The final bell for "Lights Out"

The first and final season of Lights Out reached its conclusion last night. In the nine episodes that have aired since I last wrote about the show, Lights Out answered my critiques, and then some.

Throughout the show, Patrick “Lights” Leary is torn between two families, pitting the needs of his wife and kids against the needs of his siblings and parents. It’s a complicated dynamic that doesn’t quite run parallel to the tension between Lights’ desire to do things the right way versus the necessary way. Stacey Keach was a constant bright spot in the cast, even if a late-season appearance by Lights’ mother played out predictably. As the season progressed, Johnny (Pablo Schreiber) became more sympathetic, more damaged than malicious, while their sister Margaret (Elizabeth Marvel) moved in the other direction. The only shortfall continued to be the weakly characterized children, but there is only so much you can do in 40 minutes chunks.

Lights fought his way back from the street to the ring to challenge “Death Row” Reynolds. Along the way, he helped train a loser, took out the vicious Javier ‘El Diablo’ Morales, and survived various underworld diversions. The shady world of boxing promotion was on full display. Neither the characters nor the audience could pin down Hal Brennan or Barry Word, thanks to nuanced performances from character actors Bill Corwin and Reg E. Cathey. The excellent David Morse showed up as a punch drunk boxer (and cautionary tale). Eamonn Walker was mesmerizing as headcase trainer Ed Romeo. Unfortunately, he played the role of Magical Negro, coming out of nowhere to offer a new perspective on life and boxing to our white hero, before returning to whence he came.

The central dramatic issue of the show was how far Lights would go for the championship belt. As far as morality, Lights was not without fault; he was a button man and a cage fighter; he’d get someone to intimidate a witness. Yet the physical cost of fighting, and the threat of Pugilistic Dementia, loomed larger than any prison time. By the end of the show, Lights got what he wanted, but at what cost?

After a season of declining ratings, the decision not to renew Lights Out was an easy one for FX. And unlike a show like Terriers, the end feels natural. Where else could the writers take this show and these characters? Lights’ narrative is complete, recasting the show as a 13-episode, 9-hour miniseries. In a backwards sort of way, FX is crafting shows in the British style: short runs that tell self-contained stories. Lights Out proves that not every show needs to go 12 rounds to be a knockout.

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