Sunday, September 17, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - Vincent Checks Out a New Bar While Candy Films a Movie in 'Show and Prove'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 1.02 "Show and Prove"

With his marriage failing, Vincent moves into a seedy Times Square hotel and, fueled by his success drawing customers to a struggling Korean bar, contemplates a tempting offer from mob capo, Rudy Pipilo. Vincent and Frankie's brother-in-law, Bobby, a Brooklyn construction foreman, eyes Vincent's new connections as a way to better his own lot.

The Deuce is still primarily in setup mode in "Show and Prove." And yet, it does world-building in such a captivating way. This is a show that can comfortably exist in its own setting and characters without needing to rush the plot points to make things dramatically satisfying in an immediate way. It's taking its time. It's introducing even more characters for its crowded ensemble. That seems incredibly daunting and impossible to keep track of. And yet, things are still easy to follow and understand. That's very much appreciated. New characters being introduced this week include Bobby, Vincent and Frankie's brother-in-law, a construction foreman willing to become a part of a criminal operation; Rudy, the lead mobster whom Vincent is forming a relationship with; Paul, a gay bartender whom Vincent is intrigued by; and Sandra, a new girl on the streets who is interested in writing oral stories about her fellow sex workers. These characters and stories are bound to be very important to the season. This episode also provides the first glimpse into the porn industry to highlight what the rules of this particular era actually are. It's a lot of important information to have. There's a very fine line between what's legal and what's illegal. Everyone seems to be morally compromised in order to be successful in this world. Sometimes they are able to soar to new heights and sometimes they are brought back down to reality by the police. The way the show approaches all of this is very commonplace though. Both the sex workers and police are just doing their jobs. It's a dynamic that feels lived in. There is personality and understanding to it even though it's still the relationship between the law and a criminal.

"Show and Prove" gets its title from the roundups the police are doing of various streets where the girls are walking. It's a standard part of this life. The police roll up with their truck to arrest the women for selling their bodies on the street. It's illegal to do so even though this part of the city is primarily dominated with it. And yet, there's a system in place that shows the humanity in it as well. Officers Alston and Flanagan are asking to be shown proof that the woman were just arrested for these crimes in the previous day's raids. It's just a natural part of this business. They have the compassion to let people go if they already made the trip to the precinct for the week. In fact, it's quite humorous that Flanagan doesn't actually know what day it is which affects his judgment on who goes on the bus and who doesn't. Meanwhile, the precinct isn't a scary or abusive experience either. Instead, it's very relaxed. The officers are taking meal orders. And then, everyone is just enjoying the food in the courtyard. The women are wearing handcuffs but only on one hand. Everyone basically knows the drill. They need to be arrested for breaking the law. The officers need to hit their quotas for arrests each month. This is a simple way to do it. But no one really cares about what happens. As such, it's just a relaxed environment. All the women need to do is appear in court to pay a fine. That's another cost of doing business in this profession. It's just standard procedure.

Of course, the pimps make lots of noise when this happens night after night as well. They need these women to be out on the streets working in order for them to earn money. They are harassing the officers in order to let their girls go. They are laughing at the hypocrisy of these arrests. They are doing whatever it takes to protect their girls. In this moment, it's played for laughs. These pimps are ridiculous. Their efforts barely work. In fact, the big punchline at the end of this episode is that the officers no longer care about the "show and prove." They just arrest everyone who's on the street that night. That's played less as a destructive and abusive action and more like payback for a joke gone wrong. It's amusing to watch. But it's always important to be aware of just how controlling and dramatic these stories between pimps and the women working for them can be. It can be nice to be working for a pimp at a time like this. They will help deal with the financial difficulties of being arrested. But Larry and C.C. can be very controlling as well. For example, Larry doesn't want Darlene just sitting at a bar reading and talking with Sandra. He pushes her back to the streets. It's rough but she still ultimately does it.

