Luck Review: Fatal Syntax

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As Luck’s first season unfurls, it’s clear what an incredibly balanced show it is. As I mentioned last week, Milch imbues the narrative with incredible intentionality. Unlike some programs that waiver in their first time out of the gates, unable to find their footing and steer a clear path, Luck has forged ahead with barely a misstep. Peppered with hardship, adversity, and regret, Luck assumes the mantle of life well. But it also makes sure to offer small moments of hope and humanity to balance its world and leave the viewer with a sense of lingering nostalgia and the promise of things yet to come.

At the Luck Track

That sense of promise is clear this week for some of the players (not so much for poor Mr. Israel) and definitely for the viewers. Since he was first introduced, Mike has been the villain of this tale - that is if Luck can have characters so one dimensional as to fit the bill of "villain". Sadly, I think it can and does. Somehow the gang of baddies that is DiRossi, Cohen, and Mike (do we even know his last name?) have missed out on the careful development that has been applied to everyone else. Consequently, they’ve taken on hues of the well-financed thugs stereotype; an evil leader and his two henchman out to take down our hero - that is if Luck can have characters so one dimensional as to fit the bill of "hero". Fortunately, there are no heroes here, just shades of moral gray. 

But if we had to love to hate someone, Michael Gambon is a great guy for it. I don’t know if it’s because I relish Dumbledore swearing like a sailor or if Mike is just so wonderfully detestable, but I love every scene he’s in. He’s also the only character that’s made good on his fearsome reputation. We’ve heard a lot about the awesome temper of Ace Bernstein, but we’ve never seen it. Mike, on the other hand, puts his rage on full display this week when he clocks Nathan on the head with an ashtray, knocking him out and possibly killing him. Luck is strikingly devoid of violence (for an HBO offering, at least), which makes its moments of aggression more visceral and true to life - quick, chaotic, brutal, and often with fatal consequences. 

Fittingly, it was Nathan’s words that did him in. Milch’s signature style of dialogue is celebrated and maligned, so I can’t help but wonder if this was Milch poking fun at himself. What did Nathan’s say that set Mike off? Check out Luck's quotes page to find out.

Nathan’s last words aren’t Luck’s only self-reflexive jab this week. Lonnie, always the odd man out in the group of gamblers, decides to strike out on his own and claim another horse – Niagara’s Fall. After the mare’s stunning performance is cut short by an injury and she is forced to become a brood mare, Lonnie laments his choice; he should have known better than to pick a horse named Niagara’s Fall. For Lonnie, the name not only calls to mind a fall from grace of some kind, but more importantly a Three Stooges episode. Luck slyly acknowledges how much each horse is defined by its name and pokes fun at the Four Amigos, likening them to the “f**k ups” from the Three Stooges. I’m liking this new slightly self-aware Luck, which, like everything else in the show, sneaks up on you and slowly blooms into a full idea.

I feel spoiled to say that I take Luck’s gorgeous racing sequences for granted and simply expect them every week, but I still marvel at the sheer beauty of the Thoroughbreds lengthening to their full stride and tearing past the rails. That being said, watching the horses at Claire’s rehabilitation program gallop in herds across the open fields was ten times more beautiful. Claire and Pint of Plain continue to work their mellowing magic on Ace as they restore some humanity to the ex-con. Knowing that while Ace chuckles and trots around a paddock with a retired racehorse, Nathan is being beaten within inches of his life was a chilling contrast and another example of the balance Luck is always striking.

Ace isn’t the only one rediscovering some of their humanity this week. Misanthropic Escalante’s kindness to Eduardo, the young Latino boy basically abandoned at the track, is the first glimpse we’ve had of the trainer’s softer side in a while. It’s well timed, too, since Jo reveals later that night that she’s pregnant. 

Jo’s pregnancy was the last in a line of major developments this week that have big consequences to play out in the final two episodes. But I suspect this story is going to be far from finished when we reach the season finale. There's a long race to run, yet. 

Stray Observations

  • 10 to 1 odds that Jerry faces off with Leo at the poker world championships
  • Rosie and Ronnie are practically polar opposites of each other, and with all of Luck’s emphasis on what should be, it seems like Ronnie riding Gettin’ Up Morning will have disastrous consequences, again.
  • I love that everyone (the parole office, the track owner, Mike and co.) sees so easily through Ace’s plan. Then I wonder, is that part of the plan?

107 Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (10 Votes)
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Luck Season 1 Episode 7 Quotes

Mike: A map of Ireland on your mug and a name hanging off you like Israel.
Nathan: My mother's maiden name was O'Hanlon.
Mike: One mystery put to rest while another only deepens.
Nathan: What mystery deepens?
Mike: The strength of your grip on the tiller, young Israel, the depth of your composure while navigating these difficult waters.
Nathan: I'm taking my melatonin. I think much more than you realize Mr. Bernstein's purposes coincide with yours. Lowers the double agent stress.
Mike: I've known Chester Bernstein son, since before you bleeding journey from your irish mother's womb. Without wanting to give offense, your being privy to his intentions is not a likely premise.

Nathan: Answers a question with a question.
Mike: 100% solidarity with Ace. Syntax is how I know. Syntax!