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AMC’s Lodge 49 is a quest for a better world, set amid the ruins of capitalism

The warm and weird drama series is full of feeling, even if its premise is tough to describe.

Two men walk along an industrial road while carrying a container for gas.
Dud and Ernie embark on a quest for gas.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

In Watch This, Vox critic at large Emily VanDerWerff tells you what she’s watching on TV — and why you should watch it too. Read the archives here. This week: the AMC drama Lodge 49, whose first season is streaming on Hulu and whose second season begins Monday, August 12, at 10 pm Eastern on AMC.

I spend a frustratingly large amount of time trying to explain to people why they should watch AMC’s Lodge 49. It’s a terrific show, one of my favorite dramas to debut on TV in a long time, but it’s one that resists easy descriptions.

So before I fumble through trying to tell you about the premise, allow me to briefly turn things over to showrunner and producer Peter Ocko, who in a recent press conference boiled the show’s appeal down as well as anybody has: “We see Lodge 49 as a good place to come in from the storm.”

In an era of political instability and terrifying promises of doom just over the horizon, Lodge 49 is the rare television drama that tries to imagine what it might be like to build something better. And it argues that “something better” can sometimes mean a simple place where we can all hang out, break bread, and have a beer — a place where we can hunker down and weather out the rain and wind outside.

Lodge 49 suggests the only way we’re going to fix the world is by taking care of each other first and foremost. And taking care of each other means finding space for each other, whether on the planet, in our communities, or in a mystical fraternal order with a quasi-alchemical bent.

Wait, what does that mean?

Lodge 49
There’s some very weird stuff hidden in the Lodge.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

At the center of Lodge 49 is the lodge of the title, a gathering place for members of the fraternal order (think the Masons but with fewer ancient conspiracy theories) known as the Lynx. In the series pilot, a millennial wastrel named Dud (Wyatt Russell) discovers a ring with a strange symbol on it while beachcombing. He begins digging into what the ring might mean, which leads him on a quest.

Through a series of unlikely coincidences that could suggest a larger, mystical force (but also could just be coincidences), Dud finds himself at the Lodge, which has fallen on hard times. But when he gets there, he meets Ernie (Brent Jennings), who becomes the “knight” to Dud’s “squire,” as the two attempt to solve the mysteries of the Lodge, the Lynx, and the universe. Oh, and they also try to figure out why the American economy has stopped working for the common man.

Meanwhile, Dud’s sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) is struggling to keep her head above water while working at a Hooter’s-esque restaurant that’s perhaps not the best use of her talents. And as the series unspools, the economic distress that Dud and Liz — and so many other people they know — have been thrown into starts to feel more and more like the heart of the show. Corporate sloganeering meant to prop up the husk of capitalism starts to feel like prophecy — a giant billboard says “There has to be a better way to live” — and the show makes clear that the inner life of the Lodge just might be that better way to live.

The organization of the Lynx is built up around the practice of alchemy, the idea that you might be able to transmute some substance into another if you figure out the secrets that will give you such an incredible power. Alchemy might not be real, but the idea that there’s a secret word you might speak and put everything back together again somehow feels more plausible, like it’s some sort of lost knowledge that used to guide the country forward.

Lodge 49 has big ambitions — it’s a series primarily about why American society feels like it’s coming apart at the seams, after all — beneath its easygoing sensibility. Dud and Ernie’s friendship is loose and free-wheeling, and Liz’s increasing desperation never feels like it’s overbearing. It’s also very good at coming up with weird images on a budget (I particularly love its use of swimming pools as a symbol of some sort of lost oasis in the modern desert), and its very careful use of location work in the real Long Beach, California (where the series is set), gives it the feeling of a show that is at least 50 percent a hangout drama. It is somehow both more and less weird than any description of it can convey.

But no matter how many words I spill about Lodge 49, I can never quite explain it as well as sitting down and watching it will explain the show. That’s why Ocko’s description of it as a place to come in out of the storm is such a meaningful explanation of its powers. You might not know what that means when it comes to a television show, but you also do, right? You know what it means to have a place where it’s safe and warm, where friends are waiting, where the fire’s roaring, and all your problems seem to be put on pause for just as long as you need them to be.

Lodge 49 season one is streaming on Hulu. The second season debuts Monday, August 12, at 10 pm Eastern on AMC.

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