Sunday, March 11, 2012

Luck recap: Still in custody

Ian Hart as Lonnie on HBO's "Luck"
Spoilers for this week's episode of "Luck" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

This week on "Luck" we saw most of our characters poised between two worlds. In most cases, they're stuck between the world they used to inhabit and a new life, full of possibility. Ace, for example, makes an idyllic trip to Claire's horse farm, and has a charming little trot with one of her retired racehorses. Much like the convicts who work on the farm, Ace is finding himself less institutionalized the longer he's around horses. But, like them, he's "still in custody" -- if not literally, then figuratively as he plots his revenge on Mike. Of course, it's unclear how well that plot will progress after his go-between, Nathan Israel, is (apparently fatally) beaten by Mike on the boat. But as Ace gets increasing reminders of the importance of connecting (both with the horses and with humans like Claire), it's unlikely he'll go back to being the somewhat walled-off man we saw in the show's pilot.

Meanwhile, many other characters are similarly at crossroads. Rosie, unsure of whether her gaffe with Gettin' Up Morning has lost her her mount, turns to Joey to put pressure on Walter for an answer. Ronnie, the other candidate to be Walter's jockey, desperately wants the ride, but can't quite seem to put his addiction behind him. Meanwhile, Walter can't even enjoy his big horse's rise to fame, as he's fighting legal action by the family that owned (and likely killed) the colt's father. Thankfully, he's getting some help from the lawyer/trainer Rosie suggested last week -- played by prolific character actor Bruce Davison. From what little we see of Davison's character, he seems like a sympathetic guy who will actually have Walter's back. Let's hope so. Walter really needs a better support system.
Elsewhere, Escalante is caught between being the distant, impenetrable figure we've seen most of the season and opening his heart not only to his unborn child but to the unfortunate kid whose uncle dumps him at the racetrack. It seems pretty clear that little Escalante led a life not unlike Eduardo's. And, though he's reticent to get involved, he eventually can't help but reach out to the kid. Similarly, he seems standoffish when Jo first breaks the news about her pregnancy, but almost immediately does an about face, offering her comfort and support.
Lonnie and Jerry decide, however briefly, to spend some time outside the Foray Stables clique, with widely different results. Jerry enters a poker tournament, looking for a ticket to the World Series, which seems like a disaster. But, not only does he get the ticket, he lands the lovely dealer Naomi as well. This seems a little false, as everything we've learned about Jerry suggests he's not nearly good enough to play his way to the World Series. But he seems to know what he's doing at the table with Naomi. Maybe his former challenger Leo is just really, really good. Or maybe Jerry, unbeknownst to us, actually did pay to get a ticket to the World Series. Who knows. Anyway, despite Marcus's worries, Jerry's had a good week.
Lonnie, not so much. I like that the script shows that Lonnie's aware he's the outsider in this group. After all, if it weren't for the insurance women almost killing him, the other three guys would likely have moved on without him (well, Marcus and Jerry at least). So it seems right that he'd want to claim his own horse, instead of just sharing one with this group that only seems to grudgingly accept him. That's what makes it so sad that Lonnie's claimer breaks down and has to be pulled up in her big race. Still, at least she's going to survive and become a brood mare.
The same can't be said of Nathan Israel, who, arguably, is the character least able to juggle two worlds. Mike is unsure of where the oddly-named Irishman's sympathy lies, until he slips up and utters the phrase "answers a question with a question" -- something Ace has said repeatedly to Israel and, obviously, used to say to Mike. When Mike quickly and brutally beats him, he tells his stunned compatriots that he knows Israel was 100 percent loyal to Ace because of "syntax." Eh? Mike makes some awfully big assumptions based on the fact that Israel likes to steal other people's one-liners. But he is right. So there's that.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts:
  • Though Escalante's happy about Jo's pregnancy, he can't resist firing off a deadpan "Who's the papa?" It's a nice moment that keeps Escalante's evolution into a warm-hearted human being from being too sappy.
  • In fact, John Ortiz is particularly strong in this episode. His slow opening up to Eduardo is perfectly played, particularly the moment when Eduardo flinches as Escalante gets increasingly frustrated that the uncle hasn't shown and Escalante calmly tells the kid that he's not going to hit him. He's also hysterical in pissed-off mode at the episode's beginning, as he rails at the guy installing the camera over Pint of Plain's stall, and then at Jo for taking in Eduardo ("You be the babysitter and I see my barn get put on the Facebook!). Ortiz is not as well known as Nick Nolte, Dustin Hoffman or Dennis Farina, and, until this episode, his character hadn't been given the emotional heft that make Marcus and Jerry such juicy roles for Kevin Dunn and Jason Gedrick. But this is a really good performance in a tricky role. Escalante is a guarded man, and Ortiz lets the layers beneath that facade surface gently and almost impenetrably.
  • Lonnie's horse is named Niagra's Fall, which, of course, inspires a heated (and absurd) argument about whether the name is a bad omen, due to the classic "Niagra Falls" comedy bit. When I first watched the episode, I thought Marcus and Lonnie were wrong about it being a Three Stooges bit, as I remember it as an Abbott and Costello bit. Turns out, we're both right. You can watch the Three Stooges here and view the Abbott and Costello one here. Because, here, you get more than recaps. Here you learn things. Not important things, but things nonetheless.
  •  Marcus, incidentally, is enormously sympathetic (for him) when Lonnie's horse breaks down. As with Jerry, we see that his nasty ball-breaking conceals actual concern and affection. He even manages to be somewhat civil when he explains to Lonnie that he made a mistake in not giving Escalante enough time to assess the claimer for any weakness.Thus, Lonnie, though disappointed, seems somewhat at peace with what happened.
  • OK, so we glimpsed the next step in Ace's plan for Mike Smythe domination, which, apparently, involves visiting a casino, shaking hands with a polite-seeming Native American (presumably a key figure in the Indian Gaming Lobby) and taking off. It's a set-up, as Ace and Gus fully expect that Mike will have a goon photographing the whole enterprise. Indeed, he does. Not riveting TV, but at least the sequence is relatively short.
  • Gus and Ace pillow talk of the week:Almost no banter between the guys this week. Their only interaction is to wonder what happened to Israel. Though they surmise that he must be cavorting with one of the girls on Mike's boat, it doesn't seems like either one actually believes that. At least Ace gets to spend some quality time watching Pint of Plain on that newly-installed camera.

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