The critics — many of whom have already seen the first several episodes of David Milch and Michael Mann’s racetrack collaboration — have decided Luck has the potential to be something special. But there’s some truth in the more popular criticism that last week’s series premiere asked a lot of its audience. Who are these losers? Why was Ace in jail and what’s his M.O. now that he’s out? What’s the secret haunting Nick Nolte’s trainer, Walter Smith? And what the heck is a triple-bug apprentice jockey? The drama was a little slow out of the gate, likely intentionally so. (When I spoke with Nick Nolte two months ago, even he acknowledged this fact, saying, “The first show doesn’t really say much, but it’s really going to open up. By episode 3 or 4, we really get cooking.”)
Last night’s second episode, directed by Hotel Rwanda‘s Terry George, turned up the heat to simmer by beginning to connect the dots and answer some questions left dangling in the premiere. The four Degenerates, winners of the $2.7 million Pick-6, have quietly collected their winnings, but three of them are struggling to keep their windfall from burning holes in their pockets. Compulsive gambler Jerry has graduated to the more expensive poker tables, dropping thousand-dollar hands in the process. Ladies-man Lonnie is walking around in a slick new suit, and Renzo has decided he’d like to make an $8,000 claim on Mon Gateau, Escalante’s horse that was so responsible for his good fortune. Only Marcus is successfully staying in the weeds, carting around a laundry bag of God-knows-what on his wheelchair while acting as ornery as ever.
After meeting with his probation officer, Ace takes a meeting with DeRossi and a reputable businessman (Ted Levine) who might be interested in helping Ace get his plans for Santa Anita off the ground. “The Ace is back in place,” grins DeRossi, who is clearly a front man for someone bigger, someone named Mike, perhaps. Ace doesn’t seem to care for this big fish, Mike, negotiating that the man in question’s cut from any proposed deal will have to come out of the other partners’ pockets. Afterwards, Gus asks Ace how he got mixed up with Mike in the first place — Thank you, Gus! Turns out Ace and Mike were associates who at one point shared a co-op. Unbeknownst to Ace, Mike started storing some cocaine in the place, while Ace’s grandson was using the apartment as a bachelor pad. When the cops came to break up one of the kid’s parties, they found the stash. Refusing to let his grandson take the fall or rat on Mike, Ace claimed the coke was his, hence the three years in jail. Can’t wait to meet this charmer, Mike.
At the track, Smith’s mystery horse, Gettin’up Morning, is chomping at the bit, figuratively. With Rosie aboard, he blows past some early-morning practice rivals, encouraging Rosie to lobby to be his official jockey when he goes into the gate in earnest. Smith is noncommittal and seems much more interested in reconnecting with a familiar face from his days in Kentucky, Ronnie, who apparently is recovering from his own racetrack accident.
Escalante has his eyes on Smith’s horse now, too, an unwelcome distraction, perhaps, from his own strategy to expose Mon Gateau in the low-level claiming race. The pretty vet questions his decision right after she gives the horse a $20,000 shot of Lasix, but Escalante thinks he’s got the system rigged, with leg bandages meant to scare off prospective buyers. Clearly, there are buyers who are interested, but Leon, the jockey who rode him to victory last week, is having doubts. Since his last mount had to be euthanized on the track, he’s spooked by the possibility of hopping aboard another horse who might not be physically sound. His agent, Joey, warns him not to dwell on such matters — just get back on the horse and forget it. Or else it might happen again.
NEXT: Escalante loses more than a few carrots