Untangling 'Lodge 49's 'Conspiracy From Below' with the Creator and Showrunner

Why should only the moneyed elite get to conspire and hide everywhere the secret symbols of their machinations? On Lodge 49 — the AMC series closing its second season on Monday — hermeticism, alchemy, esoteric symbolism and the grand interconnections between the mundane and spiritual are explored by the working class of Long Beach, California. Together, they find sanctuary from the specific cruelties of modern America and the universal challenges of mortality and meaning in the faded halls of Lodge 49, the local seat of a fictional fraternal society: The Ancient & Benevolent Order of the Lynx.

While Lynx members Dud (Wyatt Russell), Ernie (Brent Jennings), Connie (Linda Emond), Blaise (David Pasquesi) and Scott (Eric Allan Kramer) each see different possibilities in Lodge 49, from family and community to a locus of hermetic power and wisdom, each character discovers and rediscovers life as an ongoing practice, with ineffable and fleeting moments — rather than answers — as its true rewards. Temps, toilet salesmen, out-of-work journalists and frustrated entrepreneurs by day, in the Lodge they're luminous knights, squires, alchemists and kings, on a quest to unlock their own lives.

Scott, Connie and Dud gather at the Lodge 49 tavern. AMC Studios

So while Season 2 culminates in a road trip to Mexico to steal back the sacred scrolls of Lynx founder and polymath Harwood Fritz Merrill, the characters are most enlightened by the realization that mystic artifacts won't provide them with meaning. The scrolls might reveal the place where "all circles vanish," as Blaise — the show's THC tincture dealing Merlin — hopes, or even unlock the secrets of Bitcoin, but Lodge 49's characters learn to move past expecting pat answers.

"I want the scrolls because they're worthless junk and it's our destiny to find them," new Lynx member Daphne (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) says in the season's penultimate episode, "La Reve Impossible."

It is only in this spirit that Lodge 49 can become the strange chimera it is, portraying the indignities, crushing stress and draining maintenance of debt and poverty incisively, while also being the most fun and uplifting show on TV.

Lodge 49 and The Alchemical Economy

"When you make a detailed picture of our current reality, I think it's inevitable you're going to highlight the vast inequities in our economy," Lodge 49 creator Jim Gavin told Newsweek. "We don't look at it as a tragedy, it's just the air we breathe. The show is just trying to ask the question, 'Is there another way to live?' There's got to be a better way of doing things. Everyone on our show feels that something is not adding up."

For Lodge 49, Gavin, a writer whose stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review and Esquire, paired with Pushing Daisies, Elementary and The Office veteran Peter Ocko, now Lodge 49's showrunner. Ocko described the show as a "comic universe," but not in the comedic sense. Instead, it's an embrace of absurdity as a necessary companion to profundity (like the wise and winking wizards of Tolkien's Middle-Earth or Le Guin's Earthsea).

"That's why alchemy is so important to us," Ocko told Newsweek. "Because that asks the question: can you get something from nothing? Money itself, is that an illusion? We try to keep it absurd, and for us, that's a way to survive."

Lodge 49's ethos is embodied in Sean "Dud" Dudley, a gentle, blonde beach-heart stripped of surfing after a festering snake bite and further wounded by the death of his father, who left behind foreclosure, a shuttered pool cleaning business and an immense debt, which falls upon Dud's sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy). Fate brings Dud to the Lodge, where his enthusiasm lifts up its members and reawakens their spirit.

Dud (Wyatt Russell) tries to restart his family's shuttered pool cleaning business in Season 2 of "Lodge 49." AMC Studios

"Dud, for us mythologically, is a fool. That doesn't mean he's a fool; in a lot of stories the Fool is the one who has made peace with mortality," Ocko said. "There's something about Dud where he's not necessarily paralyzed by the fear that the rest of us are."

The show encourages its viewers to adopt the same spirit in the face of a vast conspiracy, which sprawls across both seasons and its fictional Long Beach like the decaying strip malls standing in for town squares. Are the grounds of an abandoned aerospace company leeching hallucinogens, or is there really a door into a snowy vista somewhere in its basements? What is the Parabola Group and are they the ones collecting dreams to mysterious ends? What is the True Lodge? In Lodge 49, unwinding the tangle isn't the domain of paranoiacs, nor is the conspiracy operated by a cloistered elite. Secret truths can be pursued part time, in between dumpling eating contests or over beers.

A Conspiracy From Below

"One phrase we throw around is 'conspiracy from below,'" Gavin said. "These operators, for the most part, still have to pay rent, still have to make car payments."

While bearing a resemblance to sun-soaked conspiracy theory narratives like Under the Silver Lake and Inherent Vice, Lodge 49 refuses the typical power dynamic, where the best those outside the conspiracy can hope to accomplish is a glimpse at the elites' controlling hand. (Beyond Thomas Pynchon, whose influence is evident in the title, Gavin also names Thomas de Quincey, Jorge Luis Borges, Muriel Spark and Evan S. Connell as influences on Lodge 49.) Instead, esotericism, secrets and occultism are accessible to anyone who cares to examine their lives and place in a confusing universe. Or, as members of the Lynx occasionally say, echoing words attributed to hermeticism's namesake, Hermes Trismegistus, "as above, so below."

In "Lodge 49" Season 2, Ernie (Brent Jennings) teams with El Confidente (Cheech Marin), a Lodge 55 member who paints prophetic dreams of other characters' futures. AMC Studios

"The Lynx is an occult organization, but I don't think we've ever used that word in our show, precisely because it's such an overdetermined word," Gavin said. "It tends to mean absolutely sinister and evil, whereas for us it's almost the opposite. It's a kind of wonderful, alchemical philosophy, this way of trying to see the world in a new way, to see the unseen essentially. We're trying to do something different with that sense of the occult."

"Much to the marketing department's horror," Ocko said. "If we can add just 10 percent more 'sinister' to this show we'd be vastly more popular."

The Lodge 49 Season 2 finale, "The Door," airs Monday at 10 p.m. Eastern on AMC.