‘Lights Out’ Pilot Recap: Keep These Lights On

I’ve learned by now to give any new drama on FX the benefit of the doubt. The network has had a pretty great track record, after all. Nevertheless, I passed by ‘Sons of Anarchy’ because I had no interest in the biker gang milieu. Now all I hear about that show is how great it is. So, when FX announced that its new series ‘Lights Out’ would be about a professional boxer, once again my instinct was to ignore the show. I’m glad I didn’t. After last week’s pilot episode, this one’s already been set for a series recording in my DVR.

The first episode (‘Pilot’) opens with an image of remarkable simplicity and surprising power. It’s a long, lingering close-up of the pummeled face of lead character Patrick “Lights” Leary (Holt McCallany) lying unconscious on a backroom table immediately after a fight. There’s no dialogue, no music, barely any sound or movement at all – just an unbroken, unflinching look at every bruise, every open wound, every rivulet of blood, and every old scar from the many hundreds of times this has happened before. That single, gruesome shot fills in years of unspoken backstory and character development. The whole show is in that face.

After a moment or two, his wife comes in and snaps him awake with smelling salts. While tending to his wounds, she delivers an ultimatum. She’s had enough. Either he quits boxing or loses her and his kids forever.

The show then picks up five years into Leary’s retirement. At first, he seems to be comfortable in domesticity. He prepares breakfast for his three daughters while wife Theresa (a medical intern) rushes off to work at the hospital. Eventually, he heads to his own work, a boxing gym he owns, to meet his father (Stacy Keach) and his younger brother, who acts as his manager and business partner.

We learn that Lights had been a heavyweight champ for several months, and walked away near the top of his game. That final fight whose aftermath we saw, the one that was his wife’s last straw, ended controversially. He should have won by TKO, but (as he tells it) the ref made a wrong call that let his opponent get some wind back and eventually knock Lights cold. Lights insists that, in his heart, he knows that he really won. Nonetheless, he finds himself constantly reliving the moment in his head.

As the episode unfolds, we also discover that years of pouring money into medical school for his wife, grad school for his brother, private school for his kids, and many failed investments and opportunities have left Lights nearing bankruptcy. A real estate development deal that was supposed to be his Hail Mary has just lost its primary backers and is in tatters. As if all that weren’t bad enough, Lights occasionally suffers from blackouts and lost time. A doctor informs him that he has a condition called Pugilistic Dementia, which is a precursor to Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t want his family to know anything about any of this.

Lights makes the occasional TV appearance to keep his face in the public eye, hosts Bingo every now and again when someone will have him, and signs a lot of boxing gloves to make a few bucks. It’s not enough. His brother lines up an under-the-table job for Lights. A loan shark wants his fearsome mug to act as an enforcer and collect from a man who’s been skipping out on a big debt. Lights refuses at first, but eventually agrees… Just once, he insists.

As the episode ends, his former opponent, the one he’s been badmouthing over the years, challenges him to a rematch with a $10 million purse. This may be his best shot at financial solvency, but may also cost him his marriage.

The description above may not sound like the show does anything revolutionary. Indeed, it doesn’t, really. I might even agree that most of the storylines are a little predictable. What makes it succeed anyway is its terrific sense of tone and the great performances from the cast. McCallany is just terrific in the lead. Not only does he have the right build for a boxer and the right face, but he knows the importance of when not to act. Sometimes, a simple look delivered just right makes the whole scene. Also refreshing is the way that the show ignores a lot of the expected clichés. Lights is a pretty bright guy and a good family man. There’s no evidence yet that he cheats on his wife, drinks too much, or does drugs (or steroids). He doesn’t want to get mixed up in trouble, but is left without any other options.

This is a great pilot episode, and I’ll definitely be tuning in again.


  1. Tim

    I enjoyed the show as well. I’ll be tuning in next week. It’s a different setting for a show like this, although it seems to be heading into familiar mob territory…

    I could be wrong, but I think Lights lost the fight in a split decision, hence his pressing desire to get back in the ring and prove he’s the champion — not to mention solve his money problems.

    • TJ Kats

      He did lose either via Decision or Split Decision. That is why they have the scene between the final two rounds where his dad is telling him just to stay away from the guy because he thinks he is way ahead on points. So when he rocks the guy he and the guy eggs him on he stays backed up because he thinks he is safe with a decision and doesn’t want to risk being knocked out.

      This is why you are supposed to never let it go to the judges.

  2. BostonMA

    agreed Josh. i missed the timing of Sons as well and today i’ll be starting up Season 2, and then hopefully S3 before 4 rolls around in September.

    i like this show a lot and though predictable and cliched, it’s got a lot of potential.

    the only part of the pilot that i nearly cringed at were the 40 year old men high fiving each other as they traded insults to Lights. pretty unrealistic and pet peeving if you ask me, but everything else was quality stuff.

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