“Today’s the day they take it all away from us.” – Marcus.
The racetrack can be a setting for a thousand tragedies, as the cast and crew of Luck themselves learned firsthand this month. Most of the drama’s characters – including the Degenerates, Ace Bernstein, Joey the jockey agent – have rebounded from episodes of misfortune to taste success. But can it last? Would executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann let them emerge from the first season unscathed?
For fans of HBO’s sterling horse racing drama, Luck, the urgency intensified this week, and sadly, it’s not only because Nathan Israel is sleeping with the fishes. As you no doubt already know, HBO stopped production of the show’s second season on Wednesday after a third horse had to be euthanized.
Last week, Ace Bernstein made what could have been perceived as a Freudian slip, telling his number two, Gus, that he was going to give his young financial whiz, Nathan Israel, his “marching papers.” Did he really mean marching papers, or did he mean marching orders, as he specified in a later scene? The ambitious Nathan had been plucked from obscurity to serve as Ace’s go-between with some unsavory characters for a multi-million dollar effort to buy the Santa Anita racetrack.
It took six episodes of Luck, but Ace Bernstein is letting us in. Sort of. Dustin Hoffman’s well-connected ex-con is still a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but he finally clued us in to what this is all about. Revenge. But the new question might be: Does he still have what it takes to go through with it?
Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of happy endings at the racetrack, and Luck, to its credit, has not flinched from reflecting the sport’s rough edges. But last night’s episode of Luck examined the softer sides of several of its most unapologetic wretches. Most of these oddballs and hard-cases are operating without a safety net of any kind and we’ve previously seen them at their desperate worst, warts and all.
For a cable TV show, Luck has plenty of big names – Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte for starters. But the real star of the series emerged only last night, and he walks on all fours. Gettin’up Morning, Walter Smith’s promising colt, went to the gate for the first time and when he got up to speed, the heavens practically opened. Degenerate gamblers, self-destructive addicts of all stripes, gruesome injuries, and corrupt souls – it all goes silent when a creature as beautiful as a thoroughbred does what it’s born to do. In this way, “Both Hands on the Wheel” was an epiphany.
When a premiere season loaded with David Milch-scripted detail is only nine episodes long, each show seems to take a few minutes to recalibrate after characters drop early hints that things have changed since we last encountered them. The premiere concluded with the Degenerates plotting the best strategy to claim their multimillion-dollar Pick-6 payday without drawing unwanted attention; last week’s followup simply started with the money already in their pockets.
The critics – many of whom have already seen the first several episodes of David Milch and Michael Mann’s racetrack collaboration – have decided Luck has the potential to be something special. But there’s some truth in the more popular criticism that last week’s series premiere asked a lot of its audience. Who are these losers? Why was Ace in jail and what’s his M.O. now that he’s out? What’s the secret haunting Nick Nolte’s trainer, Walter Smith? And what the heck is a triple-bug apprentice jockey?
Thoroughbred racing likes to call itself the Sport of Kings. And for many casual fans who tune in to watch the ponies on television two or three times a year, the track might still seem like a glamorous place, a showcase of beautiful women in ostentatious hats, gardens of gorgeous flowers, and the sheer athletic magnificence of powerful animals bred solely to run a mile and a half (or so) as fast as possible.
As a furniture maker, Philip Lawrence understood that the design of his work should be simple and beautiful, because life is often complicated and uncomfortable. When he suffers a fatal heart attack in his sleep at 46, the three women who share his house — his artist wife, Nora, their assistant, Sophie, and Nora’s model, Beth — learn just now knotty his life was. Despite being brash enough to answer the door in the nude, Philip had secrets, erotic and otherwise. So do the women, and Philip’s sudden departure uncovers them all as they struggle with buried emotions.
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