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‘Lodge 49’ Is a Surreal Mystery (If You Want It to Be)

Like ‘Lost’ and ‘Westworld,’ AMC’s latest drama is enigmatic by nature, but unlike those shows, solving the riddle is a refreshingly optional proposition inessential to enjoying the series

AMC/Ringer illustration

Lodge 49, AMC’s latest drama, doesn’t lend itself to a succinct logline. There are ruminations on alchemy and whether some unseen force is aligning the destinies of the series’ protagonists. There is a secret library with a mummified corpse laying on a cot in its center. There are ancient, long-missing scrolls from Egypt, suspected to be somewhere in Mexico. There are loan sharks, and also a literal shark. At one point, when a character is delivering a speech, a tapeworm begins crawling out of his nose. Watching Lodge 49 can be jarring, but you also get the impression that every minuscule detail, no matter how eccentric or mundane, was planted there for a reason by creator Jim Gavin. Scant threads slowly begin weaving together in the first season to ask a question that just so happens to repeatedly appear on the show in a string of billboards: “Is there another way to live?”

The bizarre, perplexing nature of Lodge 49 doesn’t feel out of place in a television landscape awash with mystery box storytelling—the device used by the sort of shows that reward multiple viewings and an attentive audience scoping out clues. The sort of shows that require active participation—like decoding a puzzle to uncover a trailer, as both Westworld and Mr. Robot have done—that can feel like exhaustive homework to some, but exciting to others. But what makes Lodge 49 genuinely idiosyncratic, at a time when television dramas have never been more abundant, is that its underlying mysteries are inessential to enjoying the series. Lodge 49 isn’t just a “modern-day fable”—it might feature TV’s first-ever low-stress, opt-in-only-if-you-want mystery box.

Lodge 49’s laissez-faire approach to its conundrums is best embodied by its lead. Sean “Dud” Dudley, played by a pitch-perfect Wyatt Russell, is a meandering surfer in Long Beach who can no longer surf—an existential quandary in its own right. Dud was bitten by a viper on a surfing trip in Nicaragua and walks around with a constant limp. Around the same time as his injury, he lost his father in a body surfing accident—it’s presumed he drowned; the body was never found—who subsequently left mountains of debt to Dud’s twin sister, Liz (played by Sonya Cassidy). Liz works at Shamroxx—a depressing fusion of Hooter’s and Bennigan’s—to pay off the money owed and is continually, understandably, on the verge of a breakdown. Unrelatedly, when Dud finds a ring on the beach belonging to the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, a fraternal lodge with a storied history in its native England, he believes joining its Long Beach chapter, Lodge 49, will grant his life some purpose.

It’s hard not to read Dud’s introduction to the Order of the Lynx as cosmic fate, right down to his Volkswagen Thing running out of gas in front of Lodge 49’s entrance in the pilot. Dud certainly perceives his ordeal as such, even as the lodge’s members prove to be more cynical pragmatists. The lodge serves as the epicenter from which Dud and the show’s secondary characters—like Ernie (Brent Jennings), an elder statesman who works in plumbing and morphs into Dud’s mentor and best friend—deal with their problems. As Dud, Ernie, and others reckon with their lives and the crappy hands dealt to them, there is no tangible antagonist: only the looming spectre of capitalism and the impending doom of America’s middle-class post-Recession, a through line of Lodge 49. The means by which these characters have been brought together are debatably metaphysical, but nonetheless, their connection makes sense: They all want more from the world and for fate to push something their way, even if in such uncomplicated manners as debt relief. Compared to the characters fighting zombies or warring with cartels in New Mexico on AMC’s other shows, these are decidedly smaller stakes, but the initial simplicity of Lodge 49 and the relatability of its characters evince a subtle understanding of the human condition.

However, just when you think all the talk of fate and alchemy at the lodge is simply window dressing behind the characters’ search for deeper purpose, the show takes some truly surreal turns. Dud stumbles upon the hidden library and the mummy. At one point, while working as a part-time security guard at a folding aerospace company, he walks down a ladder to find a floor transforming into a collection of stars. An actual seal shows up twice and vanishes just as quickly. There is talk of a “one true lodge” and a preordained prophet sent to uncover it. The leader of Lodge 49, Larry Loomis, is even played by Kenneth Welsh, best known as Windom Earle from Twin Peaks and last seen in that show’s Black Lodge, for Christ’s sake.

But even when Lodge 49 leans into these magical flourishes, unpacking the mysteries never feels like a requirement. They are a bonus, there if you need them, but not needed—the existential questions at the heart of Lodge 49 are enough to propel it forward. The way the show operates is not unlike Dud: There is a calmness to the whole ordeal. As executive producer Peter Ocko said when describing the series at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, “We see our show as a bit of a palate-cleanser so you can go back to the hard work of watching shows about complicated robots.” Indeed, for all of Westworld’s sermons about its robots learning to be human and mysteries pertaining to literal mazes, the low stakes of Lodge 49 feels not just more palatable but far more relatable.

Perhaps, in the wake of series like Lost, Twin Peaks, Mr. Robot, Legion, and Westworld, we’ve all been conditioned to watch any shows that lend themselves to mystery in a certain way. Those shows have taught us that every detail can be of the utmost importance—that every uttering, every glance, every background flourish be analyzed, for they may be the key to unlocking the stories’ deepest meanings. That sort of behavior isn’t the only way to approach the carefully detailed workings of Lodge 49—depending on what you want, it can be a compelling mystery, a contemporary fable, a ruminative exploration on America’s dying middle class, or The Big Lebowski–meets-surfing, perfectly tailored for the ultimate stoner binge. The choice to open the mystery box or not is uniquely up to the viewer. Lodge 49 is the rare show where calling it unlike anything on television isn’t hyperbole. Whatever it is, it’s magical.