Go back to the first episode of Luck and you’ll see how much is made of a little goat (known for his giant testicles) that hangs out in Turo’s (John Ortiz) barn. Though the goat is mostly used as a form of comic relief in that episode, Turo is quick to point out that the critter is a necessary inhabitant of his barn because the horses like him. One can speculate about whether Turo is unnaturally attuned to the thoroughbreds he trains or if this assertion stems from a superstition revolving around chance. But in last night’s series finale, the disappearance of the goat takes on a metaphoric importance.
Principally, one might see the goat as a mirror of Luck’s lead, Ace (Dustin Hoffman), a little ballsy guy with as many of the scrappy, stubborn tendencies one associates with a goat. But if one moves past the obvious traits they share, the seemingly insignificant disappearance of the goat also symbolizes Ace’s confusion. On the eve of what might be his greatest triumph, Pint of Plain’s potential victory at the Western Derby, the typically decisive Ace is adrift. The discovery of Nathan Israel’s corpse has reminded him of the urgency with which he wants to leave his violent past behind. The looming threat that his rival, Mike (Michael Gambon), represents attains an even greater level of danger when he lures Ace’s grandson, Brent (Jake Hoffman), to visit Ace under the smokescreen that it was a surprise from an oblivious Gus (Dennis Farina). The disappearance of the goat, which Turo views as portentous in the lead-up to Pint of Plain’s first race, is a physical manifestation of Ace essentially having misplaced his mojo.
It might seem like many of Luck’s characters have lost their impetus. Turo is just as preoccupied by his impending fatherhood, a hope that’s dashed when Jo (Jill Hennessy) miscarries. Over-the-hill jockey Ronnie (Gary Stevens) is concerned that his inability to lose weight may slow him down when he rides Walter’s Gettn’Up Morning in the derby against Pint of Plain. Walter (Nick Nolte) has mixed feelings about his colt’s possible win, since it will no doubt provoke more unwanted attention from those seeking to take his horse away from him. But as the series concludes (sadly, before its time), one can see these setbacks as turning points toward a more hopeful future. After all, two typically self-centered characters like Turo and Ronnie are finally beginning to show some empathy for their friends and associates. The arc of the four degenerate gamblers—Marcus (Kevin Dunn), Jerry (Jason Gedrick), Renzo (Ritchie Coster), and Lonnie (Ian Hart)—speaks to David Milch’s grander notion of how allowing yourself to depend on others, forming a community, enriches you as a person. After the Foray Stables guys win big yet again, the cynical Marcus’s surmise that they may all end up broke doesn’t have the usual defeatist attitude behind it. The unspoken extension of that thought is that at least they’ll have each other, which for the up-until-now isolated Marcus is quite a boon indeed.
For Ace, reaching that turning point hasn’t been as easy. He must exorcise his demons, even in lethal ways, before he can join the rest of the cast on the road to redemption. His employee, Gus, is more than just a bodyguard. He willingly sacrifices his soul to serve as the instrument of Ace’s vengeance in an attempt to absolve his boss from dirtying his ascending spirit any further, never more evident than in the efficient yet emotionless dispatch of an assassin Mike sent to eliminate Ace. Gus supports him by facilitating Ace’s transition away from the dissonance of violence toward the newly harmonious world signified by his love for Claire (Joan Allen), his filial ties to Brent, and his spiritual affinity with Pint of Plain.
We may never know what the definitive conclusion to Luck might have been. But things are looking up for nearly all of the show’s characters as its premature finale winds down. And though Gus and Ace are still mired in their machinations against Mike at the episode’s end, their shared moment of joy at that little goat’s reappearance is a good indicator that Ace is on the right track to getting clear of his past.
• Director Mimi Leder’s association with Michael Mann dates back to 1988, when she helmed an episode of his series starring Farina, Crime Story. She was also a script supervisor for one of the earliest shows run by Milch, the legendary Hill Street Blues.
• Jake Hoffman, who plays Ace’s grandson, Brent, is Dustin Hoffman’s son.
• Playing Renzo’s gambler mom is Mercedes Ruehl, who was to join Luck’s second season as a regular before it was cancelled two episodes into production.
• The song playing over Mon Gateau’s race is “Elements and Things” by Tony Joe White.
• Matt Zoller Seitz, founder of the House Next Door, scored an exclusive interview with Michael Mann and David Milch about the cancellation of their show over at The Vulture.
• At his urine test, Ace chats with his parole officer (Barry Shabaka Henley): “That big race they got today? A friend of mine has got a horse running. If you want I can leave you a pass.” The officer responds, “I can’t be accepting no gratuities. You tell your friend good luck.” “Thank you,” Ace says, then whispers, “Pint of Plain.” “You suggesting that I might know a bookie?” Ace shakes the man’s hand and says, “The Western Derby.”
• Turo and Walter share a moment after Pint of Plain’s win: “Your people look pretty damn pleased,” Walter says, “They must be making big plans, I’d wager.” “Just like I’m sure they coming at you for your colt from everyplace,” responds Turo, “trying to buy a good thing already made.” “Oh, they’ve been coming at me already.” “Cock-a-roaches,” says Turo. Walter agrees, “Cock-a-roaches, yep!”
• Renzo’s mom talks to Marcus about a disabled woman he’s befriended: “You should take her out some evening,” she says. Marcus says, “A riptide couldn’t take that girl out.” “Oh, excuse me, Ryan Seacrest, for suggesting it.”
• The goat reappears as the episode concludes. We see him walking by Walter’s barn, an occasion for the old man to quote a proverb, “Fear the goat from the front, a horse from the rear, and a man from all sides.”
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