Sunday, March 18, 2012

Luck recap: An untenable position

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

So, this week we got the very sad news that "Luck" had pulled the plug on production due to safety concerns, after a horse died while filming the second season. It was the third horse death on the show to date. I understand the decision, but I'm sad that we won't get a second season of the show, especially since tonight's episode and last week's finale are both excellent and show that "Luck" could have become something really special. Alas, we'll never know what could have been in a second season or beyond, but at least we have these two episodes.And tonight's was a fine one, centering primarily on the deadly game of chess being played by Mike and Ace. Throughout the episode, it's never quite clear who has the upper hand in the battle between these two adversaries. It's to the show's credit that Mike, though much less sympathetic than Ace, is just as smart and cunning as his rival. The fact that these guys are fairly evenly matched laces the episode with tension -- as does the fact that this is the kind of show that wouldn't seem to have qualms about killing off a seemingly major character like Ace.
I also like the fact that I was never quite sure where the episode was going. For instance, I didn't really know what the point was of taking DeRossi out to the storage room for much of the episode. Like Escalante, I assumed DeRossi was going to be killed, or at least roughed up a bit. The fact that DeRossi doesn't know, either -- and that Gus barely says a word to him -- made the scenes in the room really uncomfortable and suspenseful.
 Ace's visit to the boat was also interesting and provided another nice clash of the acting titans match-up between Dustin Hoffman and Michael Gambon. The flicker of surprise and annoyance on Gambon's face when Ace presents Mike with the footage of Cohen bribing the Indian Gaming Lobby guy was the perfect mix of funny and scary (I also loved Ace yelling at the GPS on his way out to the boat).
The ultimate reveal of the episode -- that Mike, not shockingly, plans to kill Ace -- nicely sets the stage for an epic battle between these two characters in the finale.
While this took up a good part of the finale, we also got major movement with some of our other characters. It's ruled that Walter can keep Gettin' Up Morning, despite the claims of the Colonel's son-in-law, and that the horse can run in the Western Derby. However, it's clear that the son-in-law isn't finished with his pursuit of the horse and Walter doesn't help things with his "unprovoked attack" on his enemy.
Things are even worse for Dr. Jo and Escalante. She ends up in the hospital after getting kicked by a horse, and it's unsure whether doctors will be able to save her pregnancy. As with last week's revelation about the pregnancy, the accident brings out layers of paternal sweetness in Escalante, who seems genuinely worried about his girlfriend and their unborn child. However, I didn't really buy how calm Escalante was after Jo got kicked. Yes, he's a guarded, distracted guy, but we've seen evidence that he cares for Jo and wants to be a dad to her child. Don't you think he'd be a bit more freaked out by what happens? I do, but maybe I'm just being a girl.
And it's good news, bad news for our jockeys. On the good news side, Ronnie wins his race on Emmet's Daddy in the final moments, proving to Walter that he was the right choice to ride Gettin' Up Morning. And Escalante decides to have Rosie ride Mon Gateau on Derby Day after Leon fails to make weight. Good news for Rosie, but bad news for Leon, whose days as a jock seem numbered. Anyway, here are some more thoughts on the episode.
* So, Nathan Israel did indeed die as the result of Mike's beating in last week's episode. The creepy opening sequence juxtaposes images of Israel getting chopped up and dumped with those of Cohen bribing the gaming official. Through it all, Mike sits somewhat calmly, overseeing what he thinks is the complete dismantling of Ace's plan to destroy him. It's a powerful yet simple sequence -- not overburdened with a lot of Milch-y  dialogue and content to depend largely on images. It's the kind of thing I'll miss when this show is gone. 
* OK, so we already knew that Ace's meeting last week with the chief was part of his plan to get revenge on Mike. This week we learned that the idea was to get one of Mike's men on tape bribing the chief, so it could be used later. Whether Ace originally planned to use it to broke a truce is unclear, but that's his goal for it once he realizes what happened to Israel.
* Not too much with the Foray Stables guys this week, though we did get some priceless shots of Renzo, Lonnie and Marcus being annoyed by Naomi's appearance at the track. "Don't where she works have a day shift?" sneers Marcus. Poor Naomi. Being beautiful and easy will only get her so far if she keeps jumping up and down like a giddy cheerleader every time she wins.
* One of the real breakouts on this show has been Kerry Condon as the determined exercise girl/aspiring jockey Rosie. The scene where she learns she's riding Mon Gateau and screams and jumps into Joey's arms is just adorable and lovely. Here's hoping we see more of Condon in the future.
* Some good stuff for Nick Nolte in this episode as well. However, his bile-filled rage to his attorney at the track is one of those moments where I became genuinely worried that Nolte was going to burst a blood vessel. Maybe the show's cancellation was the best thing for the actor's health. I'm not sure how long he could have kept this up.
* That being said, Nolte's Walter Smith uttering the name "Geraldo Rivera" is just about the funniest thing ever.
* For some reason, I have a real soft spot for jokes about people thinking that E.T. is a monkey. I loved it when "My Name is Earl" used to do them, and I love when Escalante compared Eduardo to "the monkey on the bike that likes the chocolates."
* Another fine Escalante moment comes this week when Joey points out that putting Rosie on Mon Gateau with raise the horse's odds. The cagey trainer dryly responds "Holy cow! I never thought of that." Heh.
* Ace and Gus pillow talk of the week: "Would you mind please moving the f--- away from that window?" -- Gus.
Gus finds out that the guy snapping photos outside the casino in last week's episode is a hitman. It's clear that Mike wants to kill Ace, and Gus goes into full protector mode, ordering Ace not to go anywhere by himself. Ace, meanwhile, is distracted by how disappointed Claire will be that he can't take her to the races. Geez, Ace. Dumbledore wants to kill you. Can you please focus on that? And seriously -- get AWAY from that window!!!

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