Lodge 49 Turned the Trials of Everyday Life into Gold
Have you ever become aware of your own face while you’re watching a TV show or film? I noticed my own goofy smile while I was watching Lodge 49 one day. I always wear that goofy smile watching this show; it’s so comforting, such a warm, happy place, that my face naturally falls like that (which makes a nice change to the resting bitch face). The characters feel like real friends now — people who, if I lived in Long Beach, California, would be the people I hung out with. I would be drawn to Lodge 49 through fate, destiny, or happenstance. I just know it. I guess I am a believer in all that stuff. I find life magical in that way that you can meet someone, maybe the person of your dreams, and they feel exactly the same way about you. All those intricate moments of both of your lives leading up to that point in time had to fall precisely so that you could meet and fall in love, and that you both have to be at specific junctures in your lives so that your eyes and heart are open to accepting that love when it unexpectedly comes and slaps you across the face.
Lodge 49 is a mystery. I live in the UK, I don’t think I ever saw an advert for it, and I write for an American entertainment website, so it’s part of my job to keep up with this stuff. The only reason I heard about it at all was that people on social media mentioned it had a Twin Peaks vibe in places, and indeed Kenneth Welsh, Mr Windom Earle himself, was a character in Season 1. I’m not entirely sure what AMC was doing, but it wasn’t promotion. Needless to say, the viewing numbers weren’t the best, and after a tremendous Season 2 and on a major cliffhanger, AMC cancelled the show.
This happens to me a lot. I fall in love with a show (Twin Peaks, Carnivale,The OA,My So-Called Life, to name but a few), and they get cancelled after two seasons, leaving fans like me begging for more and crying out for answers as to what was going to happen next. I am in this frustrating situation with Lodge 49 right now, and honestly, it makes me want to destroy things. But no, don’t let the negative thoughts in, Laura. Life is good!
What was it about Lodge 49 that caused by goofy face? Well, firstly, Jim Gavin created a story where the stakes are so low. Nobody in Lodge 49 has superpowers or special abilities — they are very human, and there is magic to be found in each of them. All of the characters live hand to mouth and just about get by but are in no position to save the world. They pawn their flat-screen TVs to pay off debts they should never have taken on in an endless cycle of borrowing and buying back from the world’s grumpiest pawnbroker. Yet, you know the guy loves every second of it; it’s his way of helping out his community, and community plays a big part in the show.
The two main characters are unlikely yet perfect friends. Ernie Fontaine (Brent Jennings) is a plumbing supplies salesman nearing retirement who worries that he’s over the hill and can’t sell quite like he used to, and Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell) is a strawberry blonde surfer with zero anxiety about anything and is a good twenty years younger than Ernie. When we meet Dud in Season 1, he’s recently been bitten by a deadly snake, and the wound just will not heal — but at least he survived. When asked what he’d choose if he could do anything with his life, Dud answers, “That’s easy: clean pools.” Dud’s ambition may not seem like much to some people, but I find it truly inspiring. I left a well paid but stressful job to become a stress-free hotel receptionist on minimum wage, so I see Dud’s goal to just be what you want to be most powerful — it turns out all you really need to feel content is enough money to get by, good friends/relationships, and to do a job you love. It may not be everyone’s idea of the American Dream — no, it’s better than that; it’s living life as your true self.
Ernie and Dud become friends entirely by chance, or you might want to call it fate. Dud would. On a beach that stretches for miles, Dud finds something hidden in the sand with his metal detector — a cygnet ring with the seal of the Lynx etched into it. He tries to pawn it but is told it is worthless. Then he is told that it originated from a fraternal order called the Order of the Lynx. Fate and an empty tank put Dud outside the door of Lodge 49, where Ernie, a Luminous Knight of the Lodge, greets him. That’s all Dud needs to decide that becoming a Lynx is his destiny. Dud loves the tales of the Lodge and eagerly gets swept up in the myths, legends, and pageantry of the Lodge — even if the rest of the order isn’t really that bothered. He becomes determined to invigorate a community of weary elders who are mostly there now for the Lodge’s bar where they can run a tab, which would explain why the Lodge is failing financially. As part of the order’s initiation process, Dud is appointed squire to Ernie, and it is a job he takes very seriously — unlike anything in his life before.
