'Luck' review: As the series draws to an end, poignance both intended and unintended

This week’s Luck — the penultimate episode of the season and, as it turns out, the series — began with a horse casting a languid, beautiful gaze at the camera. It’s a recurring image that typifies Luck‘s lyrical engagement with both the sport and the animal instincts that motivate the drama. And now it serves as a symbol of the demise of Luck, after repeated injuries to horses prompted HBO’s cancellation of the series, earlier this week, even as its second season was being filmed.

And so everything we saw in this hour and in next week’s finale cannot be separated out from that real-life drama. While I and you of course feel badly for the animals that died, we cannot also help but feel sadness for the artistic achievement that had been halted, because as anyone who’s watched Luck up to this point knows, the series just keeps getting better and better — more exciting, more finely detailed, more suspenseful, more moving.

The grisly follow-up to the killing of Nathan Israel was seeing his bloody, cut-up body parts put in plastic, weighted down, and thrown into the sea (Mike’s almost whimsical violence certainly caused his minions a lot of work). As with last week’s emphasis on how “syntax” is a person’s giveaway trait — his or her “tell” — so Ace was able to intuit from the message Israel supposedly left behind that the kid was murdered, and not a runaway.

Digression: It’s fascinating to me that David Milch and his writers would call so much attention to the way people phrase things, since if there’s one weakness in the dialogue of Luck, it’s that everyone, from Ace to the Degenerate Gamblers, deploys the same inverted-syntax style of speaking. Early on in the series, I thought only the lower-life characters were going to speak in this manner (“Like poor relations, he treats us,” said Marcus, for example), but as this evening proved, every significant character, from Joey (“Who he puts on [the horse], you don’t allow pertinent to your state of mind”) to Ace (“About which toward you I’d feel very different if I wasn’t co-responsible”) regularly places predicate before subject and attempts high-flown rhetoric that usually crashes nicely into bed of soft grammar. End of digression.

There were numerous significant developments this week: The choice of horse position and jockeys for next week’s climactic Western Derby; Jo’s awful kick to the stomach endangering her pregnancy; and Ace’s showdown with Mike, which has made both men more angry with — and thus potentially more careless, open to attack from — each other.

Everything has built nicely toward a grand conclusion. It’s too bad that that conclusion will ring with such unintended finality.

Twitter: @kentucker

For more: HBO cancels Luck after third horse dies


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