Meanwhile, things are at their most destructive with C.C. and Lori. It's so absolutely heartbreaking to watch as things quickly go sour for that dynamic. This lifestyle isn't new for Lori. She claims she's been doing it since she was 16. She wanted to be picked up by a pimp. But now, she's getting high with him as he talks about the life he wishes he can one day live far away from this profession. He just needs to find the right girl to settle down with and have a family. Plus, he needs the financial security to do so. It all just seems like a fantasy. A way to give Lori the belief that she could possibly be that girl for him. It's a way to control her. He talks about the burden of creating this lifestyle for his girls. He needs to be encouraging but strict all while other pimps are trying to steal his girls and the police try to arrest them. It's a difficult life for a pimp. That's the moment where he wants sympathize from her. But then, he can absolutely be terrifying as well. Lori seemingly gets arrested later that night. She's forced into the back of his car while C.C. shows up to confront him. He actually stabs him to death. He does so because he can tell he's not a real police officer at all. He knows what a real officer looks like and what the proper procedure is. He has seen it on the streets enough to know the difference. But he still kills someone right in front of Lori. That's a power play to control her as well. She still needs to ultimately fear him. It's just so damaging though. She's traumatized by this. She can't just return to the streets acting like everything is fine. And yet, she must because C.C. is still expecting a big night from her.

Elsewhere, Candy becomes the point-of-entry character for the porn business. She enters that world as a favor to a friend on the streets who can't make it because of a court appearance. Candy's skeptical of the world of videos. She sees it as the girls only getting paid once even though the content will be out there and possibly sold for much enjoyment for a long time. The business economics don't line up with what they do on a nightly basis. And yet, that's the way they are being treated as well. This motivates Darlene to track down her own tape that is being played for the amusement of others. She raises these concerns to Larry as well. He says he'll look into it. But so far, that hasn't amounted to much. Meanwhile, Candy goes to the set and is intrigued by everything that is going on. She's just asked to be the actress in the film. She knows the routine. She knows she needs to make it look good while not looking directly at the camera. But she's intrigued by everything going on around the set. She's curious about the lighting. She's surprised that an entire day's work will only amount to a few minutes of quality video. She sees all the tricks being done to make the video more engaging for the customer. She buys into the fake reality of this world. But she's still intrigued. She still steals a tape to watch it at home. That could spark some creativity within her.

And finally, Vincent is solidifying his relationship with the mob. The premiere made it clear that he didn't want to be a part of this world. He didn't want to be a part of that kind of criminal operation. He just wanted to provide for his family while managing a bar. Of course, he's working at two bars. He's made things very successful with his idea to dress women up in leotards. He's drawing quite the crowds with the appeal of sex without the actual selling of it. It's amusing that Candy and Ruby note that he could be an effective pimp if he chose to make that career change. He's not interested in that though he knows the community and all of the local players. Right now, it's just important that he's setting up this new arrangement with Rudy. He's being pulled into working with Rudy because he wants to believe it'll be a simple landlord relationship where he is given the freedom to do whatever he wants. At first, it felt like he was going to be indebted to the mob because of Frankie's increasing debts. Frankie is still being a troublemaker as well. But now, Vincent is entering this relationship because he wants to. He wants to see if he can actually make it as an owner of a bar. Right now, he's just been managing things for other people. He wants the chance to create his own thing. It's an exciting time for him because of this endeavor. But that doesn't seem destined to last because of the relationships he's forming with dangerous people. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Show and Prove" was written by Richard Price & George Pelecanos and directed by Ernest Dickerson.
  • Frankie still isn't a hugely important character in this story. He's the degenerate brother always getting into trouble. And yet, the show isn't actually spending time with him to see him actually getting into that trouble. Instead, his actions are just told to Vincent so he can have a reaction to what's going on with his brother and being disappointed that his debts keep growing.
  • However, there are some nice moments between Frankie and Vincent that show that their bond is still incredibly close and personal. It's a nice playful bond. It also shows the drama's technical proficiency because it's capable of having these two characters played by the same actor interact in physical ways while making it all look incredibly seamless.
  • Abby has failed out of college. She's packed up her things and her mother has arrived to drive her back home. Of course, she's not going back home. She wants to stay in this city and try to make things work somehow. She isn't immediately pulled back into Vincent's world. She still has a very tenuous connection to everything else going on. But it could be exciting to see what the future holds for her.
  • There are many actors from past David Simon shows appearing in The Deuce. But here, I would like to highlight the reunion from Show Me a Hero of Dominique Fishback and Natalie Paul. They are actually interacting here too as Sandra is very curious about Darlene. Something more is clearly going on with Sandra and her questions. But it's also fascinating to see Darlene drawn to books and movies instead of sex and Larry.
  • Candy gets to spend some more time with her son. That also reveals that while her mother allows her to come to the house, she is still very judgmental of what her daughter does for a living. She lies about it to her grandson. Plus, she's optimistic that buying the game Operation will inspire him to become a doctor. That's very wishful thinking.