Where last week's premiere episode threw a bunch of characters with preexisting relationships and plans at us and expected us to play catch-up, this week's episode provided viewers with some much needed background.
We learn, for example, reason for Ace's imprisonment -- he took the rap for some drugs belonging to the as-yet-unseen Mike, because police were trying to pin the crime on Ace's grandson, hoping it would pressure him into ratting on Mike. We learned a little bit more about Ace's plan to take revenge on Mike and his group with the racetrack scheme. We learned more about Walter's relationship with Gettin' Up Morning's father, Delphi -- seemingly killed by its owners for insurance money.
And we learned a whole lot about claiming horses, as Renzo (Richie Coster) attempted to claim Mon Gateau, the horse Escalante was so secretive about last week. It's in this last story that I felt the show dragging a little bit. Yes, it's important for "Luck" to occasionally take a breath and explain a little about racing for outsiders (I, personally, liked the bit of inside baseball about Escalante running Mon with front wraps to raise his odds and make him less attractive for claiming). But there was a lot of time spent explaining what a claiming race is, the steps necessary to claiming a horse, etc. In an episode that was already kind of talky, it seemed to almost slow things down to a crawl.
Still, there was a lot in this episode I liked, including Walter telling Ronnie the sad story of Delphi. Nick Nolte's gravelly voice and grizzled meat slab of a face make every one of Walter's speeches sound like "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." The next episode should just feature him wearing an albatross around his neck and be done with it.
I also really liked the opening scene between Ace and his parole officer, played by Barry Shabaka Henley, a veteran character actor and featured member of the Michael Mann repertory company (he was in "Ali," the "Miami Vice" movie and the short-lived TV show "Robbery Homicide Division"). The scene goes on just long enough to show that the P.O. is a decent guy -- the sort who would leave the water on in bathroom to help Ace with his performance anxiety while giving his urine sample. The meeting between the P.O. and ex-con is a staple in crime stories, but, often, the two treat each other like enemies. Here, Ace and the officer treat each other like human beings. It's nice.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on the second episode of "Luck":
- This is the second episode in which a character has trouble with a bathroom function. In the premiere, there was concern about Gus's horse, Pint of Plain, not making a bowel movement. In this episode, we see Ace having trouble producing a urine sample. Not atypical for a David Milch project -- his characters always seem to be fixated on bathroom functions. Witness Al Swearengen's kidney troubles and John from Cincinnati learning the phrase "dump out."
- Just as Michael Mann brought in one of his "regulars" to play Ace's parole officer, Milch brings in "Deadwood" vet W. Earl Brown to play the cowboy with the competing claim on Mon Gateau. Always good to see Dan Doherty working.
- Another reference to the secrecy and dishonesty in the horse trade, as Walter tells Ronnie to "stop by the barn. We'll tell each other some lies."
- The story of Delphi's death appears to be modeled on the horse Alydar, who died in 1990 under mysterious circumstances. He was found in his stall with a broken right rear cannon bone, after he allegedly kicked his stall door too hard. The injury was treated, but he re-injured himself in a fall a few days later and was put down. Rumors soon swirled that the horse was purposely killed for the insurance money. No one was punished for Alydar's death, but his stable, Calumet Farms, eventually fell into ruin.
- Poor Marcus. He went through all that trouble to keep the pick six victory on the down-low, and now all his partners are flaunting their winnings. Renzo wants to buy Mon Gateu. Lonnie splurges on a new suit to impress the women he was going in an insurance scam with (and nearly dies for his trouble). And Jerry goes to that sleazy poker parlor, where his new found wealth doesn't go unnoticed by the creepy Leo. Why won't you people listen to Marcus? He's a pain in the butt, but he knows whereof he speaks!
- So Gus's slot winnings -- which allowed him to buy Pint of Plain -- were engineered by Mike's guys as a sort of "thank you" to Ace for taking the fall on the drugs. Hmm. Though Ace and Gus have made good use of the money, the gesture doesn't seem to have garnered much forgiveness.
- Gus and Ace Pillow Talk of the Week: "Please tell me I didn't let you down." - Gus