Dud’s twin sister, Liz (Sonya Cassidy, who is just fabulous in this role — like a funnier Kim Wexler…maybe it’s an AMC thing) is smart, pretty, and was left with a considerable debt when their father disappeared (he literally walked into the sea never to be seen again as a shark ate him). No one knows if this was a suicide mission or an accident, but whatever the case, he left his family pool cleaning business and spiralling debts behind. With Dud unable to work as a pool cleaner because of his foot, the business went under. Neither Dud nor Liz has quite gotten over their father’s death. For Liz, it hurts that he left and dumped all this on her, as well as losing him. Dud was closer to his father, and so it hurts him more on an emotional level.
They both deal with their grief differently, and their attitudes towards life are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Dud is mostly positive, though he has depressive moments. He seeks out spiritual salvation, something to believe in, and has faith that better times are to come. Liz is more level-headed but less happy because she can’t/won’t let her hair down enough to really begin to enjoy life. It’s not her fault. She’s had to bail out her dad throughout her adult life, yet still got lumbered with a huge debt, plus she has her layabout brother living on her sofa, needing to borrow money almost daily. She had to leave her well-paid job and is now a waitress. Liz’s life feels like a game of snakes and ladders; as soon as she reaches the top of the ladder, the next step is a slide right back to the bottom.
Season 1 ended on a cliffhanger. Dud finally braved the waters and went surfing again for the first time in a year, and he immediately got attacked by a shark, just like his dad. This is a very Lodge 49 coincidence, for the show is full of signs, harbingers, and strange, incidental details that come full circle several episodes later. (The show’s title is itself an allusion to Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, a postmodernist novel with a taste for wordplay, Southern Californian anguish, and paranoia-inducing symbols.) In Season 1, a group of laid-off aerospace workers sneak into Orbis, their former employer’s enormous deserted factory, at night and build elaborate contraptions out of the old parts and equipment, including a catapult designed to fire a refrigerator far out into the ocean. Much further along in the story, Liz has a moment of existential panic at a corporate event on a boat and jumps overboard. It is a long swim back to shore, and just as she’s getting too tired to carry on, what should float by to serve her as a makeshift raft but that very refrigerator.
The eccentricity of Lodge 49 is not just for show. It is a story about how ordinary people try to get through all the things life throws at them, have a bit of fun on the way, and sometimes save each other’s lives, literally and metaphorically. It’s also about alchemy; the credits are an enchanting collage of turquoise swimming pools and arcane medieval etchings and hieroglyphs. As with similar fraternal organisations such as the Freemasons, the history of the (fictional) Lynxes comes adorned with mystical symbology, secret rituals, and lore about its founder, Harwood Fritz Merrill, who, as rumour has it, discovered the legendary goal of all alchemists: the philosopher’s stone.
What is it all for? That question — asked to both the Lodge and life itself — gleams at the core of Lodge 49. Ernie might be a substitute for the father Dud lost a year ago. Conversely, Dud is Ernie’s Magical white man: the one person with the power to jolt him out of his midlife malaise. Dud believes that Ernie is the “rightful king” of Lodge 49, destined to restore and reign over the “True Lodge,” a legendary place that may or may not be a figment of the imagination of the chapter’s previous leader, Larry (Kenneth Welsh) who spoke in portentous riddles and behaved peculiarly (in that marvellous, manic way Kenneth Welsh does).
Sometimes, I think that nothing really happens in the show, yet I am still glued to the screen. I think it is because all of the characters in Lodge 49 are all so likeable and relatable. They spend the series watching TV, working some hilariously bad temp jobs, having extramarital affairs in motel rooms, and chasing sacred scrolls and mythical figures with nicknames like Captain (a wealthy but elusive real estate developer played by Bruce Campbell in an exceptionally bizarre role) and El Confidente (a Guadalajaran who won the True Lodge’s scrolls in a poker game, played by Cheech Marin). The Lodge’s bartender and an amateur alchemist, Blaise (David Pasquesi), runs a weed dispensary and believes that mysterious forces control their fates. There is always enough intrigue to keep you watching, and I haven’t mentioned it yet, but Lodge 49 is really, really funny.
