"Luck" Recap: Santa Anita's Earthquake Has More Than A Physical Impact

"Luck" Recap: Santa Anita's Earthquake Has More Than A Physical Impact

Earlier this season, we predicted Renzo (Richie Coster) would die. He was entirely too sweet, lovable, and easy to root for, like the young G.I. in an old war movie who keeps talking about his newlywed wife back home and is thus marked for death. But Renzo's safe now, though. Luck doesn't seem like the type of show that randomly kills off characters for dramatic effect, unless those characters are four-legged. So Renzo's horse, Mon Gateau, is in trouble. If David Milch wants to personally shred every single one of our hearts, he'll send either Mon Gateau or Gettin' Up Morning to the glue factory.

“This horse maybe got broke down legs but he runs with a good horse’s heart.”

Mon Gateau unites the track's lower class, tying together the fortunes of the four gamblers who own him, the rookie jockey who rides him, the two-bit trainer who owns a minority stake, and even the woman in the wheelchair who's always at the track and has slowly developed into a love interest for Marcus (Kevin Dunn). Mon Gateau rides for the downtrodden and down-to-earth, those who struggle everyday, warm Santa Anita's bleachers, and keep the cash flowing at the betting window. A win for Mon Gateau is a win for the common man.

For a brief moment, Mon Gateau's next race is in question, due to an earthquake. The veterinarian Jo (Jill Hennessey) and trainer Escalante (John Ortiz) are having a lovers' squabble at the track when a flock of birds freaks out; little does Escalante know that Jo is pregnant with his baby. Horses rear up in panic. The old trainer Walter Smith (Nick Nolte) knows what's happening, running to his stable to make sure Gettin' Up Morning is okay. It's not entirely clear that it's a quake until we see Renzo and company at the diner, their glasses trembling on the table and the whole building shaking back and forth as Lonnie (Ian Hart) idiotically jumps on top of his booth to warn the entire restaurant.

At the track, Escalante deals with numerous phone calls, letting owners know their horses are alright. Renzo and Lonnie think Mon Gateau should scratch his upcoming race, but Jerry and Marcus talk them out of it. Mon Gateau will run, and once again he'll win.

It's not an easy victory, though. Under the young jockey Leon (Tom Payne), Mon Gateau accidentally bumps another horse. There's an inquiry on the race, which affords us another look into an arcane part of horse racing. Both jockeys explain what happened to a three-man panel of stewards who then decide if any punitive action is necessary. Mon Gateau lucks out this time and the decision stands. His ragtag crew of owners and well-wishers gather for the winner's photo, and then retire to the bar for a long night of celebratory drinking.

“You just missed the second coming of Man o’War.”

We get two races this week, both highlighting Luck's more emotionally powerful story-lines. Gettin' Up Morning, the Kentucky quality thoroughbred that represents redemption for Walter Smith, adds to its burgeoning legend with another fantastic race, setting a track record. Smith can't properly enjoy it, though, due to a worrisome letter he received earlier in the day.

We know that Morning's sire, Delphi, was a top horse who was killed for the insurance money by its owner's heirs. Those same heirs are now suing Smith for a $145,000 stud fee, even though the owner waived it as an award for Smith's loyalty. Obviously Smith doesn't have that kind of money, and will most likely lose Morning if he can't figure out a solution. Imagining this beautiful animal in the hands of the savages who killed his father is too much for either Smith or the audience to bear, especially when the heir shows up and he's a slick, suited yuppie type straight out of an 80s movie. We almost expected him to cackle about a plot to buy Walter's stable and turn it into a parking lot.

Smith's storyline already comes the closest to tearjerker territory, with his life and well-being inextricably tied in to the health of his horse. This new direction complicates the simplicity of that set-up, and hopefully not for the worse.

“Are you shitfaced, Joey? It’s 8 o’clock in the morning.”

The earthquake is an obvious omen of impending ill fortune for some characters, especially Walter Smith, but it's a godsend for depressed jockey agent Joey Rathburn (Richard Kind). After futilely leaving messages for his ex-wife in the last episode, Joey finally gets through to her on the phone. They have a short, strained conversation, where he stammers his way through a pathetic plea to spend time together before she promptly hangs up. Joey then dramatically looks over to the handgun on his nightstand in an uncharacteristically unsubtle development.

Joey's about to pull the trigger when the quake hits. In the seconds before, he moves the gun from his mouth to his temple. Before he can squeeze off a round, his building starts to rattle. His bathroom mirror shatters, dividing his face with a jagged line. He drops the gun to his side but accidentally fires. He follows the bullet's trajectory in slow motion as it ricochets around the bathroom and slices through his right cheek.

Startled but alive, Joey sees the earthquake as a sign of good fortune: It saved his life. As he's talking to the doctor at the hospital he realizes he's lost his stammer. He can read the label of his Tommy Bahama shirt perfectly, with no pauses. Later on, after Mon Gateau's victory, Joey strides proudly into the bar. He addresses the entire room, showing off his newfound confidence and stammer-free voice. And he especially flaunts it to his former friend Ronnie (Gary Stevens), the bitter jockey who spends his days getting drunk and high while recuperating from a bad fall.

The next day at the track, Ronnie approaches Joey, ostensibly as a friend. He asks what happened. Joey's stammer returns as he tells Ronnie he thought about harming himself. And then Ronnie turns back into an asshole, mocking Joey's stammer once more and ignoring his former friend's attempted suicide.

“When you think about what you’re gonna do, how does it make you feel?”

And then there's Ace (Dustin Hoffman). This was an eventful episode for Luck's favorite gangster. His go-between Israel (Patrick J. Adams) has his first meeting with the gangsters and former business partners Ace is angling to screw over. Israel meets Mike (Michael Gambon), DiRossi (Alan Rosenberg), and Cohen (Ted Levine) on Mike's yacht to go over the whole complicated ordeal. He leads them to believe that the Indian gaming lobby, vital to convincing Sacramento to allow casino gambling at the track, is in Ace's pocket. The three offer Israel a paycheck to work as a double agent and try to maneuver the lobby over to them, cutting Ace out.

That might've been a part of Ace's plan all along. Either way Israel immediately tells Ace about the offer. It's good news for Ace, because Israel can now get in closer with Mike and report back whatever he learns direct to Ace. Meanwhile, Ace has a productive meeting with the majority owner of Santa Anita, who correctly guesses Ace's plan. If he wasn't dying of cancer, he'd fight Ace all the way, but as is he doesn't care.

Ace's love life is also looking up. The episode ends with him taking Claire Lechea (Joan Allen), who's barely been given anything to do so far, out to dinner. They chat about horses and how they can profoundly change people, vocalizing one of the show's obvious themes. Claire tells Ace not to be afraid of "everything that can be."

That advice sticks to Ace. It keeps him awake that night, as he sits in his chair wondering what could be. His horse could become a legend. The grandson he went to jail to protect could finally return home. Or he could endanger everything by trying to get revenge on the gangsters who screwed him over. What will it be? We'll find out over Luck's final three episodes.

Follow ComplexPopCult

Tags: hbo, luck, dustin-hoffman, nick-nolte, horse-racing, dennis-farina, john-ortiz, michael-mann, david-milch
blog comments powered by Disqus