Of all the words I would use to describe Luck – gin-soaked, smoked-out, leathery, engrossing, beautiful – sweet is not among them. Until this week. One of Luck’s strongest suits is creating intimacy between characters - human, equine, or otherwise.
As they all strive toward their ultimate goals of revenge, redemption, or success, they attempt to forge connections, reaching out in a touching and desperate way that is underlined by the ultimate isolation of existence. If the characters can bond with someone or something for even just a moment, then the loneliness and fear is forgotten and the present becomes livable.
Who the characters choose to reach out to reveals a lot about who they are. Uptight and anxious, Marcus needs Jerry, who is spontaneous and risky. But their relationship is more than just opposites that attract. Each has to deal with an illness, which adds complexity and a dash of fatalism and inevitability to them. Both feel drawn to an inexorable destructive end, and they’re not sure if there’s anything they can do about it.
Unable to parse his connection with Jerry, Marcus admits in a Valium haze that he thinks he’s in love with him. It’s a testament to the strength of their friendship that Jerry remains unfazed. That Marcus can’t delineate between fraternal love and romantic love speaks volumes about Marcus and the homophobic cultural perception regarding same-sex friendships handed down to boys and men.
Despite the strength of human connections, it feels like the horses have the true redemptive powers here. They run their hearts out (sometimes literally) for these characters and there’s never any blame or anger in their large, soft eyes. This innocence is what Marcus and Ace want to latch onto. Sheepishly and falsely, Marcus tells his doctor that the only person he has to talk to is a horse while Ace, rather than spend the rest of the night wooing Claire, decides to bed down outside of Pint of Plain’s stall.
Jo remarks on the calmness that has come over Ace as he dozes propped up against the stall door (the Luck quotes page has the rest of her comment). The horses quiet the bedeviled characters; they become their lives, their proof that there’s still goodness and hope out there. Ultimately, they are the glue that holds everyone in Luck together.
This is why the races are so important to the show. Pint of Plain’s first showing on the track was a beautiful sequence and the logical follow up to Gettin’ Up Morning’s triumphant win. In what I hope will be a continued trend, the tension in this race felt even higher than last week’s. While there are no guarantees in Luck, I was fairly confident Gettin’ Up would win his race because of all the "chosen one" rhetoric that surrounds the colt. I felt no such assurances with Pint of Plain, particularly after he was injured.
Hands clasped over my mouth, I watched and waited for his leg to give out or snap, for the horse to fall and the jockey to crumble as we had witnessed in the first episode. That he went on to win the race despite the injury and the jockey’s "double handful" makes Pint of Plain quite the adversary for Gettin’ Up Morning.
As I noted last week, the races usually take place in the middle of the episode, triggering the falling action to begin, more threads to start unraveling, and Ace and Gus to take off their shoes and get comfy for their bedtime discussion. This week, it didn’t happen that way. Directed by TV veteran Brian Kirk (Game of Thrones, Dexter, etc.), the episode saw the passing of one and a half days rather than Milch’s usual span of 24 hours in one episode. Instead of a race marking the halfway point, we had Ace and Gus' nightly conversation. This was partly necessary for the storyline – Ace had to wait till the next morning to discover if his horse would run its first race at the track – but I think there was another intention in the decision to stray from Milch’s carefully metered timeline.
This week’s episode was the halfway point and transition into the remaining four episodes. The show reflects that by leading us into the second day which represents the second half of the season. All the previous episodes of Luck have passed into night and desperation after the halfway mark, so if we apply that to the whole season, then we’re headed into darkness from from here on out. This week, with all the relationship-building and notable lack of gambling or vice, is the calm before the storm. Brace yourselves. We can expect that Milch will do his worst.
- What do you think the significance is of Ace’s lucky number, 367?
- I like that the gamblers stuck with the title of "Four A Stables" but translated it into "Foray Stables". Quite the comment on their venture, and one I’m surprised the Degenerates were smart enough to make.
- Walter and Rosie were absent this week, but not conspicuously so. We’re well acquainted with them and what makes them tick. It was nice to give the screen time over to others, including Kagel and Joey. We learned a little bit more about the agent as he placed call after call to his ex-wife and wallowed in self-pity and heartbreak at various bars.
- I love that Ace catches Escalante in his betting scheme. Takes one to know one.
- The look on Claire’s face when Pint was injured was wonderfully nuanced, as if she was mourning for the horse and judging the horseracing industry and Ace for participating in it all at once.
- Did anyone else catch the many reflection shots in this episode? Ace was reflected in the glassy surface of a table, Marcus and Jerry in the motel mirror, and Joey in the bar mirror. What this means for sure, I don’t know, but I have my theories. Show me yours (in the comments), and I’ll show you mine!