Monday, February 6, 2012


I finally watched HBO's Luck tonight. Only the first episode. I had to wait for a moment where I was awake enough to process David Milch's dense language and where my dogs could be trusted to not bark the whole time, which is rare these days. I found an hour after the gym last night.

I was excited about the show because I am one of those stereotypical horse crazy girls who still dreams of owning her own someday. A fact that has been previously documented here. I mention in that post at the link that I love the track. And after watching the first episode, it made me realize I really need to get there. The track is always a good time and I swear one of the most fun cheap dates you can ever take a girl on. Try it. I want to know how it works out. With football season over, I'm vowing to go.

(Aside: one of my friends from Louisiana is still a horse trainer. Her and her sisters and cousin, who I all knew, grew up around horses and really know how to ride. We were having a discussion once and I said, "I'm just so jealous you guys got to have horses! I never did!" She replied, "Yeah, but not big, pretty horses..." Lesson: you always want more.)

As mentioned, the show is dense. Milch has somehow mastered modern Shakespearean language and every word, every note, is loaded with meaning. It's tough. And he dives right in. He doesn't take the time to explain the track lingo to you, slowly rolling out the story the way a lesser show would. He assumes you know what he's talking about or you'll learn quickly.

Because I have some familiarity with track culture and how it works, I kept up fairly well. But even I was learning some aspects on the fly and paying as close attention as I could, for someone with self diagnosed adult onset ADD.

(My thoughts and some spoilers contained after the jump, even if the episode is a couple weeks old now, you've been warned.)

The young male jockey talked like he had marbles in his mouth. They later point out that he's Cajun. Oh, that's why I can't understand a word he's saying. Except that it didn't exactly sound Cajun to me. When I looked him up on Imdb, of course it doesn't sound Cajun. He's British. They need to work on that. It's sort of forgivable because I have to imagine that faking the weirdness that is a Cajun accent is incredibly hard. Just stop having him say "cher". I've been drunk plenty of times with Cajun guys and never once has any of them in casual conversation said "cher". The mosquito in The Princess and the Frog has a better Cajun accent than this kid though so...

Kerry Condon plays the Irish female jockey and even I had to look up who she was, her attire and accent way different than when she was in Rome. I'm looking very forward to that character being fleshed out.

The Dustin Hoffman character, and by association the Dennis Farina character, were sort of minor in the first episode. Foundation was laid but that's about it. Obviously it'll be developed and I think it's going to get Al Swearengen ugly relatively quickly. Just a guess though.

Nick Nolte is your quiet, staid, troubled trainer with an amazing horse on his hands. Richard Kind is your rumpled suit wearing jockey's agent.

I was thrilled when Gary Stevens showed up, giving a horse show some street cred with his hall of fame jockey resume.

There are the four loser gamblers who I think are going to be the lynchpin of the series. They're sad and pathetic and you know that even if good things happen to them, they'll never actually turn out for the best. Jason Gedrick, who I've liked since he was a sort of lecherous guy on Murder One (my TV watching obsession goes back a long way), plays one of the guys.

And there are the horses. The beautiful, majestic, flared nostril, pure muscle tearing down a dirt race track horses. All fluidity and gorgeousness. I'd put a row of tiny hearts here if I didn't so completely abhor such behavior.

In the season opener the losers bet a 6 race parlay (picking the winner in six consecutive races), with an estimated $2 million in prize money available. By the time the 8th race rolled around, they were a lock, having won their bets in the previous 5 races and hedging them by betting all the horses in the 8th. But the amount of the prize was dependent on which horse finished first, meaning they rooted for the long shot as the biggest payout. The longshot was being ridden by our aforementioned "Cajun" jockey.

I'm watching the horses tear down the track, and I have to say, even knowing it's fiction and doesn't matter, my heart races with every race scene. I can physically feel the anxiety ramp up. This is my default when horses race. I'm completely focused, too. They're showing the 8 horse doing well and it's starting to make it's move, and the gamblers are getting excited, the camera keeps cutting between them and the horses and my anxiety builds. As something of a writer, as this is unfolding, I'm thinking, "There's no way. No way. There is no way Milch writes such an easy happy ending with a neat bow in the first episode. Not a chance. Could he? Would he? Never. He can't."

