Rake: “Cancer” (Episode 1.03)

TV Reviews
Rake: “Cancer” (Episode 1.03)

After Keegan slow-rolled his full house during the pilot’s poker game, I’ve been waiting—rooting, really—for him to receive his karmic payback. Kee keeps winning at cards in “Cancer,” but it’s fitting, and satisfying that the only thing he’s genuinely good at (lawyering still doesn’t count) is the thing that gets him into the most trouble. In the opening scene, Kee manages to pick off skater Tony Hawk’s bluff, but rubs it in to the degree that Tony refuses to take part in Kee’s kid’s school auction. This poker compulsion seems to zero in on Kee’s true nature: the cockiness and tell-detecting that pays off in cards is more in line with his personality than the womanizing the title insists upon. I suspect they really wanted to call this show Maverick, but the name (if not that character’s slow-hand ways) was taken.

Rake got a late start on the season and faces an uphill battle to secure an audience with the Olympics starting up in Sochi. Perhaps the idea with the poker was to attract men desperately avoiding eye contact with figure skating, but the episode primarily continues to play up Kee’s female appeal. The problem is the women in the series—from his ex, Maddy, to call girl Mikki, from secretary Leanne to Debbie, the casino owner Kee owes money to—all seem to want to mother him more than go to bed with him. Even his client makes him chocolate chip cookies (continuing the food-payment motif—3/3 so far!).

At least the client actually is a mother, though with a name like Carol Grady, she’s a hair off the perfect TV mom. The Grady bunch is just two boys, the younger of whom apparently has cancer. Turns out the cancer is just an insurance scam, as Mom has an addiction to the slots, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars (insurance companies are so naïve). Leanne gets in a good line when the wheelchair-bound bald kid freaks Kee out: “You know, fake cancer is even less contagious than real cancer.” There seems like there might be a genuine mystery for a while as to who’s scamming who, but mom is just in serious denial about her own gambling habit, so the only surprise is how Kee will get her out of this mess.

In the meantime, Kee shows that he knows when to hold ’em, but hasn’t the faintest clue when to fold ’em. He gets lucky on a slot machine, but can’t help bleeding the money away. First, he gets in trouble with Mikki’s stylish pimp, who claims his share of the roll Kee’s carrying around to pay off his debt (although there is some good news—he may finally be getting his money’s worth, as for once Mikki doesn’t send him away early). Then he manages to blow the rest of the dough outbidding his rival in Maddy’s affections for a bench made by 3rd graders.

The Debbie situation seems like a reboot of the loan shark idea, as Roy, Kee’s old buddy/nemesis, disappears in this episode, with Debbie (and her cousins) filling the same role. This way, though, there’s a chance for yet another romantic entanglement, although that mothering thing flares up again when Debbie finds Kee an apartment with her aunt in Echo Park.

But the episode does a better job tying in Kee’s case of the week with his personal problems—though never exactly stated, Kee clearly is fighting the possibility that he’s as crappy, if also as caring, a parent as Carol Grady is. His speech at the auction asking the audience to forgive Tony Hawk for not showing up is really a plea for himself, and surprisingly moving.

The jury on Kee is still out, but he does manage to persuade his client’s jury to let her off the hook. The defense isn’t exactly Clarence Darrow-level, but at least reflects his people- (and Google-) reading skills. Poker is just a people game played with cards, and the law evidently works along similar lines. And whatever the legal merits of the argument, Kee’s approach finally establishes a way he can flip his foibles into strengths.

At the end of the episode, Kee ends up back in the card room’s good graces, winning again at poker, as cocky as ever. But that’s a healthy thing. “Cancer” offers hope that Kee will continue to make his own luck, good or bad, rather than remain fortune’s fool.

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