‘Luck’ – ‘Episode 3’: Money laundering

A review of tonight’s “Luck” coming up just as soon as I answer a question with a question…

“This is the type kid that’ll irritate the shit out of Mike.” -Ace

In certain areas, this hour feels like “Luck” is running in circles (as I’ve said, the show doesn’t really get going until next week’s episode), not unlike the animals that everyone obsesses over. Several stories that seemed to be going in one direction by the end of last week go back around until we’re right where we were before. The four railbirds, for instance, wind up owning Mon Gateau after all, though they have to pay a steep markup to cowboy Mulligan for the horse (and his barbecue grill). And after Walter Smith agonized over giving the mount for Gettin’ Up Morning to Ronnie over Rosie, Ronnie breaks his collarbone on a warm-up race on another horse, and it sounds like Rosie’s on her way back after her incredibly brief time in Portland.

Of course, when those horses thunder around the track in a circuit, things are not always so predictable. There’s a chance a stray horse might wander onto the track and get into a collision, as almost happens to Ace’s horse. Or in a race, two horses might get too close to each other and send a rider flying, as happens to Ronnie.

David Milch is fond of the old saying about how if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans, and while everyone on “Luck” seems to have plans, we saw last week with Escalante that few plans are as clever or foolproof as the designer thinks they are.

So Ace decides to collect derivatives expert Nathan Israel(*) from the legitimate end of his business interests and incorporate him into whatever his plan is against the mysterious Mike. Israel, like many of the characters on this show, is incredibly gifted in one area (financial transactions) and sorely lacking in others (pretty much any social nicety). Gus tries to school the kid a bit, but it’s clear that Ace is counting on his lack of polish to play to their advantage in whatever’s going on. And in the process of this complicated, unconventional job interview, Ace begins to lay out some of the details of how and why he wound up spending three years in prison.

(*) Played by “Suits” co-star – and SAG Award nominee! – Patrick J. Adams.

Though the railbirds have to pay many times the initial claim fee to get their hands on Mon Gateau, it becomes clear when they get a close-up look at the animal what a good investment it was. Forget about what Mon Gateau might be able to do in a race. The mixture of fear and pure childlike wonder on all their faces when Escalante invites them to pet their new investment suggests that this horse – like their unconventional partnership, which was apparently cemented by Lonnie’s near-fatal encounter with the insurance agents – may help fill in some of the gaps in their lives that have turned them into degenerate racing junkies in the first place. It’s an incredibly charming scene, particularly in the way that all four – Marcus in particular – drop whatever armor they usually put up in their dealings with the world.

Though Escalante no longer owns Mon Gateau, he gets to keep training the animal he and Dr. Jo spent so much time rehabilitating. Jo gets to call Escalante out on his paranoid delusions, and their relationship takes on a new meaning when we follow them home and discover it’s romantic (or, at least, sexual) as well as professional.

And while Ronnie won’t be riding Gettin’ Up Morning – or any horse, for that matter – anytime soon after suffering a bad injury (“I break this fucking collarbone more than I get laid”), he’s not going to vanish from the action. We see with both his scenes and Leon’s this week just how brutal and dangerous the jockey’s profession is. Leon falls and cracks his head just trying to make weight, and after cleaning himself up for a shot at Walter’s impressive horse, Ronnie goes right back to drinking and getting high to deal with the pain, the frustration and the inactivity. Like most of the show’s characters, he appears to have no life outside of the track. If he’s not riding, what is he? Just a different kind of addict? 

Some other thoughts:

* It was pretty strongly implied last week – especially once we knew for sure that the foursome had cashed in the Pick Six ticket – but we get confirmation tonight that the mysterious laundry bag Marcus carries with him everywhere contains his share of their winnings. Not the most sound saving plan I can think of, but a lot of banks these days wouldn’t offer significantly more interest than the cash is going to generate inside that bag.

* While many of this show’s other Michael Mann alums have appeared in multiple projects with him, Joan Allen – who makes her first appearance as Claire, the woman trying to get Ace to fund her horse rehabilitation charity – has only one previous Mann credit. But it’s a memorable one: she played Reba, the blind woman who begins dating Francis Dolarhyde (aka the Tooth Fairy) in “Manhunter.” Allen’s involved in what may be my single favorite sequence of Mann’s career, when Dolarhyde takes Reba to visit a tiger at the local zoo. Everything about it (which is irritatingly not on YouTube, at least not without the original soundtrack) is hypnotic, not least of which is Allen’s reaction to being so close to that magnificent beast (a look not unlike the one that you see sometimes when Walter or Ace or the railbirds get to be around their respective horses).

* Okay, that’s now two appearances by L.A. Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke as himself, and while I suppose he lends verisimilitude to the proceedings, the sabermetric side of me can’t stand the guy.

* I continue to enjoy the light comedy stylings of Mr. Dennis Farina, particularly Gus’s response to Israel’s request to use the lavatory: “America, kid.”

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com