S1E3: I’m sure that the people who work on Luck love gambling, but not remotely as much as they love horses. In fact, it seems as though all of the gambling material depicted onscreen is primarily for utility purposes. The characters rattle off jargon in Aaron Sorkin-paced conversations but without the flare that the West Wing characters seemed to have for global affairs.
Maybe it’s the nature of the subject matter: the characters ensconced in Luck’s world of gambling are almost by definition fractured people. Nobody, save slightly for Ace Bernstein, has anything going on in his life outside of the racetrack or the casino. But beyond this, I think the show is at its weakest when it is projecting the ins and outs of the gambling universe, and is at its strongest when examining Bernstein's dwindling mind, Walter Smith's sunken heart, or the at-odds-with-the-world-and-everything-in-it sensation that overtakes the four man band of Marcus, Jerry, Renzo and Lonnie. Luckily, we get plenty of that—we (and the writers) just have to wade through the betting talk to get there.
“Can’t be straight-forward. More important to him that you see he’s intelligent.” – Ace
Every other line spoken by Ace Bernstein so far reflects the man’s going mind and, more broadly, his palpable ascension in years. Clearly, his three years in prison took a lot out of him—the disloyalty from his former partner has left a cold fissure in his heart, and his mind is worse for the wear. So the introduction of Nathan Israel—a man who represents youth in all conceivable ways—is an interesting method for the show, and Ace, to take in terms of the master plan against the nefarious Mike.
Israel is present at Ace’s board meeting during a discussion about the racetrack purchase. The young man is extremely intelligent, but is cocky beyond belief. He is masterful at doubletalk but does not seem to be weathered in the world of business, through which men like Ace traversed to reach their acclaim. Despite (or maybe because of) this, Ace chooses Israel as a piece of the master plan…to which we’re still not entirely privy.
Israel is invited to Ace’s penthouse to “interview” with him and Gus. They test the young man with mind games. They don’t say a word to him on the way up to the room, they counter everything he says with critique (Ace’s mind may be going, but that’s hardly evident in scenes like this); ultimately, however, Ace seems interested with Israel as a vehicle for his devices. Gus, on the other hand, looks to carry a bit of distaste for the kid.
“Guy asks me about a girl I used to see. Maybe I still got eyes for her. I tell him she’s got crabs.” – Jerry
Lonnie is recovering reasonably well from the beating he took last week. While Marcus and an eager Renzo take care of their business partner, Jerry is in charge of overseeing the deal to purchase Escalante’s racehorse claimed by the cowboy Mulligan. Jerry manages a deal with both Mulligan and Escalante, earning the boys ownership of the horse in question. What we’re served when the foursome visit Escalante to finalize the ownership and meet their new horse in person is a very strange, particularly interesting, and kind of beautiful scene. These four men—a miserly misanthrope, a shady gambling addict, an airhead and a lustful bore—are all entranced by the majesty of the animal to which they’ve just been assigned ownership. They’re all stricken silent with mouths agape at the sight of their horse, which, at this moment, seems to transcend the state of being from financial asset to something much grander. In the scenes from the first two episodes wherein Walter Smith professes his adoration for horses, he seems a bit like the outlier. But when these men, whose combined discernible depth is microscopic, gaze in awe at the mighty racehorse, it seems as though the show—not just the characters— is exemplifying its worship of the species.
“Your ma says you have to learn to land differently.” – Joey The pilot episode showed us the dangers that horses undergo in the track races. But this week, we see that it’s no picnic for jockeys either. The young Cajun racer Leon passes out early on in the episode from a lack of food. Keeping low weight as a jockey is demanding enough to make the kid faint. And hazards are plentiful on the track as well. Smith’s racer Ronnie Jenkins is tossed from his horse mid-race thanks to some rough riding by competitors and he is substantially injured. This leaves Smith’s horse without a jockey—a fate he might have avoided if he hadn’t let Rosie go a week prior. Smith considers phoning Rosie and asking her to assume the role of his jockey, if only temporarily. We get good insight into the character: alone in his home, Smith juggles what he might say to Rosie before calling her, stammering unevenly and eventually erupting into a nearly mad spell of self-directed lashing out. Ace Bernstein might profess openly his “going mind,” but he’s not the one whose sanity we have to worry about on this show. The broken man that is Walter Smith seems to have a lot in store in the realm of emotional spiraling—the moment we met him, he was already heading downward with militant speeds.
We also get to see a brief glimpse into the person life of the mysterious, contentious Escalante: apparently, he and inspector Jo have maintained something of a romance amid their hostile work relationship. What did you think of this week’s episode? Do you find the show does better in its romanticizing of the relationships and the horses, as opposed to the mechanics of the gambling world? What do you think Ace has in store for Israel? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).