As in creator David Milch’s previous HBO shows, Deadwood and the short-lived John from Cincinnati, one of Luck’s central themes concerns the building of a community. This comes to the fore in episode seven, written by Amanda Ferguson and helmed by returning director Brian Kirk, which emphasizes the growing interaction between the denizens of the Santa Anita Race Track. It reinforces that the most successful of them rely on others, and those that don’t are destined to fail.
This is most obvious in the plotlines involving the guys at Foray Stables. Jerry’s success at poker takes an unexpected turn for the better because he allows an attractive woman to tag along, giving him a reason to curb his foolish indulgences, at least for now. In contrast, Lonnie (Ian Hart) makes a foolhardy decision to go it alone in his quest to claim a horse of his own. Curiously, it’s Marcus (Kevin Dunn), the man with the most difficulty letting others get close, who points out, “Foray stands for ’four amigos,’ not ’three amigos and one I’m-entitled-to-a-life.’” The outcome? Lonnie’s new horse loses the claiming race, blows a tendon, and must be retired to become a “brood mare.” Jerry (Jason Gedrick), on the other hand, gets the girl. Both conclusions are open-ended enough, however, that there’s still the potential for reversals, ones that can change either of the Foray’s railbirds for better or worse.
For Walter (Nick Nolte), who’s deciding who Gettn’up Morning’s jockey should be, there’s an even more definite chance of such a reversal. That’s because he ill-advisedly chooses “recovering” drug addict Ronnie (Gary Stevens) over Rosie (Kerry Condon), after her lapse in judgment last week. But the very thing that seems to be motivating Walter, shared past experiences that haunt the trainer and his veteran jockey, might be their undoing. Walter’s all-encompassing love for his colt, whose previous owners are trying to wrest away, are crowding out any room for making new personal connections. Rosie may be green, but she’s obviously as talented a competitor as Walter’s colt. By going for expediency, choosing the old reliable Ronnie over the raw Rosie, Walter may be shooting himself in the foot. By the episode’s final act, Ronnie is using again, an ominous portent of further misfortune for Walter down the road.
Ace (Dustin Hoffman) and Turo (John Ortiz), themselves linked by their past (unbeknownst to Turo, his career began as a result of some minor meddling by Ace), are also connected by the fact that, atypically for them, they’re both presently indulging in romances. Ace is having a much easier time of it allowing himself to enjoy the tentative relationship developing between him and Claire (Joan Allen) as she gives him a tour of the ranch he’s financing. Though Ace is no slouch when it comes to biting wit, sarcasm never enters into his conversations with Claire. And we see him beginning to visibly relax around the horses the convicts will be working with at the ranch, letting go of the very institutionalization that Claire has set up this facility to deal with.
Turo, however, seems incapable of demonstrating love to anyone but his horses. This might explain Jo’s reluctance to reveal her pregnancy to him. The acerbic trainer seems to play up his accent when he wants to be left alone. And he’s even more snarkier when he deals with Jo than he already is with his clients. Turo’s behaving true to form at the start of this week’s entry, annoyed by the installation of a security cam in front of Pint of Plain’s stall at the request of the horse’s owners, Ace and Gus (Dennis Farina). But an unexpected encounter with a poor Latino kid who’s virtually abandoned at the track by his deadbeat dad provides Jo (Jill Hennessy) with the opportunity to test Turo. Though his initial bluster forces Jo to take command of the child, Turo is shown to be more than capable of taking over when she must attend to Lonnie’s injured horse. He takes the boy under his wing and gets him back home safely, giving Jo the impetus to tell Turo that they’re expecting.
A small grace note at the conclusion of the episode, a pan to a black-and-white photo of Turo as a child, poor, wearing raggedy clothes looking much like the kid he and Jo helped earlier on the mantle in Turo’s home, is rather revelatory. Like Turo, many of the characters in Luck harbor a secret shame, and it’s becoming clear that only through the ensemble’s growing interactions that they have a chance at overcoming the pasts that haunt them.
• Veteran actor Bruce Davison plays the unnamed lawyer and fellow horse trainer who Walter enlists to help him keep Gettn’up Morning. Davison’s credits stretch out for more than a mile, but, in recent times, he’s best known as the anti-mutant Senator Kelly who himself becomes a mutant in X-Men.
• Also making an impression is the relatively new Polish actress, Weronika Rosati. After appearing briefly in episode four, she returns for a recurring role as Naomi, the hot poker dealer who takes up with Jerry.
• It looks like Mike will be a thorn in Ace’s side for quite a while. Actor Michael Gambon was upgraded to series regular this week.
• The song playing over the episode’s final montage is “All Misery/Flowers” by the Gutter Twins.
• Ace, getting dressed in the morning, asks his driver, Gus, “What the fuck is this? I asked you to go out and get me a windbreaker.” “No, no, no, Ace. I saw this in a magazine. This is what them horse people wear around them horses,” Gus responds. “Yeah? They wear it as a prank.”
• Marcus, speaking to his maker, I guess, about Lonnie’s misfortune with the horse he claimed, says, “That’s right. The guy shows a little ass, and bam, if you’re not going to jab your fucking nightstick up there and give it a twist.”
• While touring the ranch with Claire, Ace jokes, “I hate to ask, but any of these inmates ever try to ride off into the sunset?”
• Anyone know their Three Stooges? Lonnie tries to rationalize his misguided attempt to claim his own horse, saying, “Plus, if I had my wits or brains about me, the warning signal was Niagara’s Fall.” “What does Niagara’s Fall got to do with it?” asks Marcus. “The horse’s name itself, Niagara’s Fall…slowly I turn.” “Well, if you’re referring to The Three Stooges, first off, it’s Niagara Falls, slowly I turned…and secondly, so what?” “As fuck-ups,” says Lonnie. “As fuckups, what?” asks Marcus. “To not buy a horse connected with them.” “Look, the horse you claimed has nothing to do with The Three Stooges in any way,” Marcus says emphatically. “Your horse was Niagara’s Fall. Their story is ’Niagara Falls, and slowly turned,’ and so forth.”
• Ronnie tells Walter he shouldn’t feel bad about having a beer in front of him. In response, Walter impresses on Ronnie the importance of living in the moment (a cornerstone of recovery): “If I had wanted one, I’d a had one. And I don’t mean to scratch the other goddamn scab off first. Or talk about the colt’s father. Or go on about that night. Or was or wasn’t I dreaming? And did they do what the hell I thought they did, murder the horse, my colt’s father? None of that does justice to this colt or who the hell is to get on him…Today is the only day we’ve got. And now is when I’m making up my mind.”
• Renzo (Ritchie Coster) on Naomi: “She seemed nice. She wore quite a bit of makeup.”
• Poor Nathan Israel (Patrick J. Adams), we hardly knew you. Secretly spying for Ace, he tries to reassure a distrustful Mike and his associates: “[Ace] never told me to deceive you. He always told me to give you accurate information. Haven’t you found that to be so?” Mike responds by asking, “What makes you think I’m so simple as to be able to be deceived by Ace Bernstein and you in the first place?” Unfortunately, Nathan patterns his next smart-aleck answer after a familiar refrain Ace shared with him a few times after they first met: “Answers a question with a question.” Mike snarls as he brains Nathan with a crystal ashtray, “You think I’m to be played for a cunt?” Turning to his associates, Mike explains, “100% solidarity with Ace. Syntax is how I know, syntax!” It may be the first case of Milch-speak getting a character killed.
For more Luck recaps, click here.