaking every time.

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