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THE DEUCE: EPISODE 5: WHAT KIND OF BAD?
I ain’t out here to bust on you baby. It’s just that you keep expecting better, but you keep getting worse. – Rodney
The Deuce is such a difficult show to watch, because the content is so grimy, and it has to be, as without that level of degradation and debauchery, it would lack all credibility. But, admittedly, as strong a drama as it is, it’s not one I look forward to in the same way I do many others. It’s not something I could ever binge, and it isn’t something I expect to rewatch. The initial viewing provides a richly illustrated palette of destruction and depression.
Last night, it was more of the same, although we discovered (along with Abby) that Darlene might not have been who we hoped she might be. Perhaps she’s just been in this life too long, is afraid to step out of the comfort zone (which is an amazing thing to say, considering she’s a prostitute), and can’t think of any answer. She was given a ticket to Carolina, but instead of staying home, she recruited Bernice, who Rodney quickly renamed “Ginger.” Larry Brown was worried she was “20, going on 16,” and that she might even be 15.
Rodney says a fake ID is all that’s needed to cover any problems, and it’s here again where we realize sex is business, and morality has no place anywhere in The Deuce. Even Vincent, who has at least at times attempted to stay on the straight and narrow, is in deep with Rudy Pipolo, and has now agreed to open up what amounts to an illegal massage parlor, with Bobby Dwyer handling the day to day and financial sides of the business. Just before the episode ends, Vinny tells Bobby to talk to Frankie, who can involve the pimps with whom he plays cards to stock the place with women. So, at that very second, Vincent Martino becomes…
…almost a pimp.
As Sandra Washington attempts to earn more space for her stories in the Amsterdam Times, Chris Alston gets her face time with Reggie Love, for the fee of 40 dollars an hour. What exactly is she going to write? That’s the question no one is thinking about right now. She’s doing an expose on the prostitution industry, but what news is she going to break here? We may not know the intricacies of the business, but we’re well aware of the dangers, and the layers of corruption involved on all levels.
If we needed a refresher, we got it as Candy was beaten half to death by a thief, who braved mace to the face and robbed her. We didn’t see much of the assault, thank goodness, but even after the door closed, we could hear the sin, and in this case the pure evil in that room. Worse, when she returned to the street, Rodney told us in his conversation with her that this wasn’t the first time. Last Christmas, her jaw was broken, and the following spring, her arm was in a sling.
Because she’s working independently, no one has her back. Rodney puts on the full-court press, which brings Candy both to tears and nervous laughter. Here, in this moment, along with the spot where she’s putting on makeup to hide her wounds, we realize just how desperately she wants off the street. She listens to Jack’s message, where he behaves like a boyfriend that cares for her, where he tells her how much fun he had with her, where he tells her he’s enjoying getting to know her, and where he hopes she’ll accept his invitation to a work party.
She knows in her heart that as long as Eileen is “Candy,” that life can’t be hers. This is the essence of the entire series. The Deuce presents a world that appears to be escapable, but in some ways, those on the street have been indoctrinated to believe in that universe, and none other. Sex, street, Leon’s, Hi-Hat, dodge violence, hand wads of cash to jerks, and then repeat the process. How can you be a mother? How can you be a daughter? How can you be a sister? How can you do anything else?
Almost no one on the non-Alston side of this show even recognizes a different life. I’m not sure they’re even fully aware of what else is out there. Where would they see it? Maybe that’s why Darlene cries watching A Tale of Two Cities and Mildred Pierce. We watch movies, escape into these places, and sometimes we emote because it touches us, and we can relate to certain aspects of heartache and triumph. But, for Darlene, she can’t relate to much of anything she’s seeing, and thus she’s virtually crying in the direction of a fairy tale.
Largely, outside of Abby’s disappointment in Darlene, the episode followed the usual pattern of catching up with all the main characters. C.C. was barely shown, but in that short time, we see a very frazzled Lori, who appears to have been weeping, and looks to be in a horrible way. Frankie is a miscreant, and his conversation about the likely quantity of sex gay men have in comparison to lesbians and heterosexuals is another example of what a scumbag he is. As for Paul, he’s arrested for solicitation in a gay porn theater, and then ends up in a threesome with his roommate and a third man after a night at an underground club.
None of Paul’s story this week intrigued me much at all, and quite frankly appeared to be included simply to put that specific content into the show. He partied, he took drugs, and he engaged in gay sex both in public and private. That kind of thing happens for heterosexual scenes in many shows as well, and in all cases I’ve begun to wonder if we’d be better with a few less minutes of an episode rather than meaningless sex scenes. We recognize Paul is gay, which is perfectly fine, but I have to hope there’s more to tell about this man than which gender he chooses to sleep with at night.
Candy goes back to Harvey Wasserman and tells him she can handle being in front of the camera, although we know her ultimate goal. But, she recognizes how much safer that life is than the one that gets her beaten on the street. That’s a positive development, at least in the world of The Deuce. Thank goodness she didn’t buy into Rodney’s nonsense, because although we haven’t seen his full mean streak yet, we know it’s there somewhere. All of these guys have one. They have to in order to survive in this putrid location.
Incidentally, Maggie Gyllenhaal was spectacular, even more so than usual, this week. That performance may well be the Emmy submission, and it’s a good call if so. That was a tough role to play, and it was heartbreaking from start to finish. She crushed it, and this was very much her episode. That was an incredible acting job.
The Deuce is a tough series to watch, but it’s well-written and engaging. I do want to see MORE from Paul that doesn’t center around his sexuality, because this series focuses on pleasure with a goal of not being arousing. It’s not supposed to be meaningless to us as an audience. It’s supposed to convey a lack of meaning to the characters themselves.
Paul’s pleasure, unlike virtually every other version on the series outside of the strange Vincent-Abby dynamic, and maybe the Sandra-Chris pairing, has no professional purpose. I’m confident David Simon and George Pelecanos will find the proper balance. His preference and his sex life have to be a large part of his life, but he should be more than that. Every character should be dynamic, and he’s relatively static right now.
That’s a mild critique. The show remains excellent, even if I’ve got to be in the right mood for it. It’s definitely not an “anytime” kind of show. Nothing Simon has ever been associated with in a creative capacity is, and he remains the king of that skill.
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