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THE DEUCE: EPISODE 3: THE PRINCIPLE IS ALL
America, right? When do we ever leave a dollar for the other guy to pick up? – Candy Merrell
Last night’s episode of The Deuce, written by David Simon and Richard Price, was the first installment that didn’t feel introductory in focus. It also felt very much like a Season 1 episode of The Wire, and it spent much of its time with Vincent and Frankie Martino, with plenty of input from Rudy Pipolo. I’ve been less interested in this story than any other in the show up to this point, but it shifted last night somewhat, because worlds collided in a more permanent manner.
As The Hi-Hat bar opened, we saw most of the pimps and ladies of the night we’ve come to know and love end up on 45th inside the establishment. We also watched as Abby Parker walked off her telemarketing gig with Power Plower and take a job as a waitress for Vinny. The two have not slept together yet, but it’s coming, as there’s a mutual attraction and it’s the only potential relationship that is OUTSIDE the confines of the porn and pleasure industry, at least at this juncture of the show.
Abby is directionless, likely made a mistake with her schooling, and now is virtually a squatter asking her own roommate for ten bucks to chip in on her part of the rent. She has sex with a guy who then steals from her, and she appears to be completely lost. It’s the pairing with Vincent that’s intriguing, although I’m not sure yet whether it’s going to prove to be a good thing for either of them in the long run. Vinny has big time trouble with the mob, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
As everything has coalesced together, The Deuce‘s ship has simultaneously tightened and expanded. It’s more clearly stated, but there are a few extra sentences in the paragraph now. Big Mike would be an example, as he went from choking a drug dealer to scaring Candy on the street by accident, to working for Vinny after shutting up the loudmouth vending and activity machine guy that just wanted his cut.
Candy wants to get into the porn business, but not in front of the camera. After her experience last week and hearing about the various lighting techniques and movie tricks, she wants to be on that side, work her way up, and end up in a position of power. She’s always been self-made, never working for a pimp and continually attempting to avoid splitting money with anyone whatsoever.
She meets Harvey Wasserman after watching his 40 dollar a head con job during the cold open. I get why people would pay to watch pornography, but I fail to see why anyone would want to go behind the curtain and watch the making of a flick. Never is it going to be a positive experience, either for arousal or interest. Simon and Price depicted it as a tedious, trial-and-error experiment, featuring angle and position changes that were anything but natural.
Of course, we all realize this is how porn is actually done, and as we find out later, anytime you see anal, assume the woman hates it. Candy makes it clear when she declines an invitation from a semi-regular that no girl likes it, that it hurts, and that they can’t walk properly afterwards. So, again, The Deuce presents pornography that is not pornographic or designed to elicit sexual excitement.
Wasserman telling Candy she’s pretty enough to be in front of the camera – should he ever put film in one again – is a bit of a nod to the glass ceiling women faced during the 1970s. It wasn’t overt, but it felt intentionally written to illustrate the challenges she will face in this world. Not only will she have to learn how to do the job, she’s also going to have to prove herself repeatedly. It’s accurate to assume porn direction is a man’s game.
Also, Candy may have a sexually transmitted disease after we listen to her answering machine. That scene was powerful because it revealed juts how sad this life is. It’s guys that want her as an object and occasionally it’s someone calling to say he’s got the Clap, and she might now have it as well. Even a call from a bill collector would be a welcome interruption from that kind of notification.
We got more from Bobby Dwyer this week as well, including a cardiac episode that came after a brief Vietnam discussion with a young ideologue in the work trailer. Bobby has to deal with the kickbacks around him, while also assisting in skimming off the top of his employees’ paychecks to send to Rudy. It’s a balancing act to be sure, and Chris Bauer is playing it very effectively. He does the disgruntled grumbling grouch thing very well.
Larry Brown had a chance to knock Darlene around a little after she fell asleep watching another movie with her regular, this time it was Mildred Pierce, but he chooses not to do so. He then takes her to the bar opening, and treats her with a modicum of decency. Here, we see how perception and reality are different. We were told Brown was the one to steer clear of, but he’s been far more decent and patient than C.C., who is pushing Lori to cut out the “30 dollar suck jobs” that aren’t going to make the income a long game would.
The corrupt police NYPD has turned several key vice blocks into “no go” zones, where the kinds of collars and roundups Chris Alstin and Danny Flannagan have been doing are no longer acceptable. The former knows it’s bogus, while the latter basically doesn’t care enough either way. The two uniforms watch as Lori gets picked up for what becomes a tunnel blowjob one scene later.
She’s gun shy and scared after last week’s near assault, rape, or possibly murder. C.C. basically saved her, and he’s the one telling her he will protect her, but in general he is only interested in protecting his money. He enjoys sleeping with her, but she’s just an employee to him. In this life, no one can afford the luxury of legitimate friendship or connection. It gets in the way of the hustle. It’s an unnecessary distraction.
As I predicted last week, Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) is indeed a reporter and not a lesbian. After handing over 40 bucks to a prostitute, she’s able to ask a few questions. The only one we’re privy to is whether the woman has a man, to which she responds yes, and gives the name Jimmy Love. Sandra’s character, and her fate are going to be fascinating as the show develops, but provides a small roadmap for some pushback towards the Times Square sex industry.
Frankie Martino is a grade-A prick. He’s gotten his brother into hot water, pulls that crowbar move so he can lose more money in a card game, and generally exists to take up space and cause problems. Eventually, James Franco is only going to be playing one role on The Deuce, rather than two. The question is which one, because Vinny could pay the ultimate price for his last name, even if the bar is successful and he and Abby are doing well.
The Deuce will continue to be about tragic figures, and some that want something more for their lives, but can’t escape their circumstances. Darlene is reading Charles Dickens and talking to Abby about Little Dorrit, but she’s still got to get out there and earn for Larry, and she has to do it on her back.
Candy tells her mother she wants to get into movies, but she doesn’t exactly have aspirations to be Spielberg or Scorsese, at least not as far as we know. Vincent knows how to open and run a bar, but he’s in way too deep with the Gambino crime family, and The Hi-Hat is simply a front for illegal organized activity. He will end up in jail, in a hospital, or possibly in a morgue.
When the machine owner drops his, “You have no idea who you’re fucking with” line, it’s applicable to the entire series. Just as C.C. has two sides, Larry Brown does as well, and so does everyone else. Wasserman is running a scam, the police are behaving inappropriately, Abby may have wrecked her life, Vinny is in deep with the mob, and Bobby is also trapped in the same life. None of the prostitutes have a way out, and even they step into every strange car oblivious to what might happen to them.
The one thing we know about The Deuce is the city and the underbelly will always win in the end. This isn’t a happy story and it’s not a fairy tale. It’s a drama in every sense of the word, using sex as a backdrop for misery and hopelessness.
This week was the sleekest in sexual content and perhaps the richest in lasting exposition. David Simon and Richard Price took us far deeper into this universe than we’ve been previously, and we are now able to see where each slice fits into the overall pie in the Big Apple. Another good episode, and considering I still feel we’re barely scratching the surface on what’s to come, the series is trending nicely.
Last week, Casey Bloys and HBO announced a Season 2 renewal for The Deuce, which should surprise no one. This show will have Emmy love all over it, not to mention critical and fan acclaim. It isn’t immediately approachable, which is a good thing. It should be an acquired taste to some extent, because the world is nearly uninhabitable for any of us on our side of the screen.
Like Candy, we’re pretty enough to be in front of the camera, but we’re much safer and more fulfilled behind it.
I’m @JMartOutkick. See you back here at nine.