Luck, Season 1, Episode 6
Written by Robin Shushan
Directed by Henry Bronchtein
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, an act of God ripped straight from the Old Testament seems to tear uncannily from the sky and set right the paths of a dozen or so misdirected souls, defying the film’s relatively conventional (up to that point) sense of realism. In a similar way, “Episode Six” toys with the way Luck handles the notion of realism, and expands the show’s construction of reality. And by that I mean, let’s talk about Joey, played with usual grace by Richard Kind.
In what’s easily the most audacious sequence Luck has come up with so far, Joey’s probably-about-to-be-attempted suicide is thwarted when an earthquake hits – the gun goes off accidentally, and the bullet goes astray, ricocheting a few times before ultimately slicing through his cheek, leaving him otherwise undamaged. A lesser show would find Joey getting his act together and finding new focus after that bizarre incident, having been given a “new lease on life” or some such nonsense. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be the way they’re going with it; if anything, Joey appears to be potentially even more emotionally unstable than he was before.
Other than that remarkable plot strand, “Episode Six” isn’t quite on par with the last couple of installments. We get two horse races this week, and though they’re as gorgeously filmed as ever, the design of the races is beginning to feel schematic, with each new race demonstrating one new element to the game: in the first, Mon Gateau and Rosie win, but it feels like a loss, since Rosie’s use of her whip angers Old Man Smith and draws too much attention for his liking; in the second, Joey and Gettin’ Up Morning win one too, but there’s an initial threat of disqualification thanks to some risky physical contact on the track. The effort to keep the races varied and unpredictable is appreciated, but the approach feels, if anything, a little too studied.
Elsewhere, the Ace/Mike plot still remains the series’ Achilles heel, in that it provides for the biggest clunkers in terms of dialogue and performance. In particular, the scenes featuring Michael Gambon and his associated blankly plotting are negligible at best. On the other hand, Ace’s date with Clare is one of the episode’s best moments; in general, Hoffman is one of the better wranglers of Milchian dialogue, not to mention being thoroughly convincing when he calls a horse a “patient, well-mannered gentleman” in all sincerity. And of course, the Four Horseman continue to be a treat. (Exchange of the episode: “You vote against your own proposition?’; “Trying to keep an open mind.”) Somewhere in the middle of satisfying and awkward, there’s Jill Hennessy’s vet Jo, and her nearly-tearful exchange with the callous Escalante, who doesn’t know she’s pregnant. (Or, as she puts it in a strange aside, “I’m knocked up, you stupid bastard.”) The explanatory confession wasn’t really necessary; it might have been more effective to allow some ambiguity surround her upset demeanor for an episode and then have them face the issue directly next week rather than rely on that eccentric bit of writing.
I’m not sure what the show needs at this point is another antagonist, also, but it seems we’re going to get one in the form of Gettin’ Up Morning’s owner, who addresses the Old Man by his first name, Walter – the first time anyone has. Conflict between trainer and owner is a fertile ground for conflict, especially in the case of Old Man Smith, but here’s hoping it doesn’t just compound the show’s few but considerable flaws.