Last night, HBO aired the pilot for Luck, its new horse racing and casino show from David Milch, ahead of the show’s actual run in January. There’s no question that the pilot immediately establishes Luck as a serious contender for the most gorgeous show on television, and I’m really glad to see someone else step up to Breaking Bad and do all sorts of gorgeous, vertiginous things with color and light. And it’s nice to know that Carrie and Saul from Homeland have a little competition in the category of best mentor-mentee relationship on television, that competition being Sad Nick Nolte and a potentially champion horse. Saul got a decent, if misguided, soliloquy last night, but nothing quite as juicy as: “You don’t know how special you are, do you? How you can run. Who your daddy was. How they killed him.”
This being a David Milch show, though, after my marination in Deadwood, I’m curious to see what he’ll do in another framework where women generally are marginal but individual women have the capability to be tremendously powerful. After all, it’s not just that the Old Man notices the potential in a horse, it’s that he sees the potential in Lizzy, a female jockey (played by Chantal Sutherland, a jockey in real life), remarking, “I guess I still know a peach when I see one,” as he checks his stopwatch. “Who’s gonna ride it?” one character asks Joey, the stuttery agent who caught the miracle horse’s workout. “Some exercise girl or something,” Joey replies. The ability to see human as well as horseflesh matters. And it’s women who treat horses when they’re healthy, as well as easing them on when, as happens in a final, climatic race in the pilot, they snap a leg.
There’s going to be a lot of wrangling about the economy in Luck: the pilot already has references to payday loans and the dismal state of the city’s tax base. I imagine we’ll rise far above individual horses, individual owners, and individual races. But I hope the beating, high-strung heart of Luck remains its horses and the people who own them, ride them, and care for them. There’s a nice bit when Gus (Dennis Farina), who has bought a horse as a front for Chester (Dustin Hoffman) who is recently out of jail and preoccupying himself with larger concerns, anxiously feeds that horse a carrot for the first time. There’s a jittery delight in the proximity to the velvet of those noses, to the muscle force behind the enamel that chews up those carrots. You could do worse on a metaphor for the power, randomness and seductive appeal of capitalism.