It took six episodes of Luck, but Ace Bernstein is letting us in. Sort of. Dustin Hoffman’s well-connected ex-con is still a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but he finally clued us in to what this is all about. Revenge. But the new question might be: Does he still have what it takes to go through with it?
Last week, Ace skipped his traditional episode-capping chat with Gus — and an opportunity to kiss Claire LeChea goodnight — to sleep in the barn next to his injured racehorse. Nuzzling with an equine may have been a cathartic experience for the recently released convict, but it probably wasn’t the most comfortable night. Looking worse for wear, he winced getting out of his car the next morning and barked at Gus for spending his own night in the track parking lot. Was he just being grouchy? Or is there something dark rattling inside Ace’s skull?
Nathan Israel met them in the hotel lobby, ready for his first meeting with the devious Mike Smythe. Ace muttered to Gus that he had to give the kid his “final marching papers” before the pow-wow. Marching papers? He meant marching orders, didn’t he? (Marching papers, as in being fired. Marching orders, meaning detailed instruction.) A Freudian slip on Ace’s part, perhaps? Is Nathan merely a pawn in Ace’s game, and if so, how easily will he sacrifice him?
Upstairs in the penthouse, a gift awaited Gus, congratulating him on his horse’s big victory: a giant cake from their business frenemies that read “Wait to Go Greek!” Perhaps it was a simple icing error by the seven-bucks-an-hour cake maker, as Nathan suggested, but the typo was the first tremor of the episode. It shook up Ace, who asked not so innocently, “You going somewhere I don’t know about?” Only the thought of Claire and roses cleared the ugly cloud from inside Ace’s head, but once Gus was alone with his cake, he whispered, “No icing error this.”
At the track, the Degenerates readied themselves for a big day. Mon Gateau was back on the track and the quartet came bearing gifts to their pony’s team on race day: Foray Stables t-shirts (P.S.: I want one). Escalante and Jo didn’t seem to hear a word of Renzo’s adorable/cheesy gesture — the trainer was probably only thinking of the race ahead, and Jo, well, she seemed to be lost in her own thoughts. Until a woman at the pay phone screamed, waking Jo from her trance. While she rushed to the woman’s side, Escalante took the opportunity to skip away, from the Degenerates and from her. “Bad news, probably,” said Renzo. “Maybe a wrong number,” retorted Marcus.
Speaking of bad news, we’ve been waiting for something tragic ever since we saw Joey put a gun to his head in the teaser that followed last week’s episode. Joey watched the early morning workouts at the track from the distance of his car. Leon, who wasn’t riding any horses, spotted him and gave him a cold look. The track’s big names — Bob Baffert! — hobnobbed, but Joey Rathburn sat alone, an outsider, a loser. Later, we saw the gun again, resting on Joey’s nightstand after another pathetic phone call with one of the Real Housewives of Santa Anita. His ex finally picked up but couldn’t have cared less about Joey’s welfare, hanging up on him at his moment of need. But before he could make all his pain go away with a bullet to the brain, the earth shook. Literally. An earthquake interrupted his suicide but caused him to shoot an errant bullet that ricocheted twice before slicing through his cheek. At the hospital, the doctor who stitched him up expressed skepticism about his “accident.” But the near miss seemed to have a positive effect on Joey – a shakubuku, if you will. Miraculously, even his stammer disappeared. He quickly checked himself out, cleaned himself up, and went to Red’s bar, where all the track’s motley characters hang. “Good evening, one and all,” he announced as if he were Olivier, before trying to rub his recent reversal of fortune in Ronnie’s face with a tongue-twisting nursery rhyme. It was sweet while it lasted.
Armed only with Ace’s marching orders, Nathan went into the belly of the beast: Smythe’s yacht. DeRossi and Cohen were there, too, and it didn’t take long for Smythe to make his play, dismissing Nathan as an errand boy for Mr. Bern-stein and appealing to naked greed and ambition. He suggested the kid raise his prospects by working both sides of this deal; Nathan apparently agreed while hinting that the key to the $475 million dollar to purchase the racetrack was Ace’s coziness with the Indian Gaming Lobby, which would have to approve any effort to bring slots and tables to Santa Anita.
Meanwhile, Ace himself was meeting with Santa Anita’s owner (Jürgen Prochnow), who didn’t quite welcome Ace’s minority stake but didn’t seem too threatened by the rumors of Ace’s interest in purchasing the track. “I think maybe, Mr. Bernstein, something else is going on here,” he said. “Something personal. And my track is only the stage where it all plays out.”
“That’s some good thinking,” Ace responded after a beat. Now we’re getting somewhere.
NEXT: A rough go for the bug jockeys