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The past lights Dud and Liz's way forward on a superb Lodge 49

Cara Mantella and Patrick Brammall
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)
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With “Circles,” Lodge 49 reaches another season high, deftly folding the past—specifically, that of Jackie Loomis, mother of Larry and a Luminous Knight of the Ancient and Benevolent Order Of The Lynx in her own right—into the present to show us what’s in store for Liz and Dud. There’s a lot of lodge-related jargon this episode, particularly in the converging storylines of Jackie (Cara Mantella), Sovereign Protector Wallace Smith (Jim E. Chandler), and Werner Goss (Patrick Brammall), the Orbis engineer and executive. But ultimately, Jackie is the only one who both truly believes in Harwood Fritz Merrill’s writings (turns out Wallace doesn’t really know what he’s doing) and wants to use them to change the world, not just the currency with which we buy things, which is really the extent of Werner’s ambitions. “Like many tragedies,” Jackie tells us (or rather, writes in the diary that Blaise reads from throughout the episode), “this begins with an insecure man.”

A talented woman whose potential is being squandered at an unfulfilling job, along with that of countless other women—that’s a scene we’ve seen on Lodge 49 repeatedly (not to mention elsewhere in the world), a tableau that usually centers one Liz Dudley. But as “Circles” jumps between the past and the present, it presents Jackie’s situation as much more hopeless, and with far less support than Liz has among her ex-Shamroxx crew. As a single mother and widow, Jackie had even fewer options than Liz; she eventually realizes that she’s caught between one ineffectual man and one man sorely lacking in vision, which drives her to despair. That’s a state we’ve also seen Liz in on more than one occasion, and tonight’s episode establishes just how deep the connection is between Liz and Jackie, despite the fact that they obviously never met or even heard of each other.

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When it focuses on Champ’s housewarming party, “Circles” is part romp; when Peter Ocko’s story travels to the past, it’s a much more wrenching tale of a woman’s dreams deferred. Then there’s the body horror (those stitches were gross) of Blaise essentially performing some surgery on Dud, removing a shark tooth from the latter’s festering wound. And finally, we see just how fractured Dud and Ernie’s relationship is; Dud was already feeling a little sore about Ernie’s leaving him behind on his trip to Mexico, but for Ernie to thwart his adventure with El Confidente? For Dud, that demonstrates a loss of faith, which is just as bad as the betrayal. Connie picks up on this as well, but when she asks Ernie about the faraway look that now seems permanently stamped on his face, he tells her that wanting more is “hubris.” We’ve heard Ernie espouse the virtues of a small but meaningful life before, but this is different; there is a resigned slump to his shoulders now, which is made all the more noticeable by his slow withdrawal from the lodge’s activities and the more challenging parts of his job. Ernie is clearly shaken, and I hope a future episode allows us to really sit with him and get to the bottom of it.

But though several lines are drawn from the lodge’s past to its present, the one that connects Jackie and Liz is the most thrilling, as it plays into all the prophetic statements we’ve heard so far, including an “alchemical marriage” and “the reconciliation of opposites,” as well as the psychic’s observation that Liz has been stuck in the wrong place. Liz is free of most of her old responsibilities, so she’s not really stuck anymore, but the absence of her crushing debt hasn’t exactly given her a sense of purpose. Like Jackie Loomis, who briefly ditches the dead weight (no pun intended) of Wallace Smith when she hooks up with Werner, Liz is rarin’ to go but lacks a destination. Her untapped potential is one of Liz’s most recognizable traits; virtually everyone who meets her comments on it, including Janet Price (Olivia Sandoval), the Omni Corp scammer.

David Ury, Atkins Estimond, Daniel Stewart Sherman, and Sonya Cassidy
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)
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That’s a marked departure from Jackie’s life. Like so many others, she sought purpose and community at the lodge, but for a long time, she had to endure being stepped over in conversations by blowhards and incompetent men like Wallace Smith. Jackie pulls off one of the most daring exploits of the show, stealing the ancient scrolls right out from under the inebriated noses of the members of Lodge 1. She’s prepared to share the credit and the work with Wallace, but he immediately runs around telling everyone that he went all Ethan Hunt in England. That hurts, but on some level, Jackie seemed to anticipate it; at the very least, she doesn’t seem heartbroken. What is much more dispiriting for her is when Werner, who turned her head with talk of “skip[ping] the lifeless prose and get[ting] to the poetry” of life, ends up having the same ambitions as all the men in power who came before him: find a way to monetize and/or weaponize every extraordinary discovery.

Jackie is saved by Larry, which allows her to be there for her son when he returns from the Vietnam War, traumatized and plagued by nightmares. Liz never quite sank that low, but again, she has a better support network than Jackie. Still, the parallels are undeniable, so much so that the “she” who Jackie refers to in her diary—which is what Blaise has been decoding all along—can only be Liz, who, if I’m not mistaken, finds herself in the same lower level of the Orbis factory that Dud dropped into when he saw stars. Liz encounters snow, which is just as miraculous an occurrence underground, and appears to return reinvigorated. Whether or not she’s finally ready to embark on a quest with Dud remains to be seen, but her brother definitely got the boost he needed in “Circles.” All they need now is El Confidente.

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Stray observations

  • “Circles” was written by Peter Ocko and directed by Alethea Jones.
  • Speaking of connections, if “The Parabola Group” sounded familiar, it’s because, in addition to being part of Werner’s scheme, it’s also what laid-off Orbis workers like Gil (Jimmy Gonzales) called their trebuchet-building endeavor. Remember the fridge in the ocean? Also, IIRC, the name Ludibrium was on one of the doors of the waiting room/lobby where Liz worked for Dr. Kimbrough, and is also where El Confidente makes his, uh, “dream deposits.” Like the line of a circle, everything is connected, especially the people in Long Beach.
  • Jeremy’s casual revelations about his anxiety continue to amuse the hell out of me. He really isn’t suited to any role of authority.
  • Orbis’ attempted to establish its own currency and ended up with Itchy and Scratchy Land money, but that fake money had devastatingly real consequences for its workers. Capitalism strikes again.
  • If you haven’t already, you should check out Allison Shoemaker’s interview with Sonya Cassidy, who talks about how Liz has made it this far.
  • “There will be so much peace, we’ll get bored of it.” God, that reminds me way too much of a contemporary megalomaniac.
  • If Liz is really sold on the esoteric stuff, I hope it means we’ll see her and Dud say “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” at some point.
  • I can’t be the only person who saw Cara Mantella and immediately thought, “Michaela Watkins, what are you doing here,” right?
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