Watching the outstanding season (and series) finale of "Luck," which went out quietly on Sunday night while the country turned its attention to "Mad Men," it was hard not wonder if the show would have found more of a following if the rest of it had been like its ending.
Written by Eric Roth and directed by Mimi Leder, the last episode unites the characters on the day of a derby race in which most had a stake, either by way of betting, riding, training or ownership. It features an underdog triumph, a murder, a departure, a medical scare, a photo finish and a naked girl rolling around in a bed of money -- everything you'd want in a cable TV show for adults, with that phrase's many implications.
But it wasn't ratings that resulted in the cancellation of "Luck," it was the unfortunate death of three horses during the show's production. And "Luck," while not opposed to sequences of reward and drama, is a show that loved and relied on quiet moments and the weight of what was being left unsaid.
It sometimes made for counterintuitive television that, as I speculated before, will play out better when it can be consumed in one or two sessions on DVD instead of being doled out over weeks. And the show's still well worth seeking out, even if it's not returning -- the final moments served well enough to provide welcome closure for some while promising storms on the horizon for others. And there's always trouble on the way in "Luck," and not just of the sort the paranoid Marcus (Kevin Dunn) is always predicting -- the extent to which the series takes its name to heart became increasingly clear as the season unfolded.
The show has the feel and texture of an unfiltered cigarette and a tumbler of Scotch, a cast of characters dominated by grizzled, guarded men with soft hearts who are worse for the wear but still ready to make a go of things, as bad or as good as those things might be. "Whatever complications, this is where we are, what we have to make our lives with," Dustin Hoffman's Chester Bernstein tells his estranged grandson, brought back into his life by his enemies as a potential target. "Hands are dealt, we got to see how we play them."
Luck is, in the parlance of the show, about accepting how little is in your control. The slinky opening credits are filled with charms and tokens -- horseshoe rings and neon four-leaf clovers, crosses and coins on chains -- symbolizing the way in which people try to influence their fortunes, but also speaking to they've chosen or had chosen for them a life that depends on chance. Jerry (Jason Gedrick), for instance, is a brilliant handicapper of horses whose skills nab him and his friends -- who name themselves Foray Stables -- a small fortune and a chance to buy a horse of their own. But he's a disaster at the poker tables, even though he can't stay away from them. As his card-playing nemesis points out, he doesn't bet by the numbers, he bets like he's got to prove how lucky he is... and he most of the time, he isn't.