S1E4: For an episode so early on in the show’s run, this week’s Luck doesn’t really work with a lot that we haven’t seen yet. Instead, it works to strengthen ideas already established. It might seem strange to praise a dramatic series for diminishing its delivery of plot. But Luck’s strengths, as we’ve seen them, exist almost entirely in its characters; its plot angles—the various offshoots machinated to authentically reproduce the gambling world—leave me dissatisfied weekly. The fourth episode of the series is more or less devoid of any new external developments, keeping the show’s focus where it belongs: in the fractured hearts and minds of all of the people who have nothing beyond this Santa Anita Racetrack.
“I hope [your grandson] appreciates what you did for him.” – Mike
“Don’t talk about him anymore.” – Ace
The infamous Mike is finally introduced. A very cavalier Michael Gambon plays the man for whose legal transgressions Ace Bernstein took the rap, sending our protagonist to jail for three years. Bygones being bygones and all that, Ace is still willing to do business with Mike, who is none too grateful for his friend’s actions, accusing him of using this new business proposal (the purchase of the racetrack) to “get back at” some of the people whom Ace deems responsible for his time in prison. As we’ve seen, Ace is quick to temper—yet he manages to keep his cool to a relative degree even when dealt these insults from the man for whom he went to bat.
Of course, this might very well be because there is some truth to Mike’s words. While we’re not entirely certain what Ace will be using Nathan Israel for—we see the young man again this week, and are still as in the dark as ever about his utility to Ace’s plan…but it is interesting to watch Ace and Gus gradually break the presumptuous kid—we know that there’s something innately deceitful about the whole ordeal. Mystery does breed that kind of suspicion, after all.
“I’ve been confused about my behavior for some time now, I’ll tell you that.” – Ace
Last week, we met Claire Lachay (Joan Allen): a woman not so cagily pursuing Ace Bernstein with some kind of a business opportunity. This week, we come to understand the nature of her business: Lachay is representing a program to rehabilitate convicted criminals by having them work with and care for racehorses. Lachay wants Ace to fund the program, which he effortlessly agrees to do. Although (or, perhaps, because) Ace adamantly denies it, we begin to suspect that he has some kind of an attraction to the earnest and intelligent Ms. Lachay—a fact that would likely fuel his actions.
Although Ace announces this with certainty, he also admits while lying in bed and slowly losing his smile and vigor, that he no longer feels secure with himself—he isn’t sure who he is anymore, and seems particularly uncomfortable with that. And this is what I think we’ll be seeing the show devote itself to primarily: the crumbling of a mighty man. Ace is not among the ranks of today’s television antiheroes—Nucky Thompson, Dexter Morgan, Walter White—he is an honest and decent character. Ace’s undoing doesn’t seem to be his unraveling morality, but his unraveling mind and identity. The betrayal from his friend and partner, and the resultant three years in jail, have disturbed him intensely. He no longer has the sort of control over himself he, as a younger and more capable man, enjoyed. Where or how far the show takes this is yet to be seen, but it’s an exciting aspect of Luck.
“Both hands on the wheel, girl!” – Walter
Walter might as well exist in a classic English poem. The man is pure romance—his entire character is the appreciation of and devotion to the beauty that is a gallant horse. Walter is tortured by the memories of his old horse’s death, and cannot look at his new champion—that horse’s son—without reviving that pain. To make matters worse, his new champion is sick—bleeding from the nose. Walter shatters, unsure if he can take another heartbreak.
The show proves again that its glory is in its pure emotionality: the race in which Rosie rides Walter’s horse to victory after a shoddy start, accompanied by classical string music, is magic. Despite its heavy-handedness, the scene does not feel overdone. It just feels like a triumph in the capture of what this track and this world and these horses and races mean to all of these people. Nick Nolte actually tears up, assuring the audience that no amount of our investment is supposed to lie in the win or loss of money. Money is almost irrelevant to this series, actually. These people and this racetrack coexist in an extremely powerful way, and Walter’s character might represent that better than any other.
“What are you, a communist?” – Marcus
“Absolutely not.” – Renzo
“I’m the farthest thing from it.” – Lonnie
My favorite part of the show, week by week, is the foursome of Marcus, Jerry, Renzo and Lonnie. It’s partially because I’m a sucker for good comic relief, but it’s largely because I love a good stuck-with-you story. This one has advanced pretty rapidly to overcome a lot of the hostility evident in the pilot, but there’s still that air that these people wouldn’t be among one another if they had any other choice. But they don’t. And they’re coming to embrace that. After Walter’s horse finishes first, Marcus pioneers a plan to drag Jerry—a high-level cards addict—out of a poker game at the quarters of the nefarious Chan, seeing as how (as is my understanding) they just missed out on winning the money Jerry would need to afford the leviathan of idiotic bets Marcus knows he is making.
There’s camaraderie here. Honestly, I’d have preferred it if we had earned this more gradually. But the subplot works: Marcus fakes illness as Renzo and Lonnie bust into Chan’s poker game and provoke Jerry to leave the table and tend to their ailing partner. There is a lot of time devoted to Jerry’s addiction in this episode—honestly, this is not very interesting to me. For a show about the gambling world, there isn’t a lot of flavor to the story about the most frenzied gambling addict. There is a strong element of desperation, which is a plus, but I find myself just waiting for these scenes to end.
“You either make weight or you don’t. You’re on the horse or you’re not.” – Joey
A character who we haven’t seen much examination of before this week is Joey: as both of his jockeys let him down, we see Joey losing it a bit. The character is perpetually on edge, so when all things go wrong, we see that he is barely able to keep himself afloat. I’m looking forward to more of Joey’s downward spiral. On this token, I’m also looking forward to seeing the downward spirals of his jockeys: the depressed, drug-addicted Ronnie Jenkins and the working-himself-to-death Leon…who, by the way, is sleeping with Rosie. Horse tracks are romantic places.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Whose story are you most invested in? What do you think Ace is up to with Nathan and Mike? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter @Hollywood.com and @MichaelArbeiter.