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Lodge 49 - As Above, So Below - Advance Preview

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Towards the end of Lodge 49’s premiere, David Pasquesi’s Blaise — a bartender at the titular lodge — serves Dud (Wyatt Russell) a domestic lager and some advice, both of which come on the house. “Well, sometimes you can't see something until you're looking for it,” he says.

It seems a fitting line to encapsulate the series. Premiering Monday, August 6th at 10pm following the fourth season premiere of Better Call Saul, Lodge 49 probably isn’t the sort of thing you’d dream about seeing. And yet it’s somehow perfectly AMC, and surprisingly encapsulating. The series follows Sean ‘Dud’ Dudley, a down-on-his-luck thirtysomething who is struggling through life amid personal and financial troubles, and finds the potential of solace in the form of the lodge.

You can see pretty quickly why the network thought it would pair well with Saul. The premiere opens with Dud searching the beach with a metal detector. He sports a flip-flop on his left foot and a plastic bag on his right, drinking from a can all the while. It’s perfectly representative of the hour — and, presumably, the series — to come: just the right amount of sympathy paired with some strong ludicrous comedy. Later, a moment involving a snake compounds this further.

From the get-go, Dud comes across as expected: he’s a touch skittish, often gleeful at the minutest of good fortunes, and his hair and beard mean that he could be identified from a distance as either a homeless man or Jesus. Both could be true. With little money to his name — he owes plenty in debt; early on, he attempts to pay $4.23 for gasoline and is overjoyed when he finds a penny to add on — he is indeed homeless, instead attempting to squat at his old apartment while pining after his old family home. At one stage, he’s forced to sleep in his retro Beetle.

Yet it’s striking how positive he remains, drifting from it only in the presence of Bert, a pawn shop owner who tells Dud about the lodge’s existence. The two have a curious relationship, with Bert’s stone-faced guise hiding a slightly darker nature, and Dud’s distrust in him overshadowed by his need for quick cash.

It’s impressive just how quickly Dud finds his way to the lodge — he calls it fate. There’s a clear sense throughout the premiere that having suffered personal tragedy, he’s now without a purpose or, indeed, a life. Getting him to Lodge 49 early is smart, even if it is a place that instantly feels so much like a cult that self-acknowledged cults might even look oddly at it. In fairness, Ernie (Brent Jennings), who welcomes Dud into the lodges, doesn’t oversell it. “Community services, recreational activities, plus there's a whole philosophical component. Or chemical or whatever you want to call it. But mainly we just get together.”

Through the mystery of the lodge, the series appears to have a direction. Beyond Ernie’s description, there is clearly more than meets the eye, and by the end of the premiere, we’re left wondering quite what Dud has got himself into here. From his perspective, it’s a shame because excitable as he is, Dud very clearly enjoys being there — Russell feels made for this role, and in one scene gives a wonderful monologue — and with all the hardships he’s fallen upon, it’s easy to simply want him to have some luck. But while there is a clear element of comedy to the series, it’s a drama, not a feel-good story.

The same idea applies to Ernie. His demeanour again shields the truth: crows preventing him sleeping, a forbidden relationship, and debts of his own all contribute to a life that as good as it may seem. Ernie needs the lodge as much as Dud thinks he does, and as the season goes on it will be interesting to see how the pair rely on one another to uncover what’s actually happening at their sanctuary.

AMC’s propensity in the last decade for producing prestige TV — Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Halt and Catch Fire, Better Call Saul — has been impressive. If the objective of Lodge 49 was to join that club, it may well fail. But perhaps what will come of the series is what AMC is looking for. They just might not have known it until it came along.

Lodge 49 premieres on AMC on Monday, August 6th at 10pm, with all ten episodes being released on AMC Premiere the same night.

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