Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Luck" recap: Becoming whole

A recap of this week's episode of "Luck" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

OK, now things are starting to pick up. In this week's "Luck," we finally meet Ace's mysterious nemesis, Mike, played by Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon. We finally see Walter's cherished horse, Gettin' Up Morning, run a race. And we learn that, despite his self-destructive tendencies, Jerry is able to pull himself out of his poker-induced trance when a friend is in need.
Like most HBO shows, "Luck" has taken its time getting started. So far, I haven't really minded its leisurely pace, but it is good to see that David Milch, Michael Mann and the rest of the creative team have something on their minds other than having great actors standing around mouthing cryptic, barely enunciated dialogue at each other.
This week's episode contains perhaps the most exciting race to date, with a triumphant Rosie -- rescued from her exile to Portland Meadows by Ronnie's injury and descent back into addiction -- riding Gettin' Up Morning. The whole arc of that story is excellent -- from Rosie giddily entering the empty female jockeys room, to her gentle recitation of "The Lord's Prayer" before her race to the race itself. The race scene was made even more tense by Nick Nolte's alarmingly convincing portrayal of Walter. His enthusiastic cheering of Gettin' Up Morning -- complete with what looked like actual spit spraying out of his mouth -- is so impassioned, you believe that he might actually die if his horse doesn't win. His tears when his horse emerges triumphant are equally heartbreaking.
We also finally meet Mike, the man Ace wants revenge on for his stint in prison. Though "Luck" is filled with complicated, prickly characters, Mike is the only character to strike me as wholly despicable. Still, he's smart enough to speculate that Ace's plan to purchase the race track might be some sort of a revenge plot. And he's perceptive enough to know that asking Ace about his grandson is a great way to poke at his adversary without being openly hostile. It's an interesting character (though not yet all that well-drawn), and Gambon seems to be having fun in the role.
The other major thread of this week's episode is Jerry's hour-long descent into poker-playing hell, getting further and further into hock and, more importantly, missing out on all the fun of being a new horse owner. His buddies are, by and large, pretty content with their new status as the owners of Mon Gateau. Their relationship with Escalante is a bit contentious, as he bristles whenever the guys ask about their new horse. Still, the prickly Peruvian lets the guys feed carrots to their horse -- a nice moment that's ruined for Marcus by the absence of Jerry. Kevin Dunn and Jason Gedrick aren't as high profile as Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, so they don't pop up much in the show's advertising. But, without a doubt, the relationship between Marcus (Dunn) and Jerry (Gedrick) is as compelling as the one between Ace and Gus or between Walter and his prized horse. Jerry's absence hangs over Marcus the entire episode, like a pall. He's all too aware of the depth of Jerry's addiction -- is, in fact, the only one of the Four Amigos who understands it. When one of the other guys suggests giving Jerry money, Marcus knows it's a terrible idea. "Whatever's wrong with Jerry, you don't make him whole by giving him money."
Meanwhile, the only thing that pulls Jerry away from sleazy Leo's Chinese restaurant/pit of poker despair is the news that Marcus's health is failing. It's a touching relationship and becomes more important as the series goes on.
 Anyway, here are some more thoughts on this week's episode:

  • Most other reviews have painted John Ortiz's Escalante as cranky and purposely opaque. But he's not above a zingy one liner. Witness the moment when he asks Joey if Leon is gaining weight. "Who, the bug?" Joey asks. "No," Escalante replies. "That Mormon girl used to sing with her brothers." It's a goofy, dated joke, but it makes me laugh any time I hear it.
  • Yay! Rosie is back! Though Kerry Condon has appeared in a variety of movies, I wasn't really familiar with her until I saw her here. But her performance as Rosie is excellent. Her sunny sweetness provides a perfect counterpoint to all the grizzly, sullen guys around her.
  • Always good to see Michael Gambon, by the way -- and in such an unsympathetic role. I'm so used to seeing him as the wise, good-hearted Dumbledore, it's easy to forget how good he is at being a bastard. After all, another of his most prominent roles was as the lecherous, gluttonous thief in "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover."
  • The scene where Joey talks to the disinterested bartender late in the episode is classic David Milch, who always has characters delivering monologues to parties unable or unwilling to respond. For instance, Al Swearengen of "Deadwood" once delivered speeches to a severed head, and to an occupied prostitute. 
  • After last week's revelation that Dr. Jo and Escalante are a couple, this week we learn that Leon and Rosie have a sexual relationship as well. This is slightly less convincing, as we don't see all that much other interaction between them, but it's plausible, as this is a clearly insulated world without a lot of options for partners.
  • Gus and Ace Pillow Talk of the week:This week, Joan Allen's Claire LeChea popped up again, and Gus and Ace chatted about why, exactly, he's so concerned about her not calling him back. Ace denies having romantic interests, though Gus is clearly not convinced. This annoys Ace: "Don't you look at me like I've got intentions I haven't had in a long time."

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