Luck Review: Upping The Ante

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Stanley Kubrick once said that just because a movie seems real doesn’t necessarily make it interesting.

If you’ve stuck with Luck so far, you know it doesn't take place in a real world. David Milch’s stylized fingerprints are on every dusty, grimy surface. Everyone speaks his language of backward sentences and monologues that intimate deeper meanings beneath all their hot air. Horses are revered by both character and camera, and each scene is tinged with beauty and desperation.

If you’re still watching, it also means that you probably find this carefully arranged world interesting. Appreciating Milch’s aesthetic is all but a prerequisite to engaging with his television, and sometimes enjoying Luck for how the story is told rather than what the story is saying is all we have.

Eyes on the Track

As the series progresses, it’s becoming easier to fall into Luck’s rhythm. Still, there are parts of each episode where you might have to just sit back and enjoy the view. The details and importance of what was discussed in Ace’s conversation with Nathan – municipal derivatives, junk derivatives, energizing capital – remain a mystery to me. Relishing in the twisted dialogue and rapid-fire delivery, as well as trust that Milch will not leave viewers completely in the dark, salvaged the scene, though.

As it turns out, the moment between Nathan and Ace is an important one, although I don’t think the details of it matter much. Nathan is now part of Ace’s larger scheme for revenge and will act as the “go-between” for Ace’s business with Mike. We also glean a few more hints at the story behind Ace’s imprisonment.

Take a look at the quotes page for the full dialogue.

Piecing together conversations from the first two episodes, I’m guessing that the other trial Ace was expected to testify in had something to do with Mike. By not testifying, he protected his former business partners. It’s a good sign that, by the third episode, some pieces are falling into place, and that those pieces hint at a bigger story still to come.

While Ace’s revenge plot gives Luck its most solid sense of forward momentum and intention, the gang of gamblers lends the show a sense of heart. Bumbling and pathetic, they’ve been graced with the show’s titular quality, but what will they do with it? Will they be able to pull themselves together and actually make something of their lives with their new fortune, or will they squander it, well meaning or not, on racehorses and poker tables?

Despite being the most competent, Jerry is most at risk of this latter fate. Marcus, on the other hand, is too afraid of life to really live it. That’s why he agonizes over Jerry’s every move with Mon Gateau and keeps his winnings in the laundry bag tied to his wheelchair. Renzo, with his childlike nature, is the most endearing of the gamblers. He’s concerned about keeping his friends together and even suggests the “Four Amigos” for their stable name, although I think Goose’s suggestion of the “Four Horsemen” is more apt. There’s always a feeling of impending disaster surrounding these men. This week, the railbirds managed to keep it together and successfully purchased Mon Gateau, the horse that clinched their Pick 6 win.

Fear and awe mix when the men first meet the racehorse. Keep your hands open, Escalante instructs them, as they’re each handed a carrot. Slowly, they hold out their hands, offering the treat up to Mon Gateau as if in prayer, thanking the mare for their newfound fortune. The camera stays close on the horse’s muzzle, as if to say: don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and then pans up to her soft, liquid brown eye which stares innocently back at the men.

Now that the gamblers own Mon Gateau, every major character has a stake in a racehorse. That all of these horses will face off on the rack is delightfully undeniable. Letting Milch’s deft intertwining of plots slowly dawn on you is part of the fun of Luck, and once you recognize the careful setup that has gone into each episode, everything that has happened and will happen feels inevitable.

I haven’t really mentioned the agent, Joey Rathburn, because he’s felt superfluous to the plot so far. Regrettably, this episode is no exception. Joey spends all his time in hospitals looking after his jockeys; Ronnie fell off Gettin’ Up Morning and broke his collar bone, and Leon fainted in the steam room trying to sweat off some weight. Joey does manage one quick scene in a bar with Walter, but that’s only to negotiate who should ride Gettin’ Up Morning now that Ronnie is injured. Clearly, a jockey’s agent was needed to maintain the ecosystem of the racetrack, but hopefully Joey will become more than just necessary shoe-leather in the coming weeks.

The upshot of Walter and Joey’s conversation is that a temporary jockey will sub for Ronnie while he heals. Walter immediately thinks of Rosie, who has since left California and moved to a less competitive racetrack. Nolte offers up his best gargling gravel monologue yet as he ponders about what he should say to her agent when he calls. His affection for Rosie is touching, and I’m hopeful for her return. Luck is little heavy on the testosterone, and Kerry Condon’s Rosie brings some optimism to the show that feels distinctly absent without her.

Stray Observations

  • In the pilot, Ace mentions that he should get a girlfriend. The entrance of Claire Lachey (Joan Allen) as a representative from Thoroughbred Retirement is well timed, although I doubt she’ll be a willing participant in his life of shadows.
  • The reveal of Escalante and Jo (Jill Hennessey) as a couple wasn’t entirely surprising, but I have a hard time buying that anyone could like Escalante. 
  • Goose’s forced interjection that Mon Gateau means “My Cake” in French was a rare example of when even Milch’s distinctive style of dialogue can’t hide a metaphor. Can the gamblers have their cake and eat it, too?

103 Review

Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (12 Votes)
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Luck Season 1 Episode 3 Quotes

Ace: He's here based on what?
Head of Board: You want me to get rid of him?
Ace: Don't answer a question with a question.
Head of Board: He's exceptional with muni derivatives.
Ace: Send him up to my place.

He work like what you paid for him. Tell whoever you want. And, uh, for what just happened here, say he showed he got a good mind.

Escalante [to Gus]