TV Diary | Luck: “Episode 2”
TV Diary | Luck – Episode 1.02 – “Episode 2” – Original Airdate: 2/5/12
Episode Grade: B+
I’m relatively certain of two things when it comes to Luck. First, this is exceptional, artisanal-level television. Secondly, I have no earthly idea what’s going on most of the time. David Milch’s shows are known for their sphinx-like dialogue and Luck is no different. The language of the show is often inscrutable and, when you combine the difficult dialogue with a world in which most of the audience likely has little to no knowledge of in horse racing, it’s probably why Luck has had a difficult time in the ratings. They’re low even for an HBO series  but since HBO renewed the show for a second season the day after its first episode we don’t have to worry about it going away anytime soon, which is nice because it’s becoming crystal clear that the learning curve on Luck is going to be steep even as it’s a thrill to watch. From what I can decipher, it appears that there are three main threads – for lack of a better way of putting things – running through Luck at this point so let’s examine “Episode 2” from that standpoint. There was definitely more forward movement with Ace’s storyline in “Episode 2” and Dustin Hoffman was in what seemed like at least twice as many scenes. We got some backstory on why Ace was in jail in the first place  and it looks like whatever play Ace is trying to pull with DeRossi (Alan Rosenberg) and the newly-introduced Cohen (Ted Levine, Silence Of The Lambs)  – and from as best that I can tell he’s pitching trying to introduce casino and table games to the track while taking advantage of the track’s gambling allowances for legality reasons – could be a type of make-good for Ace taking the fall in the drug bust as DeRossi and Cohen are involved with the former associate, who I believe Ace referred to as Michael. We also get the first meeting between Ace and Escalante and I’d be surprised if this doesn’t end up as the major conflict of the first season. There’s no exact reason that I can point to but I just get that sense watching the two play off of each other when taking into consideration each man’s standing in their respective worlds. The first two episodes have shown that, although Escalante is more than capable of putting on a welcoming face when it suits his needs, there are many at the track who seem to be terrified of the man, just as Ace is alternately feared and respected in his own orbit. It would then stand to reason that these two large-egoed men, when put into close proximity with one another, would butt heads. I have to believe that’s coming, and coming soon. Thread number two would be Marcus, Jerry, and their merry band of gamblers, here shown in the wake of their pick-six win in the pilot. Judging from what we see with Jerry, Renzo, and Lonnie, they have indeed cashed in their ticket and the three men are enjoying their newfound winnings in various ways, all to the consternation of ringleader Marcus . It’s not like, two episodes into Luck’s run, we really know a whole lot about these characters just yet but the way they find pleasure in their spoils reveal a lot about each of them. As The AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff points out in his review of “Episode 2,” Jerry takes his winnings and throws them right down the drain in service of his poker habit – seen here losing to a cocky Asian man on more than one occasion – while Renzo attempts to take his own money and re-invest it in a horse for he, Jerry, and Marcus to own as a team. Stark difference between the two men there. And Lonnie… I’m still trying to make heads or tails of what happened to Lonnie. Something about an insurance policy and hookers  who tried to kill him to collect on the insurance? No clue, really. The uniting thread here is that Marcus is being paranoid and is pissed at all three for flaunting their winnings, presumably due to IRS issues. I liked the forward movement in Ace’s story but the quartet of gamblers are holding the most interest for me through two episodes. The final orbit – and probably most difficult to decipher – is Nick Nolte’s Walter Smith preparing the colt of a former champion that he trained for competition. Nolte seems to be the delivery system for some of Milch’s most difficult monologues so far and the only thing I could really make out in “Episode 2” is that he seems to be pushing Joey to find representation for Rosie despite his telling her that she won’t be riding the colt. In all, “Episode 2” began the process of moving the season’s narrative forward even as it remained as enigmatic as ever.
 In averaging around a half-million per episode, that would make Luck one of HBO’s lower rated shows. For reference, its biggest hit – True Blood – usually averages a tick above five million viewers an episode.
 He took the fall in a drug bust for an associate. As he lays it out to Gus, a former partner of his stashed some dope in a condo that he and Ace shared and Ace’s grandson was ultimately arrested for possession of the drugs. Ace took the blame in part to save his grandson but when asked by Gus why he didn’t just roll on the associate, Ace tells him that he’s never ratted in his life.
 Which was yet another bit of great casting. Levine is an excellent, excellent character actor who fits this show perfectly.
 Who, truth be told, is developing into my favorite character in the series and can – two episodes in – be best described as Luck’s Sipowicz or Swearengen.
 One of whom was none other than Dawson Leery’s mom.
*Milch has long structured his series so that each episode is one day in the life of its characters and that hasn’t changed with Luck. This was also the second episode to end with a conversation between Ace and Gus in Ace’s hotel room so it looks like this could very well develop into a running theme.
*There’s a definite child-like, simple quality to Dennis Farina’s Gus. From pointing out random observations at the track – “Hey, Ace… there’s that goat. The one with the nuts the size of pumpkins.” – to the knowing look that Hoffman shoots Farina as he’s rooting on the horse in the race that’s almost like a parent watching a child, the way that the Gus character is being portrayed and drawn is very interesting.
*Didn’t the pilot establish that Ace couldn’t be seen around the track because of his criminal record? Or am I wrong?
*Having a worker vacuuming in the background during the daytime at the casino that Jerry frequents was a nice touch that adds to the pathetic nature of his addiction.
*I loved the editing of the horse race starting against the beginning of Jerry’s poker game. Very smart choice.
*I also saw Dawson’s mom’s boobs. So, there’s that.
*As I’m probably one of the ten people who watched Michael Mann’s Robbery Homicide Division back in 2003 on CBS, I liked seeing Barry Shabaka Henley turn up as Ace’s parole officer. Henley also played Castillo in Mann’s big-screen Miami Vice adaptation in 2006 and worked on NYPD Blue for a few episodes so he’s well versed in both Mann and Milch.
*”My mental adroitness is dulled by this constant negativity.” If that isn’t the perfect example of Milch dialogue, I don’t know what is.
*”Why don’t you show me how you take a raspberry douche?” Seriously. What the hell does that even mean?
*”I have difficulty if someone’s looking.” “What did you do inside?” “People made adjustments.”
*”Looking half dead.” “Jeez… I feel like a million bucks.”
*”Keep it up. I’ll slap the slant off your fucking face.”
*”Won money. Head up ass. As good as flashing it up on a Snoopy blimp.”
*”The hook is sunk.”
*”I need a vacation. I understood nearly everything you just said.”
*”You’re gonna end up broke and alone whether you know it or not.”
*”And I thought you liked your cock between our titties.”
*”You know, for a guy who won’t you don’t look none too happy.”
*”You know what breaking legs sounds like? Branches snapping.”
*”Don’t ever knock this fucking country to me!”