Luck Review: Lead Me Not Into Temptation
This week, Luck picked up the pace and demonstrated what it’s really good at: depicting the triumphs and the despair of its world, while taking the viewer along for the ride.
Part of what enhances the show’s highs and lows is that horse racing, and the universe of gambling in general, are based on chance. To some extent, everyone in Luck finds this exhilarating and addicting, but they are bound by balance. For every peak there is a valley. Jerry's addiction is a burden; Marcus and Joey's choice to live and breathe the track is almost heart attack-inducing; Ace and Escalante must tightly control their worlds in an attempt to bring order to chaos.
Faith, the belief in a higher power with a plan, is important as we move into the second act of the show (Luck’s first season is only nine episodes). The viewers have had to put their faith in the literal creator, David Milch, and hope that he would bring the set up to some kind of fruition. The first payoff comes this week as the series subtly shifts into a higher gear.
With the increase in momentum comes higher stakes. Every character’s faith is tested, as he/she takes the next steps in big gambles or are confronted with personal hardship.
Ace’s resolve is tried this week when he finally meets with the much-discussed Mike (Michael Gambon). Dumbledo Mike is an uncouth Brit who does his best to belittle Ace. A single shot perfectly sums up their meeting: Ace is seated on a low ottoman while Mike stands, his foot resting on the sofa, quite literally suggesting that he has a leg up on Ace. By the end of their discussion, the two men have reached an agreement: Mike wants in on Ace’s plans for the track. The two men sit eye to eye; Ace has regained his equal footing.
Smart and calculating, Ace puts his faith in himself and his abilities. When Mike expresses the hope that Ace’s grandson - the innocent that Ace went to prison to protect - is well, Ace responds by saying that Mike better pray he stays that way. Check out the quotes page for the full conversation.
In Ace’s world, prayer becomes a threat rather than something with the power to redeem. Luck seems to want us to believe that Ace lives by some kind of moral code, and compared to his compatriots like Mike, he does. But Ace always has an ulterior motive. He claims his decision to donate to Claire Lachey’s Thoroughbred charity is spurred only by his desire to help, but it’s clear that it’s motivated by a more personal desire for companionship.
Down at the track, Rosie benefits from Ronnie’s misfortune, and gets a chance to ride Gettin’ Up Morning in a real race. She’s shown into the minuscule and vacant women’s jockey room (which looks like it might have been an equipment closet at one point), but to her it might as well be a palace; she’s waited so long for this chance.
As Rosie suits up, she stares at a statue of the Madonna and recites the Lord’s Prayer. Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil. These are words that every character in Luck would do well to remember. While Rosie's prep for the race is a rather shallow portrayal of religion, the prayer serves the young Irish jockey well this week.
Rosie and Gettin’ Up Morning’s triumphant win is shown in slow motion, drawing out the moment, telling us this is it; this is where the story really begins. Suddenly, all the major track players are woven together as their focus unites on the race. They watch in awe. Gettin’ Up crosses the finish line lengths ahead of the competition, but per Luck’s MO, the heady feeling of elation is followed by a heavy sense of despair.
The colt comes off the track with a bloody nose. An examination reveals several tumors in his lungs (at least I think they were tumors...), but the vet’s prognosis is hopeful: don’t count him out yet. Still, Walter is in anguish. He prays for the colt’s health, but not to God. Instead, Walter speaks to Delphi, Gettin’ Up’s father. Walter is a man who is much more at home around the barn than around people, so it makes sense that he would pray to an animal.
In such a capricious world of extremes, it’s not surprising that Walter and Rosie look to something bigger than themselves for help. Unlike Ace - who wills order onto his world - Rosie and Walter seem to believe that life is in the control of a higher power, which they are simply at the whim of. In the wrong context, this has the makings of powerful rationalization.
Marcus touches on this as he and his fellow Degenerates debate what to do about Jerry. This week marked a new low for Jerry, or at least the lowest that we’ve seen him. Caught in the clutches of his gambling addiction and formidable opponent, Leo, Jerry loses tens of thousands of dollars at the poker table. Gambling seems to have sapped his faith in anything, including himself. If it weren’t for his intrepid friends, he would have lost everything to Leo.
Marcus blames Jerry’s creator for his flaws, for not making him a whole person, as if there’s nothing anyone, not even Jerry, can do to beat his addiction. In part, this feels like Marcus is disavowing any responsibility for Jerry, but that flies in the face of their loyal gesture just hours before. Perhaps what Marcus is really getting at is the heart of addiction and many other psychological problems or dependencies: a person will only get better if they want to, and unless they’re willing to put the effort in, even your best efforts won’t fix them.
Yet some people still try. Joey can’t let up on his jocks, Ronnie and Leon, both of whom are struggling with personal issues. Whether it’s out of a sense of obligation, frustration, or anxiety, Jerry constantly throws their problems in their faces, which only makes them worse.
With Ronnie’s collar bone broken and his chances at getting on a mount destroyed for at least six weeks, he sinks further into booze and drugs. Trying to keep his weight down, Leon pushes himself on and off the racetrack. His workout is intercut with Rosie’s winning ride, suggesting that success doesn’t necessarily go to the hardest worker or those who suffer the most, but is doled out rather capriciously to the fortunate.
Ultimately, the man with the plan upstairs, the one holding the reins, is Milch. Will he listen to all his character’s entreaties? Maybe, but with Luck finally picking up speed I suspect things are only going to get worse before they get better.
- I love the scenes where Ace attempts to flirt with Claire. It’s great to see him act vulnerable in front of someone besides Gus. Also, Joan Allen is fantastic.
- I’m really enjoying the way that Luck springs the characters’ romantic relationships on us. You might get a slight feeling of sexual tension between characters around the racetrack, but obviously that’s their workplace, so they wouldn’t be all over each other. Then, boom. Rosie is naked with Leon or Escalante is asking Jo if she wants to do it.
- Nathan is difficult to like, but I think there's a lot more we have to learn about him. I have a feeling he won’t be totally faithful to Ace.