Film and TV

Luck 1.6: "Is This Your First Earthquake?"

Were the naysayers right?

Persistent complaints about David Milch's Luck (not counting the inaudible dialogue) have been of the "nothing happens" variety. Early episodes featured what felt like a lot of table setting, interspersed with the occasional well-shot horse horse race. Anticipation kept building for Ace's coup de grace against Mike, as well as some kind of ultimate showdown between Jerry (the poster boy for "downward spiral") and Leo.

So naturally, last night featured yet more gambits between Ace and Mike (and intermediary Nathan Israel), and Jerry continuing a streak of two straight episodes with no poker. And there was another race. So *some* things happened, but more and more Luck looks like it's perfectly happy moving at a deliberate pace. That's all fine and dandy, except half of the show's first six episodes have been up against, respectively, the Super Bowl, the Grammys and the Oscars. HBO's not going to win audiences with yet another scene of the Degenerates in that goddamn diner.

It's a tired Ace Bernstein that returns to the hotel after spending the night in the stable with Pint of Plain. And maybe it's fatigue that leads to confusion over a gift cake with the words "Wait to go, Greek." Nathan opines that it's an "icing error" and the cake should say "Way to go, Greek," congratulating Gus (Ace) on Pint of Plain's win. And so it would seem, until Nathan and Ace leave and Gus hilariously deadpans, "No icing error, this."

The gentlemen of Foray Stables would like to provide Turo and Jo with complimentary T-shirts for their fine work with Mon Gateau. The two are spared from uncomfortable interaction with Renzo when Jo rushes to the side of some women who apparently received a bad phone call and Turo uses the diversion to beat feet out of there.

Walter gets an unwelcome letter informing him the Colonel's son-in-law is challenging his ownership of Gettin'up Morning, claiming the Colonel wasn't in full command of his faculties when he gifted Walter the horse.

Ace meets his parole officer again, though this time at the PO's office. They bond over shared views on vengeance and Miles Davis. One thing you can be sure of with Milch, everything means something. Whether it's Ace's lucky number or a throwaway comment about jazz, all will come around again.

And there's an earthquake. About the only concrete result of the tremor is Joey *not* killing himself (his errant gunshot ricochets off the plumbing and creases his cheek). More's the pity. If anything, it gives him a new lease on life. At least temporarily.

DeRossi and Cohen and Mike meet with Nathan, who tells them Ace's plan, and Smythe offers to pay him to -- in essence -- flip on Ace. After he leaves, they make plans to win over the Indian gaming lobby (whom Nathan persuades them Ace has bought to convince the Legislature to allow gaming) from him. From Ace's reaction to Nathan's recap ("Feel sick? 'Cause you're an honest man. So far."), he's clearly put one over on his old partner.

Ace also meets Santa Anita's owner (Jürgen Prochnow). "A knock on the door is all you get." He gleans something more personal behind Ace's motives and the ex-con doesn't dissuade his line of thinking. "To business." Just like the mice in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Leon rides Mon Gateau to a victory. But there's an inquiry, since Leon bumped another jockey. I'd call this a tense moment, except so far none of the principle horses has lost a race (not counting the broken leg and Ronnie getting thrown). Sure enough, it's a false alarm. While celebrating at the bar, Joey shows up to rub Ronnie's face in it.

The next day is Gettin'up Morning's turn. She gets a clean start this time, and you know things are afoot when Dropkick Murphys start playing. Walter urges Rosie to "let the horse do his work" and is displeased that she puts the whip to him. The horse sets a track record and one official even comments, "You're looking at the next Man O' War." Whoops. Rosie apologizes to Walter, who tells her, "It's gonna get crazy now." Sure enough, the Colonel's son-in-law shows up asking how "his" horse is.

Ace and Claire have dinner, and far from being put off by his dismissing her the previous night to stay in the stable, she wishes he'd asked her to stay. Later, while talking with a sleepy Gus, we realize his ultimate play is bigger: "My horse could become a champion, my grandkid could come home, I could..." WAKE UP, GUS! Trouble in paradise, from the "icing error" that wasn't to his nodding off while Gus was talking.

If nothing else, the acting in Luck is reason to keep watching. From Nick Nolte's paternal relationship with Kerry Condon to the deteriorating one between Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Farina, the interplay between the "Four As" and Michael Gambon's scenery chewing, there's plenty here to keep watching. It might be unspooling at a slower pace than people like, but I think the payoff will be worth it.

This isn't The Killing, after all.

Next week: Ace meets the Indians. Jo has a bun in the oven.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar