Luck – The Final Chapter
Like many mum’s David Milch is a man who finds it hard to say goodbye, his previous shows have been notoriously bad finishers and I wonder why this one would be any different, especially since here he hadn’t even the prior knowledge that the end was coming. Though he somehow managed to find the strength required to end the series earlier in the month on HBO’s suggestion that doesn’t mean that he did so knowing that he had left it in a suitable place; in fact it is the opposite that is actually true, he came into this episode under the impression that he had another season sitting in storage, so why not fade out on a cliffhanger? The odds then of this being a satisfying hour were low, dastardly so, but as we all know, there is no safer bet in television than the underdog.
The best gamblers are those who play the long game, those who know not only exactly what the odds are now but what they will be four rounds down the track and unfortunately this finale suggests that both Milch and Mann are nothing if not great gamblers; they took a risk and stretched out a lot of their stories so that this first season would consist solely of their opening acts, only to have the game called on them early, bad luck throwing in yet another blindside. So for every arc that ends well ( the fellas at Foray) there is one that is only just hitting its stride under the safe assumption that there was yet another lap left to run (Ace’s ambiguous but awesome plan for revenge and the introduction of his Grandson). So as a series finale this chapter is something of a mixed bag, though as a simple episode, seen subjectively as only that which is shown on the screen, it is another spectacular example of just why i’m going to miss this show so much.
I’ve spoken before about the spinning coin in the opening credits and though the show is far from Hollywood fare in its depiction of the track thus far we have mostly seen the cast getting lucky and having it land their way, this episode though brings an end to that. Loss and losing is an essential part of every bet, big or small, and so far it is one that the show has seemingly shied away from; fitting then that it chooses this, it’s last episode and a marker of our losing it, to truly embrace the low feeling of tragic blows like it has the sublime high of a successful call. Early on in the episode, as they dress for their big race the Foray boys start to feel a little fearful of what may come; “This is when they take it all back,” one remarks, as if the past month of their lives was liable to be snatched away entire. That ominous feeling, that dread, permeates every plotline in the hour; the characters are all betting to lose; hoping for no change as the best result and nowhere is this more obvious than in Ace’s assasination plotline.
Hoffman’s presence in the show was the most touted during its brief but effective promotional period and yet for so long he was far from the most important character in the cast, in fact he may well have been the easiest to remove despite how damn good the chemistry was with Gus in his coda’s . That all changes though with this final stretch, he finally takes the most prominent place on the podium only to reveal just how unneccesary that position is. From the moment Ace and Gus observe the now severely mutilated body of Israel their plotline felt by far to have the biggest stakes and the tension started here grew and grew throughout culminating in a great reverse Godfather action scene; the whole time it was happening though I couldn’t help thinking “finally,” and then when we cut back to the track I couldn’t help thinking “Finally!” Had the show featured more of this human action from the get go I think HBO would have been much less likely to cancel it as the audience would be much more likely to stay on board, but despite the class and the cleverness of the crime and the combat shown here I think it also would have made for a much less memorable experience for those who did view it. Horses are just so much more interesting than humans, even the Hoffman ones.
“Luck” has been a very divisive show throughout it’s entire run, almost for good reason – It’s slow, it’s mumbly, it’s specific, storyless and far from sexy – and looking at it objectively I would have to say that in the end I think it’s a photo finish between flaw and perfection, but subjectively the latter won by far more than a last jump. The number Two was shown to be extremely lucky on the track today and if given the chance to come back for a number two Luck might have managed to make the right horse come out with its nose ahead for a much larger audience; learning from it’s mistakes and capitalising on its magic. As for the quality of that future show we’ll unfourtunately never know. The two central trainers end the episode by shaking hands after the race, Escalante mumbling “Same Again?”; then I couldn’t help but think “I wish.” It’s ridiculous but when the closing credits came up I felt like I had lost something great, if only because of how great the shows victories were when it was on.