by Johnny Walker
“War,” the final episode of Lights Out both for this season and for the series itself (which has been cancelled), delivered the payoff on the season-long angle involving ex-heavyweight champion “Lights” Leary’s rematch with current kingpin “Death Row” Reynolds. And it was worth the wait.
Some have said this series didn’t make it because people don’t want to watch a show about boxing.
That may be true, because as this final episode drove home, boxing exposes some deeper truths about this society, truths that many of those conditioned by media fear and thus in constant search of “safety” would rather avoid. Like the fact that underlying our politcally correct social niceties is a nasty, often violent struggle for survival, a struggle that, no matter our temporary victories, we are all ultimately fated to lose.
We try to paper over this fact by sublimating the struggle, burying it under fancy rhetoric and expensive suits in the halls of Congress and in corporate boardrooms, but it doesn’t take much digging to reveal the bloodlust and treachery that the human animal has never fully transcended.
Lights Leary makes his way to the ring in this final episode to the strains of the song “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the song’s underdog sentiments fit the saga of Lights perfectly. Those born on the bottom of the economic ladder often don’t have the luxury of pretending that it’s a safe, comfortable world. They have to scrape and claw and yes, sometimes literally fight, to get ahead.
Lights had transcended the lower class New Jersey world he was born into, but he and his family were in danger of falling back into it. Ultimately, the only thing he knew how to do, even at 40 years of age, was to get back in the ring and spill blood, his and his opponents’ blood, once again.
Of course, the treachery Lights has to deal with never stops. Thanks to shifty Don King-like promoter Barry K. Word, Lights finds out that his previous “comeback” fight, which he had won by KO, was likely fixed by the criminal Brennan to ensure the showdown with Death Row, dealing a blow to his confidence on the eve of the fight. Yet thanks to Pops, his father and trainer, he is able to overcome his fears and face Reynolds in their ultimate showdown.
Employing Pops’ strategy of letting Reynolds punch himself out, Lights is able, barely, to defeat his younger, stronger rival. But the question the series finally leaves us with is, at what cost?
The savage beating Lights endures leaves him with memory loss after the fight, again raising the specter of pugilistic dementia that has been a theme of the show. The quiet, post-fight moment when a confused Lights is forced to ask his wife the simple question, “Who won?,” was one of lead actor Holt McCallany’s high points of the season.
Of course, none of us knows what lies ahead. We’re all going to die someday and none of us knows when. So Lights has gambled that what he physically and mentally sacrificed for himself and his family to get back on top was worth it. He has chosen his poison, and it’s a poison that to him tastes pretty sweet, because he’s a fighter. He loves the ring. Boxing saves him at the same time as it is killing him. It’s the Catch-22 of life.