If there was any kind of a theme last night, it was about second chances. The examples were split on the success rates, but each story had an engaging commentary. As I've mentioned before, the stories are starting to orbit closer and interlock together as this short season (a total of nine episodes) progresses. Lonnie's claim horse, suggested by Escalante, was ridden by Leon, who gave his goggles to the kid that Jo had been looking after. There's something satisfying about seeing these characters bump into each other's worlds, even tangentially - an "ah-ha!" moment as we finally begin piecing together the complex inner workings of the Santa Anita track.
Not everything had an impact on the racing side of things, but these little vignettes are still interesting character studies. For instance, Jerry goes off to win tickets to the World Series ("you could buy them." "That's against my principle!") and becomes a mentor and lover to Naomi, the card dealer and sometimes poker player. Though the poker scenes themselves and his flirtation with Naomi were by no means highlights of the episode, Jerry bringing her to meet the other Amigos was well worth the wait. Though the exchange bordered a little too close to cloying for me (Marcus warily interrogating the two, Lonnie mentioning he thought she seemed nice and Renzo offering them food like the Mother Hen he has become), in an episode where a promising character gets bludgeoned (to death?) with an ashtray, a little comic relief never hurt anyone.
Which brings me, of course, to that other satellite narrative: Ace's Revenge. The young Mr. Israel, double-agent, had a quick but meteoric arc. He began, just a few episodes ago, as an arrogant and petulant character that transformed to an almost pitiable pawn of Ace's. He was formed as a robot but was quickly made human, particularly last week when he said the whole endeavor made him feel sick. "The kid is really showing me something," Gus says to Ace early in the episode. Even though I felt certain of his loyalty to Ace, after all we had heard of Mike I thought that perhaps Israel might play the part of a true double agent, getting seduced to Mike's side. Unfortunately, despite some very careful setups by Ace and Israel, Israel dug his own grave when he laughingly said "answers a question with a question," a trademark Ace-ism. Mike immediately knows that quoting someone not in jest but in a sincere adoption of a maxim by a person you admire is concrete proof of Israel's true loyalty, and the plot behind his befriending of Mike. If Israel isn't actually dead, he will certainly wish he was.
Ace's other story this week was about not only his own second chance, but of retired racehorses. Him trotting alongside the horse was a lovely moment that spoke to the elevation of the spirit, human or animal, when taken care of in the right way. Similarly, though Lonnie's claim horse may never run again, she will apparently have a second life as a brood mare, leading to a hilarious conversational exchange where Renzo reads out and shows pictures from a pastoral brochure. Though the horses seemed to fair well in the episode (thankfully, and through another exhilarating race sequence where my heart was, of course, stopped), their human counterparts did not all face the same rosy future.
Walter's troubles are still in a world of their own, but they did speak towards last night's theme. Rosie is denied her second chance at Gettin' Up Morning in favor of Ronnie who claims he is sober and fitness ready. It surprised me, given how calculating Walter is, that he would believe in Ronnie so quickly. Ronnie obviously has a history of abuse, and while his shoulder healed he went off the rails completely. Yes, he may want change, but he has many addictions. He might be attending AA, but he still clearly has a dependency on painkillers. It seems redundant to have Ronnie fall, again, only to drag Rosie back again. But perhaps Rosie won't leave Santa Anita so fast. But do Joey and Leon really have her best interests in mind if she stays? Leon seems clearly perturbed that they would be sharing an agent and competing against each other (especially since Leon is still trying to find a foothold in the business himself), and when Joey suggested that he might not stay her agent if she left the track, Joey's cutting glance towards her seemed to suggest that his feelings for her are not particularly deep. At least, not when put up against his career. Might Leon be a consideration as a jockey for Walter in the future?
Elsewhere, Jo and Escalante are clearly a pair who, even if they aren't a couple are still "a couple." They bicker and fuss, but in the end they support one another. Escalante did look after the young boy who Jo befriends, possibly somewhat for Jo but also because the boy obviously reminds him of his own past. Their day babysitting was a good precursor to the inevitable revelation of Jo's pregnancy, which Escalante handled with about as much warmth as he is capable. Though the two are never romantic or cutesy or even particularly kind to one another, there is still the depth of a bond there that suggests they both do have very true and very deep feelings for one another. Still, the future of the relationship seems uncertain, and whether this is meant to be a second chance for the two or not remains to be seen.
Usually around this time in the season, with merely two episodes left, we would start to see some real movement to a season finale that had some resolution and weight to it. I don't see any narrative strands that suggest this as of yet. The story is still ambling along and unfolding slowly. I am just hoping the show ends with some trajectory to keep viewers around next year who might currently be on the fence.
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I definitely did not get that "Foray" was a play on "Four A" or "Four Amigos" until Marcus said it.
— "So much makeup, though" - Lonnie (or Renzo?) about Naomi.
— I loved Ace's horse-cam.
— Ace and Gus' conversation before they left the hotel room that morning was like a married couple. I love them so much!
— $10 to talk to a kid? Dire, as was the shanty town.
— Was I the only one who thought the Jerry/Naomi sex scene was really hot? Sometimes HBO throws in the most random nudity, but this scene didn't even need to be skintastic to be caliente!
— "You be a babysitter, I watch my barn be put on the Facebook" - Escalante with another pop-culture reference.
— Claire: "This horse was worth half a million on the track, and we bought her for $168 at an auction." Sad.
— Thanks to reader jc_atl for the comments about Walter's lawsuit last week - you were 100% right! I'm glad they also explained it more fully this week on the show.
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