Luck Episode 1: Degenerates Strike it Rich

 Posted by on April 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm  Television
Apr 262012

Lonnie, Renzo, Marcus, Jerry striking it rich


This post serves to complete the teaser posted Saturday April 14, wherein all major characters were introduced.

Given the ambivalence surrounding this ill-fated series, I’ve been wondering what I’ve seen that was largely overlooked.

With the benefit of nine episodes of hindsight, I’ll say that, except for Ace Bernstein’s rivals, every major player in Luck has admirable qualities that arouse sympathy. However, each subplot unfolds at leisure, and so might your own rooting interest.

Ace himself (Dustin Hoffman) pursues a plot to exact revenge on his associates-in-crime with dignity and restraint. That he intends to hurt them only financially is made clear when he declines Gus’ offer to kill Mike, the principal villain. Whatever menace Ace possesses stays well submerged behind his carefully buttoned up demeanor – the “famous Bernstein temper” never escalates to actual mayhem.

At the beginning, veteran trainer Turo Escalante exudes a sour bitterness which is only partially explained by his anxiety over recouping his time and expense rehabilitating his horse Mon Gateau, that has not been fit to race for two years. He hopes to do this by betting heavily while the horse is unknown and his racing odds remain high, he wants to learn how to stop chasing losses so he start winning.

Another old time trainer, Walter Smith (Nick Nolte), remains mostly virtuous throughout the series. He hopes for one last bit of glory with his horse who was sired by a great champion of “Kentucky Quality”. Rosie, his exercise girl, hopes to become a jockey. Her eager enthusiasm is expressed with an attractive Irish lilt.

The other young Jockey, Leon Micheaux, has a way with race horses. His natural affinity is combined with a frame that is perhaps a little large for a jockey, thus Leon struggles to “make weight”.

In the opening sequence, Ace is released on parole after serving three years on a drug distribution conviction. Gus picks him up and produces his horse owner’s license, which he got as a front for Ace who paid $2-million for an Irish race horse, Pint of Plain.

Four self-described “degenerate gamblers” Marcus, Jerry, Renzo and Lonnie have pooled their money for a “Pick Six” play. Since the Pick Six has not paid off for some time a single winner would earn over $2-million.

Jerry has provided the picks for the six races. Notably he has “singled” the fourth race, which means that all of the group’s tickets have chosen a single winner for that race. This turns out to be an apparent long shot – Turo’s Mon Gateau. This pick seems so unlikely that Marcus explains that Jerry has handicapped the trainer not the horse.

Turo has decided to lengthen the odds by hiring “bug” Leon to ride Mon Gateau. Too young to know better, Leon aggravates Turo when he says he hopes the horse will “run big”. Turo calls Leon’s agent (Joey Rathburn) to complain that his bug is “running his lips on my business”.  He tells Joey, “loose lips sink boats”.

Walter and Rosie are introduced along with Gettin’ Up Morning. At Walter’s behest, Rosie runs the horse for a quarter-mile test. Stopwatch in hand, he mutters “guess I still know a peach when I see one”. Joey knows a peach too and immediately calls his seasoned jockey, Ronnie Jenkins, who does not answer. Joey upbraids him for being drunk and tells him to “get to the track”.

We discover that Gus has hired Turo to train Pint of Plain, newly arrived and receiving the careful ministrations of veterinarian Jo Carter. He is not fooled that Gus is the licensed owner – referring to him as “his (Ace’s) beard” and that “limo driver”.

Ace shows up to an upscale restaurant owned by Nick DiRossi. Ace lays out his plan to become the majority owner of the Santa Anita racetrack and to lobby Sacramento to permit casino gaming. It’s soon apparent that Ace and Nick have long known each other. In the same way he needs Gus to front as his horse’s owner, he needs DiRossi and his associates to “put their names on the signs”.

Gus and Ace visit Turo at his stable. They pretend to be inexperienced around horses. But nothing escapes Turo: “you’ve done this before” he says as Gus feeds carrots to their new horse.

In preparation for the fourth race, Turo instructs Leon how to run the race: “Don’t get trapped on the rail”. The race starts; Turo recites an ongoing commentary laced with Spanish oaths, which although unknown to the English-speaking viewer, are clearly not complimentary. Leon gets trapped on the rail. Despite this Mon Gateau wins by a neck. The degenerates are thrilled. Turo feigns disbelief exclaiming softly: “What a surprise!”

Immediately after the race, Turo looks both ways, approaches a self service terminal, inserts his winning tickets (having bet $3,000) and collects vouchers for $40,000.

Before the final race the degenerates gather in the lobby to check on the potential payout. They’ve covered all the horses so they are guaranteed a win – the only question is how much. Leon prepares to ride another horse, Tattered Flag, a longshot who will return $2.6-million to the degenerates. Jockey Ronnie, who has been injured, shows up. Tattered Flag starts well and takes an early lead. Our pick six bettors are exultant then chastened as the horse pulls up lame, leg broken. The race continues, the other long shot wins, Lonnie celebrates, his partners contain themselves. TV cameras show up to the winner’s circle. Our winners decide to remain anonymous and to collect their winnings later.

Meanwhile as Leon soothes the critically injured horse, Tattered Flag is euthanized. Ronnie consoles Leon over the loss of the horse saying “you never get used to it”.


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