03/19/2012 12:45PM

Luck Episode 8 Recap: Sleeping with the fishes

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The opening sequence of the latest -- and penultimate -- episode of "Luck" answers a key question: Nathan Israel is indeed fish bait. Mike Smythe's goons cut up his body into pieces, put the pieces into garbage bags tied to anchors and send them down to the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen or heard from again.

Kind of sounds like what HBO would like to see happen with "Luck," no?

As we head toward what is now the end the series itself, Ace Bernstein's convoluted revenge plot comes into full view as the killing of Israel forces him to accelerate his plans.

Smythe aide Isadore Cohen visits the casino to outbid Ace by making a "gesture of commitment." But the whole transaction is caught on tape, and the casino hands the video over to Gus shortly afterward. ("Serrano's got the disks! Serrano's got the disks!")

As soon as Ace realizes Israel is dead, Ace and Gus go into full-on gangster mode. Watching them work is a thing of beauty. They are like John Stockton and Karl Malone running the pick and roll. Nothing more than a nod is necessary to know which play to run.

Armed with the leverage of Cohen's bribe attempt, Ace heads over to Smythe's yacht to put the hammer down. Meanwhile, Gus has Smythe's other right-hand man, Nick DeRossi, locked up in a storage shed at the racetrack. DeRossi is genuinely worried that he will be joining Israel in the great beyond, but they are just "killing the clock," waiting on how the Ace-Smythe meeting plays out.

Ace tells Smythe he knows that Israel was murdered, but because he feels co-responsible, there won't be any further bloodshed. Ace produces the bribe video from the casino -- prime evidence for a RICO case. He says Smythe is out on the move at the track. Now Smythe is in a position where he will have to disappoint his backers by missing out on this huge score. We're left to assume Smythe's backers are not the forgiving types, giving Smythe a rather large motivation to stay in the track game.

Smythe later tells DeRossi he'll move on the track anyway, after they bump off Ace. But Ace has a jump on Smythe yet again -- pictures and a positive identification of Smythe's hired hitter.

Meanwhile at the racetrack, Jo the vet gets kicked in the stomach by a horse during an exam, putting her pregnancy at risk. She heads to the hospital where she his joined by Turo Escalante later and learns that she'll need a procedure done to try to save the pregnancy.

Trainer Walter Smith continues to be harrassed by Dennis Bowman, the son-in-law of the Colonel who gave Smith the rights to Gettin' Up Morning. Bowman has offered Smith a settlement but Smith refuses. Bowman has an affidavit from a convict that implicates Smith in the death of Morning's sire, Delphi. With Bowman's legal recourses appearing limited -- the track stewards rule against him -- he resorts to dirty old blackmail. But Smith has none of it and gives Bowman the Gordie Howe treatment.

The track rats have a new member -- Jerry's girlfriend Naomi the card dealer -- and Marcus is not happy about it. He stews as she celebrates a winning ticket that she earned by selecting the horse with the pink saddlecloth. "Pink, baby!" she says.

The draw for the "Western Derby" -- a thinly veiled version of the Santa Anita Derby -- is at hand, and Escalante and Smith are chosen for the task. Smith's Gettin Up Morning gets the rail; Escalante's Pint of Plain is right next to him in post 2, setting up a duel between the top 3-year-olds in the season -- uh, series -- finale. On the undercard that day, the track rats' claimer Mon Gateau will be stepping up in class into a $75K starter handicap. But the horse is assigned 112 pounds, which means regular rider Leon Micheaux is out. Rosie gets the mount and couldn't be happier about it. Escalante is pretty happy about it as well. When Rosie's agent Joey Rathburn says, "She won't hurt you none on the odds," Escalante delivers one of his classic deadpans: "Holy cow, I never think of that."

In the only racing action of the episode, Ronnie Jenkins wires the field aboard Emmet's Daddy (paying $15.20 to win). Leon then seeks out Jenkins for advice on how to make weight. "What is the most specialist stuff?" he asks. Jenkins refuses to help, not wanting to mess up his own luck at the moment. He does feel for Leon losing his mount to his own girlfriend, Rosie, though. "Toughest sport played outdoors," Jenkins says.

-- Jacob Luft

More Luck Episode 8 coverage:
I Screen You Screen: Luck recap: An untenable position
HBO.com: Episode 8 synopsis
OregonLive.com: 'Luck' recap: Why did HBO really cancel its horse-racing series?
Buzz Bissinger: HBO's 'Luck' Runs Out as Show Is Canceled After Three Horses Die