And just like that, Lights is done with Ed Romeo. I realize this is kind of petty, but I wish this development hadn’t happened quite this quickly (another episode might have made it feel more natural). One day, he’s the solution to all of Lights’ problems, befriending his kids and reading Wilhelm Reich on the couch, and the next, he’s on his way out because he’s been keeping Lights from his family or whatever. I love the way this episode effortlessly builds the tension between Johnny and Ed, but I liked the Ed character enough to want him to stick around as Lights’ trainer for longer. Then again, after how the episode ends, he very well might stick around for a few more episodes anyway. The reason I like Ed so much gets to something about why the show has taken this step and gotten even better in the last few weeks.
In short, there’s far more ambiguity about the show and performances now. In the early going, Lights was obviously going to get back in the ring eventually, and it was just a matter of seeing how long the show would take to get him there. This meant that nothing on the show was terribly ambiguous. Lights was the hero. Theresa didn’t want him to pursue what we knew he had to pursue. His daughters were little emblems of goodness and light. Pops was the grizzled old man who had all the answers. Johnny was the ne’er-do-well. This doesn’t mean the show was bad, but there weren’t any unstable elements, elements that could tug everything down around the characters’ ears. Since the fight with Morales was first announced, though, there are unstable elements all over the place. There’s every possibility that this could all fall apart at any given moment, and Ed Romeo is the living, breathing example of that idea.
There was some discussion in comments last week about whether Ed skews too closely to the old stereotype of the magical African-American person. While I can see the argument, more or less, I don’t think so, and the chief reason I don’t think so gets expressed in a big way in this episode: Ed’s instability becomes such an issue as the hour goes on that Lights has to get rid of him, even if he thinks what Ed’s doing for his style is ultimately a good thing. Ed knows a lot about boxing, but he seems increasingly unable to understand how to deal with most people. He does well with the girls, and he does well with Theresa, but he’s chronically unable to make things square with Johnny or Barry or Death Row. Now, I like his motivation of just wanting no part of this side of the game whatsoever, but the fact that he doesn’t want it to be a part of Lights’ life indicates an unreasonable obsession with his own dogmas. Add in the fact that his description of Death Row—as a centerless asshole—doesn’t gel with what we’ve SEEN of Death Row—as a man who meditates and contemplates—and you have a pretty good sense that this is a man who’s let bitterness overwhelm all of his other abilities to interact with others.
For better or worse, this episode is the Ed Romeo hour. There are a few moments here and there that have nothing to do with the guy, like Lights’ conversation with his dad about his dad’s fishing trip, but for the most part, we’re looking at an hour that’s all but given over to a guest star who’s not a part of the regular cast. For the most part, I don’t mind: Ed’s more interesting than a few of the regular characters (like, sadly, the non-Daniella daughters), and the way that you’re never sure if he has Lights’ best interests or his own vendettas in mind adds a nice tension to every scene he’s in. But it also means that a fairly complex story about a man whose ugliness eventually comes back to the surface when he gets too close to the thing that caused that ugliness in the first place gets worn down to its most basic beats and moments, with the final moments of the episode feeling particularly perfunctory. The whole episode—slowly as it moves—feels a touch rushed.
That said, once Lights tells Ed that it’s over, that he doesn’t want to train with him anymore, that he’s not going to go to Warsaw, N.Y., and work at Ed’s gym, the episode gets even more powerful. We know about Ed’s tragic past from the long scars down his arms, and we’re left wondering what he’s going to do now that he’s been fired by another boxer he had such hopes for. Surely the show wouldn’t have him kill himself, right? Wouldn’t that be too much of a step into melodrama? And of course he doesn’t. He just gets his stuff together and has Lights take him to the gym to gather up the stuff he’s left there. Except Johnny’s already doing so, and that leads to the two breaking into an extended, ugly fight, one that ends with Johnny down on the desk, Ed’s hands around his throat, Johnny rooting through the drawer for something to stab Ed with, for a way to save his own life. But then the scissors he grabs sinks into Lights’ side, not Ed’s side, as Lights has arrived to save the day and found himself sliced open. It’s becoming a pattern on the show that Lights will get into a bad situation by trying to do the right thing, but this is another example of the show getting that balance just right.
I also like the sense that Ed’s the guy who says everything those of us in the audience already think about Johnny. He’s a jerk. He’s a man who’s lived off the husk of his brother’s fame for too long and doesn’t deserve any of the nice things he has. But, like it or not, he’s Lights’ family, and Lights has an intense devotion to his family, no matter how much he might suspect that what Ed says is correct. Still, Ed’s ability to goad Johnny into that fight, his ability to get under the man’s skin, is a clear indication of the fact that deep down, Johnny knows all of this too, and it’s getting him closer and closer to breaking. If Lights is the man who does the right thing and always gets punished for it, Johnny’s the guy who makes sure that Lights has that opportunity to go forward, even if he bends the rules here and there to make it happen. He’s a mess and a disappointment, but, hey, he’s Lights’ brother, and that’s enough for the boxer.
Alan Sepinwall was talking last week about how it’s unfortunate that Lights Out got stuck with a prominent storyline about how much you can trust the elements of your family that may drag you down when the Oscar-nominated box office hit The Fighter asked those very same questions in regards to its main character and his family. Granted, the issues there on every level are very different from the issues here, but the similarities really are striking between the two storylines. But where The Fighter suggested that if you really want to, you CAN merge elements that don’t want to work together into a successful team, Lights Out increasingly seems to suggest that you have to choose both your battles and your battlers. And sometimes, you have to go it on your own.
- No, really, does anybody know anything about that book by Wilhelm Reich (the title was Ether, God, And Devil)? Is this going to be a Lost thing, where we all have to start a book club to get the references?
- I just realized we’re but four episodes from the end, and Lights hasn’t sparred in weeks AND he’s now got a pretty serious cut in his side. They’re really aiming to make his ultimate climb back to the ring a struggle. Is there any non-bullshit way he can win this fight?
- What I like about Ed is that he isn’t wrong. The publicity elements of the boxing game really do detract from Lights’ focus on the task at hand. But they’re also necessary for the job he needs to do, and no matter how much Ed promises that Lights can take his penalties out of Ed’s cut, Lights knows what he needs to do to do his job well. Ed’s in this game for the purity of the sport, and purists never need apply for things that get sucked into the mainstream.
- Death Row’s wife is played by the ever-fashionable Reiko Aylesworth, best known as Michelle from 24. I also like his swimming lap training thing.
- Those who are interested in whether Ed’s ultimately right about Death Row’s disposition may find some answers in the title of the season finale. I did like that scene where he told Daniella that his goal was to train Lights to NOT get hit, which could have been fascinating, had the show pursued that avenue.
- "Is your brother a boxer or a vampire?"
- "I'm surprised he isn't levitating alongside of you right now."