Wednesday, February 29, 2012

As Luck Would Have It: Staying with Pint of Plain

The fifth episode of Luck is heavy on character development and comparatively light on advancing the plot. That's not a complaint. The pleasure of hooking into a series like Luck comes from watching character background get revealed, and seeing quality actors chew their way through great lines. My favorite bit of dialogue occurred when Ace's bodyguard Gus became genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing "his" horse, Pint of Plain, run in a stakes race the following day. This is the same Gus who in episode one didn't know the difference between a horse head and a horse ass. An oblivious beard. Now, he's come full circle. He engaged in a bit of pre-race existential joy in typical Milch-speak:
"Tomorrow's gonna be a good day Ace. Big day. We step to the plate with a shot. You know who don't?"  
"Who?" Ace asks.
"Babe Ruth. The Babe don't step to the plate, or George Patton either. You know, because they're both dead. Tremendous ballplayer, tremendous general. But out of the picture completely. Whereas you and I, we get a good night sleep. We step to the plate."
The unsightly and decidedly worse dressed doppelganger to the Ace/Gus relationship is the one between the degenerate gamblers, in particular the bond between the gifted handicapper but shitty poker player Jerry, and the caustic wheelchair bound Marcus. A man so misanthropic, he ultimately confuses his concern for Jerry as a homosexual urge. Jerry's classic rejoinder: "Just because you're short on people skills doesn't make you a bone smoker." Crassly inelegant and elegant at the same time.

An emerging theme is the succor and redemption these characters from all walks of life discover in relationships with the horse. This is true to form in real life. Any handicapper worth his salt suffers from the cliched mythology between man and horse. The same goes for owners and trainers. You can't spend as much time with horses as track people do, without developing an abiding love for the characteristics horses so often project: courage, guts, beauty, endurance, loyalty.

In less skilled hands, it may play as maudlin, corny, or unintentionally funny that Ace's date, the criminally underused to this point Joan Allen (in a demure 180 degree turn from the preacher humper she played in The Ice Storm) is carted home by Gus at the end of their date. Ace prefers to spend the night with Pint of Plain in Escalante's stables. No doubt this deft touch is aided greatly by Luck head writer Bill Barich. Barich, author of the best horse racing book I've read, Laughing in the Hills, has a knack for plumbing the peculiar blend of redemption, romance, pain, and beauty that horse racing can provide. If you are a fan of the show, I'd heartily recommend finding Barich's book. Scratch that. If you are a fan of reading, check out Barich's book.

As usual, the racing scenes are superb. Pint of Plain is injured when a horse in front of him loses a shoe, and it ricochets back and catches Pint of Plain on his hind leg or "hock," gashing it to the bone. It happens. One of the miracles of the sport is that for their tremendous size and grace, horses are an extremely fragile breed. Cuts, nicks, and abrasions are fairly common and on the benign end of the continuum of calamity that horses face every time they take the track.

Matthew 21:22. "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." The big race from last week's episode.

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