As most everyone has heard by now, HBO changed its decision to bring viewers a second season of the show due to the death of a third horse on set. Though the deaths were accidental (or freak accidents, really), autopsies reported that the horses were in severe pain and were heavily medicated at the time.
To this I say ... is anyone surprised? It seems more like confirmation of something we had suspected but preferred not to consider. It has been mentioned here before (as well as in the comments) and on the show itself that racing is a painful and dangerous sport for horses. If current racehorses are already in excruciating pain, then how must ex-racehorses feel? It was always a difficult prospect to focus a show on these animals - and not just a single horse but a stable of them - especially ones in conditions that might pass a medical screening but may also not be able to work to the standard that the creative side of the show demands. Like most, I was horrified to read about the deaths on set, and do of course support the decision to shut down production. It was a tragic ending for a bold attempt at storytelling.
As for the show itself, whose penultimate episode aired last night, there's no reason to give up on watching yet. Judging by the way some of the storylines are coming together, I have a fairly positive feeling that the season finale (now series finale) will be a mostly satisfying ending. It will be a shame not to explore this rich world in a deeper way during upcoming seasons, but "Luck" will still hold its own in the HBO canon as a glimpse into the microcosm of horse racing, solidified by some fantastic filming and acting along the way. Perhaps in this way it's better to look at the show as a miniseries. It might not tie up as neatly as "Mildred Pierce" or "Generation Kill," but it was just as immersive.
In wrapping up strings, last night Ace's confrontation with Mike can to a head - literally - after the death of Israel. On shows like "Boardwalk Empire" and "Sons of Anarchy," which have a great deal of casual violence, we rarely see what happens next with the victim's bodies. Last night we were "treated" (forced into) to an extended sequence where Israel's body is bloodily hacked up, tied up, and thrown overboard to sleep with the fishes. I kept expecting, as the boat left, for one bag to float back up to the surface and reveal itself for the next unfortunate fisherman to take that route. It didn't (yet) but it was still an important scene to get through. We didn't know Israel very well, but we don't need to to be properly repulsed and horrified with Mike and his methods. Later, Ace and Gus go a different route with DeRossi. Instead of outright violence they simply keep him locked in a shed without communication to suggest to Mike, potentially, that DeRossi said too much under the threat of pain. Just don't bring up answering a question with a question DeRossi, and you'll be fine.
Back on the track, it looks like our three jockeys, three mounts, two trainers and gaggle of owners will all be facing off for the Million Dollar Derby (though not all directly) which will serve as a grand finale for the show. I had been wondering when we might see our two most talented steeds go up against one another, each having so much enormous potential and being ridden under a carousel of a jockeys. Walt's (disputed) horse Gettin' Up Morning, ridden by Ronnie, will be taking the inside post on the race against Ace and Gus' horse Pint of Plain, trained by Escalante, in the second post position. Elsewhere, Rosie will be getting to ride Foray Stables' Mon Gâteaux in a smaller race, though her prospects and future at Santa Anita are looking bright. The importance of these races - the races being the most stunning and dramatic moments of the series - make me both keenly anticipate and dread how might they play out next week.
As for last night, the focus was largely on the jockeys and trainers. As Walt and Escalante battled personal problems (brilliantly, on both of their parts), the jockeys warily interacted with one another looking for metaphorical leg ups. Rosie, via Joey who acted in direct conflict with his other client Leon, was given a good mount on an important day. Joey assured Rosie that Leon was simply too heavy for the weight restriction, which eventually lead Leon to seek out Ronnie asking for pills or secrets to lose weight. As Joey had told Leon earlier, if he were to lose any more weight a slight breeze would blow him off the horse. He's already a thin guy, but he is taller than many of the other jockeys. At some point you have to acknowledge that your bones weigh something, and maybe you can't get rid of every pound of flesh for your job. Ronnie, doing the first decent thing we've observed from him yet, thwarted Leon's request for karmic reasons. I had been extremely skeptical of Ronnie not only for his character but for his actual skills, which we didn't really get a glimpse of until his ride in last night's episode. I love those moments in the show where a horse and rider so exceed expectations that we get shots of men and women all around the track, from the stands to the booth to the tack room all looking up, suddenly, in wonder, remembering the magic that attracted them to this sport in the first place. Rosie may be far more likable than Ronnie, but his experience does make him the better jockey for Gettin Up Morning.
All will be revealed next week, I hope and suppose. It's been a worthy journey so far.
Musings and Miscellanea:
— There aren't many women on this show and those that are aren't written particularly well. One might have supposed Naomi was a kind of floozy to hang out where she does and engage in car sex with a near stranger, but at the same time, before this she had seemed quiet and almost astute. Last night she was turned into a giggling mess who texted through the entire race!
— Jo, for her part, has never been given much of a personality. Buy I felt deeply for that scene and the circumstances of it, but mostly because of Escalante and the way he reacted to it. I also loved that parting shot of him and Eduardo on the couch and floor, lying wide-awake in the same position staring up at the ceiling. That's one story I will definitely regret not getting more of in the future.
— Ace finally revealed himself to Escalante as the man who gave him a chance, but the interaction lacked the Disney-music-swell that I had imagined in my mind. Instead it seemed to just give them both something to think about.
— Escalante also did not disappoint with yet another mangled pop reference: "you bring me this little monkey on the bike. You know, the one that crosses the moon?"
— I had no idea that there was a fake horse to work out on in the jockey's locker room!
— We got a few more moments of exposition via Jo and Eduardo, talking about the "hot walker" as well as mentioning once again the goat.
— Never stand behind a horse!
— Did anyone else catch Marcus saying "now if that lady in the wheelchair would just stop sending me pictures of what she's wearing …" hah!
— So Ronnie has won the Kentucky Derby? Not shabby!
— "Move the fuck away from the window, thank you" - Gus. Was Mike hiring a hit man part of what they expected? So far Mike seems to be playing right into Ace's hand, minus the murder of Israel.
— The song at the end, which has been getting a lot of play on TV shows lately (including as the opening theme tune to the BBC's "Luther") is "Paradise Circus," by Massive Attack.
— What are your thoughts about the show ending next week?
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