HBO’s Luck is improving, and it’s a result of more polished characters with deeper stories than in the first four episodes. Despite representing a dramatic shift, this rash of likeability is not altogether unexpected. Ace and The Greek hadn’t been demonstratively unlikable so much as they had simply drifted to the background of the show and become minor characters. Similarly, Jerry, Marcus, Renzo and Lonnie were all on a general upswing (more or less) in the preceding episodes and just continued that trend. The writers even tried to improve Joey Rathburn’s character. He’s a long way from an enjoyable character, but he’s clearly risen above Turo Escalante.
The series reintroduces us to its main characters when Ace and The Greek discover that Escalante has entered their very expensive horse, Pint of Plain, into a race the following day. [Aside: HBO should totally buy a top-of-the-line race horse and train him or her as a promotional stunt for Luck like they did with the subway train for Boardwalk Empire. Just call the horse “HBO’s Luck” and every time the horse races, Luck gets free advertising. Plus all the purses. You can thank me later, HBO.] As it turns out, ol’ Turo’s trying to give the geezers the runaround, but even more ol’ Ace sniffs out his ruse and demands that if Escalante plans to run the horse, that he should use the best jockey available, not Leon (That boy’s got no luck to him, does he? You know, other than the whole Rosie thing).
Although Ace shows why we should give a shit about his character by flexing his intimidation tricep with Turo (beyond that he’s played by Dustin Hoffman), we like him because he shows his vulnerability with Joan Allen’s character. Ace is smitten with Allen’s character, who runs a program to help socialize convicts with retired race horses. He cuts her a check for $367,000 — or a thousand times his lucky number — and sheepishly asks her to the races.
Before the races, however, Marcus reveals that he’s been reading Cool-Guy Jerry’s (who blew more than a quarter million losing poker against Lester in the previous episode) diary. Jerry has Lonnie and Renzo take Marcus to the hospital, where the doctor, who is tragically not portrayed by Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (CLAY DAVIS!), takes mercy on him and prescribes him some valium. It is under the influence of this that Marcus admits he might be gay for Jerry, which means two things: the valium is working, and Marcus doesn’t watch 30 Rock. Jer’ Bear explains that they’re just buddies, and all four go out to eat a meal of loneliness and bro-osity. Adorable.
The episode ends with Ace nuzzling his horse after a renegade horseshoe hits and bloodies its leg mid-race. This marks the first compelling end of an episode since the pilot. For once, there’s something to be excited about next Sunday.
Character Power Rankings
1. Jerry – Up 5
Jerry yo-yos back to the top with an empathetic turn in this week’s episode. He handles Marcus’ breakdown in a way that Renzo and Lonnie clearly would not be able to, and he helps out the crooked racetrack guard.
2. Rosie – Down 1
Rosie is largely a non-factor in this episode, but her lone wordless scene reminds us why she was number 1 in the first place.
3. Marcus – No Change
He lets down his guard — with the help of some valium — and that makes him a bit more likable for now.
4. Renzo – No Change
He does nothing to help or hurt his stock this week. He remains grimacing in the back of scenes, waiting for his luck to sour on him.
5. Walter Smith – Down 3
Walter’s not in this episode, so he takes a small tumble down the rankings.
6. Lonnie – Down 1
Like Renzo, he does almost nothing to change his position. That said, he spies on Marcus’ conversation with Jerry. How rude.
7. Chester “Ace” Bernstein – Up 2
He made some good strides this episode, but it’s going to take some consistency before we like him more than other characters who have built up several episodes of goodwill.
8. Leon – Down 1
Leon gets shat on by Chester and Turo, but otherwise proves fairly worthless. He’s a stunted character waiting for a growth spurt that might never come.
9. Joey Rathburn – Up 1
Joey’s still hard to watch, but his broken family life at least builds the tiniest amount of sympathy for him. I don’t see him jumping in the rankings any time soon.
10. Gus “The Greek” Demitriou – No Rank
Gus’ level of interest is tied to Ace, so he rises alongside him. That said, he won’t rise much higher until he becomes a separate character.
Dropped from the rankings: Turo Escalante