At the heart of Lodge 49 is the battle for the soul of Ernie Fontaine, who (not coincidentally) has the same name as a 16th-century alchemist. The series is littered with many hermetic symbols and literary references. One even comes in Ernie’s first scene: he shoots a pellet gun toward a flock of crows — a bird symbolising the undiscovered self. While Ernie is meant to be Dud’s mentor, he tells him that all the Lynxes do is “get together and celebrate this beautiful bitch called life.” The Lodge is just a “social club.” Dud disagrees and insists that there really is something happening, something magical. Despite Blaise telling Dud that alchemy is a metaphor, Dud enjoys believing in the mystery and secret knowledge of alchemy and the ability to turn base metals into gold. Over time, Dud’s enthusiasm begins to rub off on the Lodge members, inspiring Blaise to learn more about alchemy and to discover some gold residue in the Lodge’s library. Connie (a Lodge member, married to Scott, but having an affair with Ernie, played by Linda Emond) decides to take a break from both men and travels to Lodge 1 in London as she is having hallucinations that she puts down to brain seizures. Ernie even begins to believe there is something more to the True Lodge than just a fable and joins the hunt for the sacred scrolls.
Season 2 takes Lodge 49 into another realm of surrealism, really stepping up its game. The opening scene is a flashforward to Ernie and Dud gripping each other tightly and jumping out of a plane with one parachute as the plane plummets. Everything that happened in the six weeks leading up to the terrifying situation is magical. Dud survived the shark attack and has an impressive scar to show for it, and his snake bite is finally healing. While he was unconscious, he saw a vision of his father — a message he felt. Dud is intriguingly happy, considering this was his second near-death experience. Liz is debt-free and looking for a job, significantly less happy than her brother. No change there then.
California, aerospace, the possibility of community in the age of loneliness, bitcoin, psychedelic folk, the hidden earth inside our hollow earth, why nothing matters in San Diego, why pools are awesome, and why bars shouldn’t have TV sets are all themes of great importance in Season 2. Plus the search for the scrolls, of course. It’s rare for a TV show to accomplish this, but in Lodge 49, the main storyline isn’t necessarily what you are watching for. It’s more about the people than the magic — well, they are the magic. The communities in which these people live each have a Lynx-ian way about them. Dud gets a job at West Coast Super Sales with Ernie and reacts like a knight joining the Round Table, thrilled to wear his company polo shirt (and the jacket handed down from his dead predecessor on the desk).
The ending of the series finale takes it one step further again. I’d call it “biblical,” but it’s not really about a Christian God or a God of any specific religion. It’s spiritual. Dud and Liz plan a trip to Catalina, just in time for a rainstorm. Liz arrives at the Lodge and meets Connie for the first time. A moment passes between them. My guess is that Liz will become Connie’s squire as Dud was to Ernie. But there’s more to the moment between them. It feels like Liz might be some kind of Chosen One for the Lodge. Perhaps her destiny is even more significant than her twin brothers.
Meanwhile, Dud once again finds himself in a life-or-death situation, this time inspired by the rain. In some kind of vacant or even hypnotic state, he begins digging a hole outside Larry’s old trailer. He had mentioned building a pool, but it feels more like he’s digging to find the hidden civilisation hiding beneath Long Beach — the world beneath our hollow Earth as L. Marvin Metz (Paul Giamatti, who is also an Executive Producer of the show) spoke about. Lightning strikes Dud’s shovel, and the rain causes mud to bury his unconscious body. I thought the show might leave him there, near-death once again, but no, that curious door on the second story of the Lodge opens, and Dud falls out, transported from some starscape beyond.
It absolutely cripples me that we may never find out any more about what happened to Dud, what Liz’s destiny was, the secrets the Lodge held, and what the meaning of their (and, in a sense, all of our) lives are.
The Lodge can turn garbage into gold, maybe through alchemy, but also through friendship and storytelling and beer and watching ballgames. “When I’m out there,” Dud tells his fellow Lynxes, “I feel like I’m all alone. And all these things are chasing me, dragons and dickheads. But it’s different in here. I can see what this place is. I can feel it. Can’t you?” Ultimately all anyone wants is a place where they feel like they belong, a place to call home, where they feel content and loved, and it may not be your actual home—quite often, it’s not. You might find it with a group of people or with just one, and it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you are together. When you lose someone that made you feel at home, it is a grief that is hard to bear.
Dud: All I can feel is the shadow. And I wish my dad were here to see where I am. See where I’m going. But I know that the only reason that I’m here is because Liz and I lost him. And sometimes I don’t know how to square that. I don’t know if I can handle paying that kind of price. Everything is all tangled, the good stuff and the bad stuff. It just seems unfair. And on some days, all of the beautiful things in my life break my heart. Will it always feel this way?
Ernie: “Yes. Always. But that’s the deal.”
Lodge 49 felt like home — a happy place, with people I loved — and now it’s gone. So I guess the only hope is that this was somehow its destiny and true path.