The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

The Ace Is Back in Place

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Dear Kathryn,

First, congratulations on becoming a professor this week. I’m still trying to get #mydaughter/sisteriseaprofessoroftheologyatfordhamuniversityinnewyorkcity to become a trending topic, but it seems to be a little rough. Anyways, congratulations.

Before I start talking about episode 2, I want to mention that I am really starting to like the theme song. I have never listened to Massive Attack much, but this song is making me want to listen more. The opening credits struck me as kind of boring at first, but I can really get into the groove of the song now.

Anyways, my first thought about this episode was, “huh, I don’t remember seeing any african americans on the show.” From only two episodes, it does seem to be a predominantly white male show. Have you noticed that? Maybe it is an accurate representation of the horse racing culture. Anyways, I really liked the way that they established Ace being a dominant force in prison. He explains to his parole officer that he has “stage fright” in the bathroom. The officer asks about that issue in prison. Ace says, “People made adjustments.” I found this to be an awesome way to show that Ace was the boss in prison because he is so connected. It reminded me of Avon Barksdale in a white collar prison setting.

This episode seemed to be a lot about exposition, sometimes subtle like the prison bathroom idea, and some not so subtle (see: Ace and The Greek explaining the entire situation that led to Ace going to jail in quick car ride). As opposed to the pilot, almost every scene seemed to be centered around explaining things to the audience. This is not to say that everything is completely clear. It is still tons of information to gather, but it is was nice to have some explanations handed to us.

I also really enjoyed getting to spend a little bit of time with each of the four gamblers. We see Jerry’s addiction in full display. Winning the pick 6 last week, only makes him a higher stakes addict. While his character seems a little clichéd, it also feels pretty realistic. It is really painful to watch him lose tons of money to the cocky Asian man at the Texas Hold ‘Em table, and almost more painful to watch him win because you know it is only fueling his addiction.

We also got to spend some valuable time with Renzo as he tries to claim Escalante’s horse only to lose on the “shake.” I am glad that the established Renzo as more that being an idiot so early in the show. It is obvious that he is not the smartest in the group, but he also seems to have a decent grip on the situation they are in. He and Lonnie seem to realize that their lives can change from the Pick 6 win, but seem to just not be able to get out from under their situations. I thought they did a great job of causing me to empathize with Renzo during the race. You want Escalante’s horse to win because that is who Renzo wants. And then, you think that Renzo has won the horse by claiming him (a process I am still not sure I understand), but then the rug is pulled because he loses what is essentially a coin flip (except classier because this is horse racing. not some poor person’s entertainment).

We also get to see Marcus sink deep into paranoia. We see him get told off by everybody because he is trying to control every action they make. Then, we see Lonnie get beat to hell by the two women who hire him as a gigolo because he won’t go through with an insurance scam with them. As much as you don’t really fell sorry about Lonnie because he makes his money as a prostitute, you don’t ever want someone to get beat up they way he does. This is a nice way to reel together the four guys at the end (conveniently, Jerry rolls up at the same moment that Lonnie gets dropped off at the hotel).

On the other side of the spectrum, I loved watching Ace at the race track. On one hand, he was dismayed at how few people were at the track (which I assume is a sign of the recession that Ace made note of during his meeting with the other two big shots). But, he is also obviously excited about watching the race, in a very reserved way. We get to see his addiction playing out in a completely different way than Jerry’s does. He can’t help but be around racing and being involved in the whole world.

I wonder if they are going to keep up the pattern of ending the episode with a pow wow between Ace and The Greek. It’s a nice way to remind us that Dustin Hoffman is the big dog on the show. Even though we spend so much time around the gamblers, the trainers, and even a little around the agent Joey Rathburn, our lead character is Ace Bernstein. Also, we get another set of feet shots with Ace. However, this week’s ending line, while a great sign of the bad-assery to come, was not quite as polite or poetic as last weeks. It’s probably good that I chose a different title than, “Let’s go get these cocksuckers.”

I can’t wait to hear what you think (about this week or last week).

