I went into watching Lodge 49 without any information. I didn’t do any of my usual background research and I didn’t read any reviews. I didn’t even watch a trailer! (Which is probably good because, I have since watched it and, wow, the trailer would not have enticed me to watch. Don’t watch the trailer.) It took a little patience to get into the languid pace and meandering story, but once I did I was fully hooked. And, while I want to tell you all about it, I also kind of want you to have the same experience because there was something so pleasing about watching the warm and magically mundane stories, which are mixed with esoteric mysteries, unfold without any preconceived ideas. I also kind of want you to have the experience because Lodge 49 is super hard for me to describe, and not telling you about it would get me out of banging my head against the computer for the next five hours, trying to shake out at least a few cogent sentences.
The thing is, Lodge 49 is about so many things. It’s about loss, it’s about loneliness, it’s about philosophy and mysticism, it’s about capitalism and corporate greed, it’s about economic distress, it’s about plumbing supplies, it’s about squatter’s rights, it’s about personal identity, but more than anything, at least for me, it’s about the power of community and the beauty of the mundane.
At first glance, Sean ‘Dud’ Dudley (Wyatt Russell) seems like a hapless guy. He used to surf and work in his father’s pool supply store. Then a freak snake bite, which mysteriously (or maybe not so mysteriously) won’t heal, sidelines his surfing. After that, his father disappears into the ocean and is presumed dead. Now, a year later, Dud lives out of his car, unable to pay his debts and scrounging for gas money between the seats, and he hangs out in a donut shop, listening to his friend talk about the latest swells and gazing out the window at the boarded-up storefront of Dudley & Son Pool Repair.
He’s sad and lost, but he also maintains a laid back buoyancy, as if he floats just above his troubles, which confuses, and sometimes annoys, people. He’s also more than a little entitled, sneaking into the pool at his father’s old house, where he’s inevitably caught. I wasn’t sure I liked him at first. One day, when he’s sweeping the beach with a metal detector, searching for things to sell at the pawn shop, he finds a gold ring with a strange black insignia that he’s sure will be worth a lot. Burt (played with delightfully flat scorn by Joe Grifasi), the pawnshop owner and ruthless loan shark, tells him that it is not even real gold and belongs to a member of the Order of the Lynx whose Lodge 49 is in Long Beach near the soon-to-be-closed Orbis Aerospace plant.
Then, through a series of events that feel like the hand of fate, but could also just be a lot of coincidences, Dud ends up running out of gas right outside the Lynx Lodge 49. He knocks on the door and it is opened by Ernie (Brent Jennings), a plumbing salesman and lodge member, who says, “I’ve been waiting for you.” The moment feels loaded and mystical. Is this Dud’s destiny? Maybe. Or, it’s just a humorous coincidence and Ernie has just mistaken Dud for the guy scheduled to clean the Lodge’s carpets. But the question of fate still hangs tantalizingly over the whole series, weaving itself into all the various plots and subplots. The show is constantly playing like this with the mystical and the mundane. Maybe Ernie, whose life is stuck in rut, has been waiting for someone like Dud to save him. Or maybe it’s just happenstance. The lodge itself has fallen on some hard times and membership has been dwindling for years. Dud feels an immediate connection with the place. When he asks Ernie what the lodge does, he responds, “Community services, recreational activities. Plus, there’s a whole philosophical component. Alchemical or whatever you want to call it. But mainly we just get together. Tonight’s Bunco night.” (Most lodge members, like Ernie, kind of laugh off the mystical side of their order as a good story to entice new members, though some still wonder if maybe, just maybe, it’s real.) All of this is enough for Dud to sign up immediately, becoming “squire” to Ernie’s “knight.” Unexpected (or are they fated?) events throw them into a quest to solve mysteries, both mundane and metaphysical, about the Order of the Lynx. Along the way there are walled off rooms, secret passageways, coded journals, dead bodies, and possibly prescient visions.
Meanwhile, Dud’s twin sister Liz is waitressing at a franchise restaurant called Shamroxx (think of it like Hooters, but the waitresses wear mini-kilts with their tight shirts) and nearly drowning under the debt left behind by their father. While having the appearance of being more together, she too is lost. The way Dud has escaped coming to terms with his father’s death by focusing on his festering snake bite, Liz focuses on the unpayable debt. She works constantly, even begging to go to work on her day off, to avoid allowing herself space to face her grief.
And the characters! Really, all the characters are pretty great. The dialogue flows so naturally and the characters feel layered and heartfelt. While there are no Genetically Blessed Faces™ (except for maybe a plumbing sales guy known as Beautiful Jeff), there are plenty of Genetically Blessed Personalities. I mean, would you expect the boss from the plumbing supply company to become one of your favorite characters and story arcs? I wouldn’t have, but he was. Or what about the stringy-haired cook from Shamroxx who moonlights as a security guard at the Orbis plant and eventually joins a colony of people squatting there? Also, no. But he was.
But about all that alchemy, philosophy, allegory, and references to writers I haven’t read. I was a little intimidated at first. I wondered if I was smart enough or educated in the right ways to watch this show. But then I remembered the time my amazing high school English teacher pulled me aside to assure me that I was just as smart as the outspoken boys in class, and I should go ahead speak up more. My point is (aside from letting you know how great my English teacher was) that if all that stuff is your thing and you’re into sussing out the allegorical references on the tapestries in the background, or wondering how it all relates to Pynchon’s writing, then that’s all there for you, but, if it’s not your thing at all, then rest assured that there are so many other interesting layers to this show that will likely play to your particular kind of intelligence, and you can let all that esoteric stuff kind of float around.
I don’t know, I feel like I’m making a mess of even giving you the basic premise of the show. The thing is, it’s delightfully bizarre, optimistic, and very funny, but also deeply meaningful and melancholy. It’s a satire of late-stage capitalism and a takedown of corporate confidence men and women. At a time when it feels like the world is going to pieces and people are becoming more and more disconnected, it’s a warm meditation on the wonders of everyday life and relationships. It’s a picture of what it looks like when characters aren’t striving for something fantastic. When their dream is to clean pools by day and to hang out with their family at night. It’s a look at how much people need a community where they feel accepted, supported, and loved. And it has this wonderful element of quests, again both mundane and enigmatic. Ernie wants to connect with an elusive developer, whom he believes to hold the key to the kingdom of endless plumbing supplies sales. And then there is the idea that maybe somewhere inside the lodge itself is the secret to alchemy.
Phew. Has any of this made sense? Look, maybe do me a favor? Give the show a try. And unless you totally hate it, maybe try a few episodes. My husband only watched the first episode and was moderately skeptical about my more glowing take on it. I told him to watch more, but he got distracted by Gentefied (which, fair enough, that show is pure gold) and hasn’t gone back to it. Anyway, maybe you’ll watch more of it and we can talk about it and, if you like it, we can bemoan the fact that it wasn’t renewed for a third season.