Luck, Ep. 1.08: “Episode Eight” brings cinematic flair to the show’s penultimate hour

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Luck, Season 1, Episode 8
Written by John R. Perrotta and Jay Hovdey
Directed by Allen Coulter
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO

This week, Mike had Nathan Israel cut up into little pieces, wrapped in plastic, and thrown overboard, never to be seen again. A similar fate befell Luck itself in the same week. After a third horse died on set – though apparently not while filming was taking place – HBO and the show’s producers agreed to halt production on the already-ordered Season 2, on which they already wrapped two episodes. (I’ve seen some people claim HBO will air these episodes; I have my doubts, and think they’d probably be better suited to getting tacked onto a DVD set of the first, and now only, season.)

So, very suddenly, the end of Luck as a whole is very near. Mo Ryan already hit most of the points I’d want to argue about the cancellation and the many tragic ironies inherent therein, but here’s another: did some combination of Milch and HBO not anticipate that equine death was extremely likely, given the length of the shoots and the number of horse races written into the series? (There’s a statistic going around that of 2,000 recent film and TV productions involving horses, only 1 – 3:10 to Yuma – featured a casualty. This is a very nearly meaningless stat, as I’m willing to bet none of those shoots can match Luck for length and the prominence of horses.) Chances are, at least someone had an inkling, and probably the show would have a fighting chance if anyone watched it. But as it stands now, HBO has no reason to defend a show this expensive, obscure, and controversial.

So, for the third time in a row, a David Milch show ends in a less-than-ideal fashion. Here’s hoping that he and his team can regroup and try again with something a little less risky. As long as Milch can avoid killing Michael Mann.

So, in what has quite suddenly turned out to be the next-to-last episode of Luck, things are centered very squarely on Ace, Gus, and Mike, and their criminal misadventures. This should be a problem, as the criminal-underworld side of Luck has consistently proven to be the least interesting, but “Episode Eight” still mostly works, thanks to a serious injection of atmosphere and unpredictability. Gus requests a space in the stables to talk to Mike’s associate DiRossi “alone.” and we feel we can safely assume he’s at least in for a beating. Nope: Gues mostly just stares him down as he mouths off, pinpricks in the wall just barely lighting the scene. The sequence, which is intercut throughout the episode, is a reminder that we’re losing not only one of the most unusual shows around, but quite possibly the most cinematic.

It should be said, though, that Nick Nolte absolutely steals the show this week, not once but twice. Walter Smith gets a few opportunities for righteous indignation this week, and it’s a good look for the actor, who can deliver a fiery missive like nobody’s business. In both scenes, he’s facing off against “horsekiller” Bowman (Adam John Harrington); he’s a bit of a two-dimensionally detestable villain, but that’s a concern easily overlooked when that quality brings out a scene as awesome as the Old Man’s physical and verbal takedown of said creep near the end of the episode. It might get him in hot water later, but boy, was that satisfying to witness.

Sadly, we don’t get to spend much time with the Foray Stables bunch (though their instant dislike of Naomi, Jerry’s card-slinging girlfriend, is another nice note), but we do get a little more of Escalante, who’s more human every week; this week, after Jo gets a hoof to the midsection, which sends her and their unborn kid to the hospital, he’s positively gentlemanly. The gradual softening of Escalante hasn’t been the most dynamic aspect of the season, but it’s been played to the hilt by John Ortiz, who’s equally believable when confounding onlookers with a trumped-up brogue, insulting the Foray bunch, and watching over little Eduardo with fatherly concern. (Speaking of which, did they just sort of…adopt that kid? It certainly looks that way.)

Whatever the fate of the completed S2 episodes, it’ll be sad to say goodbye so early to a show with such unique charms.

Simon Howell

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