By Jordan Magrath
Following the recent announcement of “Luck’s” series cancellation, last week’s “Episode Eight,” showed us that we should potentially care that the show was coming to an end. This potential came to a frustrating head in “Episode Nine,” which is the very last episode of the horse-racing HBO drama we’ll ever see. Since it was shot with the intent of a second season, “Episode Nine,” wrapped up some important stories, but left even more open. I can’t help but feel like the show had just hit its stride, but it appears to be too late.
“Episode Nine,” focuses primarily on the Western Derby – which is, by far, the biggest race we’ve witnessed. However, before Walter and Aces’ horses can face-off, we get a warm-up race with Rosie jockeying the 4-A horse. It’s a win-win with such likable characters. I’ve been a huge fan of all these guys (and Rosie) – so I loved to see them win. This is the one story I am okay with the end result. We get a great group shot at the end, where these four friends are completely happy (and rich!). My optimistic brain is going to believe this fictitious group is still happy somewhere. If the show had continued though, I bet this wouldn’t be the case. Let me dream!
Also before the Derby, we finally meet Ace’s grandson – the one who got him sent away for two years. At first, I actually thought Gus had arranged for the kid to be there, which yes, did seem odd. However, when we found out that Smythe had arranged the whole thing, the situation got very intense. Smythe isn’t f&*$ing around. He wants Ace out of the picture permanently. A better part of half the episode focuses on Gus trying to protect Ace’s life in some utterly suspenseful moments. The show has meandered vaguely before, but the intent here was easily noticed. Even after Gus’ (somewhat) brutal bathroom chocking, we had some great open-air dialogue between Smythe and Ace. It’s funny how little the hundreds of witnesses knew about what was going on. This makes for some good television.
Then there were the races. Although still secondary to the Ace-Smythe dynamic, the cinematography was beautiful. I’ve always thought the actual races were well-shot, but the finale topped the previous best by a considerable margin. Mixing the slow-mo and close-ups with the music, “Luck” sure knows how to shoot horse races (even if they can’t protect the damn horses). The photo-finish seemed a little trite, but I can’t deny I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the results. Still, I would’ve liked to see Walter’s horse win since Ace has enough winnings.
By the end, we’re left with another great HBO montage that shows where everyone is (ala “The Wire”). Jo and Escalante lost their baby – even though this doesn’t hit as hard as it could have, the 4-A crew is happy (for now), Joey and Leon seem okay in their position, and the casino/racetrack scenario is still up-in-the-air. It would’ve all been something to look forward to in the coming year.
However, this is all we’ll ever get.
Much like the way the trainers pushed their jockeys to break late in the race, HBO’s “Luck” had a similar type of season. It started out of the gates pretty strong, but stumbled towards the middle. The last few episodes have been a frantic push to the finish line. Ultimately, the show came up short. It didn’t garner a lot of viewers, but HBO hasn’t ever been about that.
The push was just a little too late, which I can officially say is a disappointment in my books.