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Hard 'Luck': Why HBO's Horseracing Drama is Still Worth Seeking Out

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire March 27, 2012 at 3:39PM

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.
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So many of the characters in "Luck" are distinguished either by a great loss or by having nothing to begin with. The Foray railbirds have experienced so little success in their lives that to see them do well and figure out how to handle that has been one of the show's great pleasures, as the four check into connecting rooms in a nearby motel that looks like it's out of another era and flutter over the shoulder of their surly trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz) like helicopter parents. Nick Nolte's trainer Walter Smith, the most grizzled of them all, is still heartsick from the demise of the old Kentucky farm on which he used to work and the killing of the horse who sired Gettin' Up Morning, the colt with great potential he's been working with.

Escalante (I just can't call him "Turo") has scrabbled his way up from humble beginnings and is so tightly closed and seemingly uninterested in other people that one of his most lovely emotional moments came when in the finale when he asks Chester if he has any children. His girlfriend, or rather the woman he's been sleeping with, Jo (Jill Hennessy) has gotten pregnant, and suddenly the possibility of having a family, of having a life, seems like something he'd want after all. (The show caps this moment by having him step back into a bucket of water and go back to bellowing in Spanish at his underling.)

Luck Finale 3

And Chester, who starts off the show only aiming for revenge, with the help of his faithful driver and friend and, as the finale proves, stealthy tough guy Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina), falls in love, with the track, with the horse he's bought, with Claire Lachay (Joan Allen), who runs a nonprofit based on rehabilitating convicts by having them work with rescued thoroughbreds. It's only by having things that you can feel the threat of losing them, and Chester's old foe Michael (Michael Gambon), who's escalated their feud, is there taunting him on the day of his big race, pointing out all the soft spots he's developed.

"Luck" celebrates the calm center that people who've gotten used to loss can develop, a sort of zen state and due to that, it's as gentle on and generous with their failures as their wins. Take Ronnie Jenkins, played by real-life jockey Gary Stevens, the experienced, older rider there to contrast the up-and-comers Rosie (Kerry Condon) and Leon (Tom Payne). Struggling with addictions and injuries ("I break this collarbone more than I get laid," he resignedly tells a paramedic after a fall), he's not reliable, but his fits of greatness and his times of weakness are treated with a level gaze. "That Jenkins fellow's a maestro," Rosie observes after seeing him race. "Yes he is," Walter allows, "when the spirit moves. You understand?"

A little, but that will have to do. At nine episodes total, "Luck" doesn't feel finished, but it's not the type of show that ever would. Sometimes fortune favors you and sometimes it doesn't, but you have to play the cards you're dealt.

This article is related to: Television, Luck, Nick Nolte, David Milch, HBO , Dustin Hoffman, Eric Roth, Reviews







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