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Emmys 2017
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Luck recap: 'Luck' recap

‘Luck’s biggest star stepped forward and it wasn’t Michael Gambon, whose mysterious Mike finally emerged to face Ace. For once, the most compelling action took place on the track, and Gettin’up Morning is the real deal.

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Gusmano Cesaretti/HBO


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Joan Barfoot
Carroll & Graf

For a cable TV show, Luck has plenty of big names — Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte for starters. But the real star of the series emerged only last night, and he walks on all fours. Gettin’up Morning, Walter Smith’s promising colt, went to the gate for the first time and when he got up to speed, the heavens practically opened. Degenerate gamblers, self-destructive addicts of all stripes, gruesome injuries, and corrupt souls — it all goes silent when a creature as beautiful as a thoroughbred does what it’s born to do. In this way, “Both Hands on the Wheel” was an epiphany.

Jerry would miss it, unfortunately. He’s yet to hit rock bottom at the tables, but only because he still has some money left in his duffel bag, though he seemed intent to hand the rest of it over to Leo at poker. At this point, Leo is so deep inside his rival’s head that Jerry may as well play with his cards up. The frustrated Degenerate folded when he had a winning hand and was manipulated into playing aggressive when he should be cautious. “I want you to talk yourself into playing,” taunted Leo, who knew just what buttons to push. After another losing hand and another Leo smirking remark, Jerry agreed to an invitation to move the high-stakes action from the casino to the back room of Leo’s restaurant. This was not going to end well for Jerry — no matter that Naomi the dealer clearly has a soft spot for him. Hey, a sketchy gambler sits down at your table and loses over and over and over again while being belligerent, what’s not to love?

Joey’s prospects were not much better. One of his jockeys, Ronnie, is sidelined with a broken collarbone, and the other, Leon, is eating his way out of business. Of course, Ronnie’s collarbone is probably the least of his problems. Are we agreed that his tumble from his mount last week wasn’t altogether a freak accident? Apparently, he bolted from the hospital and is now enjoying the numbing benefits of prescribed drugs with his morning coffee. “I’m dealing with a lot of pain,” he yelled at Joey, who’s in his own meltdown mode. Leon’s weight was up enough that Escalante noticed. Apparently other trainers noticed too because Leon’s not getting many mounts. “This is sort of a zero sum game,” Joey screamed at the frightened young bug. “I don’t give a f— how hard you’re trying. You’re either on the horse or you’re not.”

Joey was introduced to audiences as a sweet, rather harmless guy. His nervous speech impediment only made him more empathetic, but he might be as desperate and ruthless as any of the show’s other characters. Last week, he pleaded with the doctor not to deactivate Leon, even though his client had just cracked his skull after he passed out trying to lose weight. Now that Leon’s weight is inching up, it’s clear that the bug’s health is at the very least secondary to more bottom-line concerns. Joey only gets paid if his jockeys ride, simple as that. And he’s apparently willing to do just about anything to make sure he stays fat.

For a couple of weeks now, we’ve heard about Mike Smythe, Ace’s former colleague whose cocaine side-business resulted in Ace’s three-year stretch. Mike stored some product in a New York apartment that Ace’s grandson occasionally lived in. When the cops banged down the door, they arrested the grandson and applied pressure on Ace to roll over on Mike. Of course, Ace decided to take the fall himself. So here they are, two power-players meeting for the first time since. Mike’s got game: “Should I call you Chester? No, I’ll call you Ace now. Sit down. Please, sit down.” Just watch him preen, throwing his right leg over the back of the sofa. Mike knew all about Ace’s plan for Santa Anita, and he wants in. But he doesn’t trust Ace anymore — how could he after what transpired? Ace surely had a plan for this encounter — he’s been plotting it since the premiere — but Mike just might be Leo to his Jerry. In a way, Mike is in a different league. He can afford to let Ace know exactly what he means. When he asked, “How’s your grandson, Ace? I hope he appreciates what you did for him,” the only thing more offensive than the threat is the arrogance. (What you did for him? For him?) Mike called him No-Sweat Ace Bernstein, but the digs finally had the intended effect and Ace lost his cool. Mike might respect Ace to a certain degree, but he doesn’t consider him an equal. To him, taking the hit for the coke to save his grandson and protect Mike represented weakness. I’m sure he’s confident he can outmaneuver Ace again when the crucial moment arrives.

NEXT: A star is born


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