According to AMC’s new series Lodge 49, the modern-day alchemist need not hole up in some clandestine laboratory, performing experiments and trying to transmute lead into gold. Today’s conjurer could do just as well with a metal detector and a pawnshop. That’s how we meet Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell): metal detector in hand, scouring the shores of Long Beach for valuables.
In the alchemical tradition, perfecting metals is an allegorical process by which one also perfects themselves. Even if Dud doesn’t know it yet, he’s looking for more than a piece of gold on the beach; he’s looking for a piece of himself, and the ring he finds there is only the first step in a long, strange trip of self-discovery.
Lodge 49 has been touted as The Big Lebowski of television: a surreal romp, helmed by a shaggy, down-on-his-luck slacker with a SoCal drawl. Even the protagonist’s name, Dud, echoes Jeff Bridges’s “The Dude” from the 1998 film. But the similarities are cosmetic at best. The Dude, enthroned by the definite article before his name, is completely at home with himself, content to abide the shifting winds of life from his lackadaisical vantage. Dud, on the other hand, is lost, fearful, and determined to do better for himself. His name connotes someone who has yet to amount to anything, and Dud feels that failure deeply and regrettably.
Until he finds the ring, that is. The ring has the insignia of a local fraternal order, the Order of the Lynx. Later that same day, Dud’s car runs out of gas directly in front of the Lynx’s meetinghouse, Lodge 49, and he interprets it as a sign from the universe that he’s being guided toward something momentous.
The Order is full of just the right fodder to feed Dud’s conviction of purpose, with its lineage of squires and knights, its esoteric spiritual texts, and, most important, its sense of community. One member, Blaise St. John (David Pasquesi), a good-natured, weed-dealing apothecary with a mind for metaphysics, is more than happy to take Dud under his wing as a fellow traveler seeking out the spiritual mysteries harbored within everyday occurrences. He begins schooling Dud in alchemical theory.
But Ernie (Brent Jennings), a plumbing hardware salesman and the acting sovereign protector — the head honcho, so to speak — is more skeptical of all the rites and mysteries that have come to preoccupy Dud. For Ernie, the lodge is less a spiritual vocation and more a welcome respite from the drudgery of the workweek — a social hall where folks can have a beer and relax.
This beleaguered vision of working-class life finds its most sympathetic expression in Dud’s sister, Liz (Sonya Cassidy), whose mundane struggles, while less glamorous than Dud’s mythological quest, bring greater dimension and purpose to the show. She’s a waitress at a bar that’s better known for its cleavage than its buffalo wings, and what she doesn’t bring home in tips is quickly garnished by the bank to pay the debts her recently deceased father bequeathed her and Dud. She’s less interested in Dud finding himself and more interested in Dud finding a job.
Frustrations and anxieties like Liz’s are at the heart of Lodge 49, and no character goes untouched by them. The disenchantment inherent to the financialization of everyday life becomes particularly stark when finances can no longer support that life. Layoffs, debts, foreclosures, the endless chase after the next paycheck — these are what make up the material reality of Lodge 49’s world. Even the lodge itself, after years of declining member dues and backlogged maintenance projects, is a husk of its former glory.
But Dud thinks he’s found the rabbit hole, and Lodge 49 aims to burrow straight through the anxious little heart of late capitalism and unearth some latent magic and adventure in a world that, more often than not, can feel hollowed out by the cold calculations of labor and finance.