Luck, Season 1 , Episode 9
Written by Eric Roth
Directed by Mimi Leder
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO
“Today’s the day they take it all away from us.”
If you were looking for doomy portent to tie in with the fact that this is now in all likelihood the last episode of Luck (barring the surfacing of the completed second-season episode), there’s certainly no shortage in “Episode Nine.” Yet despite the appearance of lines like the one above (spoken by Marcus in advance of Mon Gateau’s triumph), not to mention the spectre of hitmen looming in the distance, the episode is surprisingly colorful and upbeat – that is, when it’s not dealing with the dead and dying.
“Episode Nine” works as a finale on a variety of levels, but maybe most convincingly because it sums up the show’s strengths and weaknesses handily, with a thankful emphasis on the former. To get the unfortunate aspects out of the way, even the great Michael Gambon conclusively cannot save the character of Mike, whose scheming throughout the episode trends dangerously towards the cartoonish. On other fronts, while I still like the Escalante / Jo relationship dynamic, the intercutting of her medical procedure with the final race was a little gauche.
Thankfully, a whole lot of “Episode Nine” sticks close to the show’s bread and butter – the racetrack. After some away time last week, the Foray Stables guys are front and center for most of the episode’s slightly extended runtime, graced with the additional presence of both Renzo’s mother and Marcus’s doctor. The boys’ shared eagerness to see Mon Gateau strut his stuff leads to one of the most striking extended sequences of the series: a few solid minutes of pure anticipation, with Renzo’s mom throwing in her two cents as often as possible, followed by one of the most breathless races we’ve seen, as well as one of the most joyous. Tension, release, and exhilaration. The episode’s other race is great too – a nail-biter pitting Pint of Plain against Gettin’ Up Mornin’ – but it’s the former sequence that really cuts to the heart of what makes / made Luck a distinctive viewing experience.
Credit is due to producer Eric Roth, who gets the screenplay credit this week. I’m far from a fan of his movie work (Forrest Gump, Benjamin Button, etc.), but his teleplay packs in a lot of clever and memorable bits of dialogue, like Ace’s grandson Brent (played by Dustin’s real-life son, Jake Hoffman) complaining of the “10-hour flight,” a comment that can’t help but recall with dim irony Ace’s prison stint, which his grandson had an inadvertent role in. The Ace / Gus scenes are a little stronger than usual as well, especially the use of shorthand as they elude Mike’s hitmen (“Remember that time in Chicago?”). It’s a nice way of suggesting their shared history that doesn’t rely on endless exposition. The bathroom fight is pretty brutal and effectively staged, but it might have been nice to feel like Gus was ever in actual danger, especially as he is, as he notes, not getting any younger.
And so Luck ends much as it began, a curious show with a stellar pedigree and more than a hint of eccentricity. Those few among us who actually watched it week-to-week rather than just throwing in snarky asides about its untimely end, or dismissing it based on a cursory watch of the pilot, can agree that while the show may not have been perfect (though, of course, no series is), it managed to convey and evoke things other shows barely acknowledge. And it had the gumption to end on a shot of Dustin Hoffman tearing up at the sight of a goat, and nothing can ever take that way from it. Rest in peace, Luck, and godspeed to whatever Milch winds up attached to next; here’s hoping it’s dealt a better hand.