Luck, Ep. 1.07: “Episode Seven” equal parts brutal, sweet, and quotable

Luck, Season 1, Episode 7
Written by Amanda Ferguson
Directed by Brian Kirk
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO

“Syntax!” In David Milch-land, words and language are king. They have power, but that power can be tragically misapplied. That’s a lesson poor Nathan Israel learns too late in “Episode Seven”‘s most memorable sequence, in which we get our first (human) casualty when Israel parrots one of Ace’s most oft-repeated observations (“answers a question with a question!”), thereby confirming Mike’s suspicion that Israel has not been performing his double-agent duties in good faith.

Last week I pronounced Joey as being just as messed-up as he was before his Magnolia-esque incident with a stray bullet. That prognosis is somewhat confirmed this week as it’s clear that his stutter remains, though it’s more pronounced around some characters than others. Joey, who this week seems to pick up Rosie as a client, is only one of several characters this week who starts the episode on the precipice of change and then takes the plunge, with unexpected results: Lonnie announces plans to go after a second horse, Niagra’s Fall; Ronnie gets with AA and gets his jockeying career seemingly back on track; Jerry heads back into gambling, this time accompanied by Naomi (Weronika Rosati), the dealer from a couple of episodes back. For some, the outcomes aren’t positive – Ronnie falls quickly off the wagon (presumably to make weight), Jerry falls into an affair that seems likely to exacerbate his predilection for high-stakes gambling – but it’s not all doom and gloom. Things are at least looking up for Joey, if not his client just yet; Rosie ends the episode as a horseless rider trying the air-freshen cigarette smoke out of her clothes.

For all the more dramatically heavy material getting thrown around this week, the news that Niagra’s Fall would take on a new life as a brood mare rather than being put out of her misery was a nice little development, especially as it plays into the show’s tendency to have its lowlifes be total piles of mush just beneath the surface. It’s already easy to picture Lonnie anxiously waiting over a newborn.

Speaking of newborns and the show’s softie streak, we finally get to see Escalante’s non-asshole streak for extended periods this week, and it’s a credit to John Ortiz that the character doesn’t seem schizophrenic, just incredibly paranoid and confrontational when it comes to matters of business. He even manages to take the news of his forthcoming child rather well.

Unfortunately, though, with only two episodes left in the season, I’m ready to call the criminal half of the Ace narrative a bit of a flop. While the killing of Nathan is a well-staged and memorably written sequence, the manoevering between Ace and Mike hasn’t been nearly as interesting as any of the seemingly mundane details of life on the tracks or in the stables, nor has it been especially well-integrated. In a way, it recalls the Titus Welliver/Sarah Paulson plot thread from Deadwood‘s second season – a lot of movement, not much payoff of note (so far). Barring some major heavy lifting in the final two hours, it’s basically a thin excuse to watch Gambon devour scenery for a few minutes an episode at this point. (There are lesser pleasures than that, but still.)

Yet the other side of the Ace coin, his budding kinda-romance with Claire, is still sweet and beguiling, and their scenes together at the ex-con rehabilitation center he’s now sponsoring strengthen the show’s sense of the horses as having a gravitational pull of their own amidst the competing human interests on display.

While it’s not quite on the level of the fourth and fifth installments (the high-water mark of the show so far), “Seven” feels more solidly constructed than last week’s, maybe because the dialogue feels stronger from a writing and performance standpoint. (Nice of them to give Jason Gedrick the episode’s best line, and easily the best come-on in recent memory: “Having learned so little, I can offer to teach you everything I know.”) The following weeks promise showdowns between the horses we’ve been following all season; it should be interesting to see what happens to our competing sympathies when the gates fly open.

Simon Howell

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