Favorite quotes:

“Hypothetic. I’m saying, hypothetic,” The Greek. “That’s enough. And, it’s hypothetically.” – Ace
“Puto. You understand that?” – Escalante.
“I’m OD-ing on concepts.” – Lonnie
“I was thinking of getting a bear claw, Joey.” – Leon  “No, no bear claw.” – Joey
“Comprende? You understand?” – Escalante  “Si. Yes.” – Ace
“C’mon horse!” – The Greek
“Ace, I had two hundred dollars on this horse! Don’t ever knock this fucking country to me.” – The Greek
Also:
Escalante still thinks The Greek’s horse “has a plain head on him.”

—–

Hey Bryan,

Thanks for getting us off to such a great start, last week and now. I wasn’t able to watch the premier until Friday last week, but that meant I got to watch both episodes pretty close together and I think that helped snare me into the plot. Or, I guess, not the plot as much as the characters. I find this to be a strange show, especially for an HBO show. I am used to the more formulaic premise – hit the viewer with lots of sex and violence up front to hook them and remind them they aren’t in network-land anymore. Luck is taking it slow. Other than Lonnie’s close call with the insurance brokers and the horse’s broken ankle last week, we’ve seen no violence. And again, save for Lonnie, no sex. Even the profanity has been to a minimum for a David Milch script. The teasers suggest we are in for a lot more of all of these things, but it is fascinating to me that rather than drop us into this world and say “look everyone! Horse gambling is crazy – people get killed! Wild sex is had! The mores of civilization break down on the race track!” they are easing us into the plot mostly be introducing us to a pack of sad, pathetic gamblers and an ex-con with a massive plot up his sleeve that I can’t figure out for the life of me.

Like you, I’m glad we got to see the Pick 6 pack work out the anxieties and possibilities of their new fortune. To some degree, I don’t really get Marcus’ paranoia? Why is he so concerned that no attention be focused on the group? Is this because he wants to keep gambling on the DL and worries that he’ll have a hard time making the picks he wants if everyone knows he was such a big winner? Is it because he is scared of being bombarded by much creepier and more persistent leeches like the bozo who tried to get Renzo to claim the horse and the track security guard? Both of these are reasons I can understand and I guess they are probably the main reasons. But as you also point out, the more interesting angle is the way that sudden riches can actually ruin or undo a person as much as save him. All of these characters are stunned by their fortune and not sure what it means (and really, I’m not sure I’d know what to do at first either). Lonnie and Jerry are just starting to test the waters of new riches and the freedom (and illusions of freedom) that come with it. Marcus is holed up scared to change at all, and Renzo (totally the most endearing by a long shot this episode), hopes that if he can just buy their lucky horse and give it to the group as a gift all will be well again.

These various responses to “good luck” give us the closest thing to “big themes” in the show – at least the big themes the opening credits suggest will be explored. Between the imagery of the opening and the music, we are reminded how much gambling can function like a religious practice for people – a material, concrete means to try to take control of some aspect of life while also surrendering to the forces of fate/luck that can hem one in so strongly in parts of life. I love how the opening credits focus on the small details, the actual physical objects of devotion: the rosary, the die, the lucky penny, the cross. All things that are kissed, rubbed, fondled and respected out of hope that somehow they convey real power to change the world. And obviously, as we’ve already seen – sometimes they do. I hope that the show keeps exploring this and I bet the Pick 6 pack will be the way they do it (though Leon the Cajun also has a lovely shrine he prays to before each race, as we saw last week).

A few more thoughts, since this is running on too long:

–do you think there is any sexual tension between Ace and the Greek? I love that they debrief in Ace’s bedroom each night and the intimacy they reveal makes we wonder if they are actually lovers. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be just fine if it turns out they are not lovers. There is something interesting about that kind of intimacy that is not sexual, but it feels like a lover relationship to me.

–I think your question about whether or not the track is sexist toward female jockeys has been answered. There doesn’t seem to be one good reason why Rosie shouldn’t ride the three-year-old in the races except this is a boys world and she needs to start at the small track.

–since they are going to be explicit about the present-day economy, I think it is spot-on that both Lonnie and the Greek equate gambling with the unique promise of America. You joked about why Obama didn’t refer to this part of the American dream, but I think it really is part of it. It is all that is left of the idea of rags to riches – it isn’t going to happen through hardwork or social mobility for the most part, but maybe it can happen through luck. Though as we see, not always for the good.

I’m glad to be blogging this one with you. It feels like the kind of show I need to think about to really love. Maybe that is a weakness, but as I do think about it, I’m a lot more excited for next week!

Kathryn

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