I know some folks have been complaining about how slow the main plots have been unfolding in the first season Luck. I could use the argument that we’re only three episodes in but the fact that the entire season consists of only nine episodes — which means we’re one-third deep into this fascinating look at a California race track — will get a couple of viewers here and there a little bit antsy as to what we’re watching all means.
To them, I say — to use a term Teddy Roosevelt was fond of — “bully”. And I use that term because it is what I think creator David Milch would use when trying not to curse. (It does seem kind of manly, in 1910’s terms.) What Luck is giving us a sprawling look at the winners and loser we may or may not take for granted everyday. Like the thesis that I presented last week, it is about attaining a goal.
The so-called “Four Amigos” get a small victory in “Episode Three” when they finally buy the horse they were vying for in the previous episode. That happens despite Lonnie (Ian Hart) freshly fractured skull and Jerry (Jason Gedrick) continued descent into gambling overload. (Though it continues to be awesome to see Big Trouble in Little China‘s Dennis Dun as Jerry’s blackjack arch-nemesis.) The group even gets the best scene in the series so far: after they get Escalante (John Ortiz) to agree to house and train their horse, Renzo (Ritchie Coster) asks the unimpressed trainer if they could pet their prize. The joy that Renzo and the others feel at this minor accomplishment (which is actually a very major one to these “losers”) is an infectious and awesome sight. Again, it’s about achieving the little victories.
(We also get a little insight into Escalante in “Episode Three”. He’s a cold, unfazed dick but a dick who is bedding Jill Hennessy’s vet.)
In the meantime, Ace (Dustin Hoffman) continues his Machiavellian return to the racetrack and quest for revenge by achieving a small victory of his own: buying a young company board member (Patrick J. Adams, Suits) to play for his team. There isn’t much drama in this plot but it is a great showcase of Ace’s power and ways withe words (and money). Hoffman continues to be amazingly understated in his role — and he hasn’t been this good since 1997’s Wag The Dog. Plus the prospects of playing opposite of Joan Allen (who is only in once scene in this episode) is enticing on its own. I for one can not wait.
Not everyone is winning in “Episode Three”, especially if they were jockeys. Leon (Tom Payne) tries to shrink to “ideal” weight but faints and cracks his head in the process (what’s up with head’s in Luck?) while Ronnie (Gary L. Stevens) falls off his horse during a race and cracks his collar bone (again). What’s revealed that Leon doesn’t eat and Ronnie is mired in an addiction to booze and pills. These are little, unexpected bumps in the road to success that one only sees in the acting and/or modeling world. For those of us who have no idea what jockeys go through in the racing world, they are “holy crap!” moments. Again, fascinating, detailed insight into something most of us have no clue about. And they’re also examples of the perils of striving for success.
No one embodies the after effects of those perils than Nick Notle’s Walter Smith. He continues to be the Milch’s conduit, reflecting his past joys and current dismays regarding the work he has been most passionate about. His monologues are rich in detail, filled with the heartbreak of failure and the triumphs of success. If an entire episode can be devoted to just Nolte reflecting on the deep, philosophical aspects of the past, I’ll be a very happy man. Actually, more than happy. I’d consider it a success.
See what I did there? It really is about the little things.