And then it happened.

The 8 horse's ankle snapped. SNAPPED. You could hear a crack. You saw blood and a dangling hoof.

As it happened, since I'm running Twitter and the TV simultaneously I tweeted, "Oh oh god. Oh. No. Nope. Can't handle that. Blow up all the people in movies you want. Break a horse's leg? Can't even look. Had to pause."

That's not hyperbole. As soon as it happened I gasped out loud and covered my eyes as I turned away from the TV, as if anyone else had been watching a horror movie. I had to stop the DVR for a good five minutes and collect myself. I could not deal. I thought I was gonna be sick. And my adrenaline was pumping, making me want to claw my skin off. I knew it was fiction. I still could not flipping handle it. (Mark this next time anyone calls me cold hearted or mean or unfeeling.)

My sentiment also holds true about blowing people up. Gory war scenes in a movie? I'll barely flinch. The horse dying in The Neverending Story? There's a reason I don't think I've seen that movie completely through to this day and that's it.

I'd been talking about this fondness for animals with my dad and stepmom the previous night. I don't know how we got started on the topic but apparently my stepmom was drinking wine a couple nights before and she texted my dad before bed, "Fucking Sarah McLachlan. Love you! Goodnight!" My dad was cracking up. "I looked at the text message like, 'Wha?'" I knew EXACTLY what happened. "That commercial came on, huh?" I asked. "YES! That thing is evil!" So we get into how it's not a new commercial but the ASPCA must have figured out how freaking effective it is, especially for women after some wine, and continues to air it. (Don't click the link on commercial unless you feel like crying/adopting all the dogs in the world.)

We then discussed why it is that we're more emotional about animals than people. My hypothesis is this: animals aren't inherently dicks. They start out cute and fuzzy and adorable and even when you want to murder your dog, he loves you unconditionally.

I actually started to write a post the other day about my little dog and how I'm just ridiculously attached to her. She then proceeded to get mad at me when I took the other dog out and PEES ON MY BED. ON IT. I gave her the silent treatment for a few hours but what are ya gonna do? She was jealous, she told me, I told her, and she's still the cutest freaking thing ever. (Yes, I'm a crazy dog person. The amount of times she keeps me from losing my shit though? There is a reason therapy animals exist as a thing.)

Animals can be smart or ferocious or deadly but they aren't inherently mean spirited. Their behavior is dictated by instinct. People? They're assholes.

The scene in Luck was realistic. Horses die on the track. According to this old article I found on NBCsports, almost one a day in California alone. It's a part of racing that is an issue the way that concussions are a part of contact sports. A problem that needs to be solved but no one is perfectly sure how to solve it.

Part of the problem is that racehorses are poorly designed animals. Whenever I joke about feeling like a hippo standing on toothpicks in high heels? That's essentially what a race horse is. It's a 2k pound animal with toothpick legs made up of fragile breakable bones that aren't even fully developed as most horses run when they're still technically juveniles. But for hundreds of years, this has been the sport of kings, so flawed design aside, we run them.

As a distant observer of the sport whose last time on a horse ended with a bruised tailbone on my birthday more than five years ago, I don't have to deal with the realities of a horse being put down on a track. Milch, and Michael Mann the director of the premiere episode of Luck, made it very very vivid. I had a hard time sleeping and was shaking with the adrenaline. You'd have thought it was my horse and that it was real. I have never so closely watched credits for the "No animal was harmed..." language as I did last night. Rational, logical person that I am still had to be sure the television program was just that.

Thus, if you have a deep affinity for animals: be warned. I wasn't prepared as I had avoided reading about the show and whoa.

Also: I was wrong. Milch did give the four degenerate gamblers a big payday when the next longest shot came in first. They haven't collected their prize money yet. That'll be interesting. I imagine matters will deteriorate quickly.

I'm going to watch episode 2 now and try not to lose it like I did in episode one...

(If your looking for more reading on track life: I once read Jane Smiley's novel Horse Heaven which helped paint a picture of the intertwined world. I recommend it. And if you feel like leaving heartbroken, read Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals which is more of a coming of age story but still excellent. Here is a more critical take on Luck.)

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