Episode Title: "Pilot"
Writer: Justin Zackham
Director: Norberto Barba
Patrick "Lights" Leary is a washed up former boxing champion who is nearly broke with three children and a wife to support, on top of his father and screw up brother. Now, he can either become a well paid thug or face potential health threats by returning to the ring for one final bout. Only one thing is certain, everybody loves a comeback.
The story kicks off minutes after Lights finishes a brutally epic match with Richard "Death Row" Reynolds (Billy Brown). In the locker room, Lights can barely function and appears to be seriously hurt. In flashback, we see that Lights dominated the eleventh round, but at the advice of his corner, played it safe in the 12th and lost his championship in a split decision. Unable to see him laid so low, his wife Theresa Leary (Catherine McCormack) tells him to quit boxing or she’ll leave him. Five years later, Lights is living in a mansion with his family; but his wife barely has time for sex before rushing out to work and his two teenage daughters don’t seem to have much time for him either.
While training, Lights constantly flashes back to his last fight until his youngest daughter makes him realize that he forgot to take her to school. He rushes her there and avoids the school official who tries to hassle him over her late tuition. He then goes to the gym that he owns, which is run by his father Robert "Pops" Leary (Stacy Keach). Light’s brother Johnny (Pablo Schreiber) then gives him the news that he’s practically broke thanks to a series of bad investments (seemingly made by Johnny). In a bid to get more gigs, Lights agrees to a TV interview for the fifth anniversary of his fight with Reynolds, but the only job Johnny can find for him is as a bingo announcer at a casino.
Lights dreams of being a TV commentator, but he can’t even do the bingo gig without messing up. When he heads back to the gym, he finds out that the IRS is into him as well. His dad urges him to pay them whatever they say that he owes, but Lights reveals his money woes to him. Pops places the blame on Theresa for getting him out of boxing in his prime. Lights soon finds out that he may also be at risk for dementia and diminished mental capacity due to his time in the ring. Unable to come up with any other options, Lights agrees to collect a bookie’s debt.
Lights visits the home of a wealthy man and even sits down to dinner with his family. But when the man realizes that Lights is there on behalf of the bookie, he forces him to leave by threatening him with a baseball bat. That night at a bar, Lights watches his TV interview, but receives unusually personal ridicule from the bar patrons; including a man who insults Lights’ wife despite his attempts to simply walk away. Light almost blows it off before returning and asking the men how much money they have. Later, Lights ices his hand and in flashback, we see that not only did he beat up the man at the bar in the parking lot (as part of a bet between them), but he also broke the arm of the wealthy man.
Johnny lets Lights know that the bookie was pleased with the results and wants to hire him permanently, but Lights refuses. However, when Lights encounters his wife, he learns that Johnny has arranged for Lights to return to the ring for a retirement match with Reynolds, for the heavyweight belt. His wife angrily accuses him of lying to her before storming off. Lights then calls his brother and tells him to call off the fight, but his brother says that the fight purse is $10 million. And although Lights told his brother to kill it, he is clearly contemplating his return to the ring.
"Lights Out" is another strong drama from FX and the pilot episode is very entertaining. i have to admit, I’m still feeling burned from the cancellation of "Terriers," so it’s hard to commit to another show from that network so quickly. But Patrick "Lights" Leary is definitely a hero in the FX mold. He clearly loves his family but he’s very flawed… and he’s a man of great violence. The reveal at the end of just how vicious Lights can be was a great way to balance out the better man he’s trying to be for his wife and his daughters.
Holt McCallany’s best trait in this episode is the way that he keeps Lights’ despair on his face even in his fleeting moments of happiness. McCallany is very convincing as a man trying to keep his life from collapsing in on itself. He’s not the smartest guy either, as he basically commits two crimes in front of several witnesses. But his biggest mistake is his money man and brother, Johnny. It seems like the black sheep brother is a boxing story trope (i.e. "The Fighter") and we’re getting a lot of similar stories. The championship rematch with Reynolds is a little far-fetched, but it at least gives "Lights Out" some direction for the season. There’s really only two ways it can end at this point: either Lights reclaims his title or he definitively loses the fight. A draw wouldn’t cut it either way.
There are also some great funny moments as Lights tries to intimidate his daughter’s boyfriend and the man signing his check at the casino. Aside from the kid, no one is really afraid of him anymore. It’s like Mike Tyson threatening to knock random people out with everyone going "sure you will." That actually makes Lights seem even more powerless, which makes his later violence almost surprisingly brutal.
If there’s a flaw with "Lights Out," it’s that the supporting cast isn’t quite as good as McCallany. Of course, the obvious exception is Stacy Keach as "Pops," but the rest don’t seem to be able match McCallany’s intensity and seem out of place next to him. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them bad performers, but it doesn’t seem like Catherine McCormack and Pablo Schreiber (to pick out two) are bringing their A-games. In theory, Lights’ wife and brother should be just as interesting as he is, but they come off as stock characters.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where "Lights Out" goes, as well as seeing if audiences are ready to embrace a boxing related drama. This could be one of the best new shows this year if the producers are able to keep the story at this high level.
Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.