Sunday, September 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - Vincent and Candy Work to Build Their Own Success in This Changing Landscape in 'The Principle Is All'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 1.03 "The Principle Is All"

Putting the finishing touches on his new bar, Vincent is blindsided by the sudden appearance of a new partner, causing Frankie to blow a gasket. Rudy buys into a plan to reconfigure The Deuce, hopefully with the support of an ambitious mayor. Candy eyes an entrée into the filmmaking business. Abby languishes in her new job. Darlene works overtime to compensate Larry. C.C. tasks Lori to play the "long game." Bobby pays a price for his recent stress at work.

The world of The Deuce is already gearing up for a change. The first two episodes of the series were establishing this world and the characters. The audience needs to know who these people are and the world that they exist in before everything can change in an explosive way. It's such delicate and precise storytelling. But it still works within this show as well. These opening episodes have been very compelling to watch. All of the characters have their own sets of goals and ambitions. Each of them have their own strategies for how to go about accomplishing them as well. Some of them are working on the macro level of trying to change the way things are done in this industry. Candy wants to educate herself about filmmaking in the hopes that the rules will change soon and there will be a demand for product. Rudy is working alongside several sketchy individuals to fund a mayor who will reshape the districting of the city. That impact is now being made as Alston and Flanagan have no idea why their usual routes are suddenly becoming off limits for no good reason. But most of these characters are working on the micro level and just trying to do what's best for them. Vincent just wants to succeed as a bar owner. But he keeps running into problems he either didn't know about or have been produced by his troublemaking brother. And many are just trying to get by in this dangerous world. They don't care about the future. They just need to survive right now and make the people in their immediate vicinity happy. It's smart storytelling. It all has an impact on one another. So, it allows for human storytelling while also putting the wheels in motion for what's about to happen in this particular place and time.

Vincent just got this new bar from Rudy a week ago. And now, he's already fixed it up and having its grand opening. He's bringing all of the business ideas he had in his other bars over to the new one. Everything is seemingly going according to plan to make this a profitable business. But it's still only going to succeed if he puts the work into it and Frankie doesn't mess it up for him. That largely seems to be Frankie's only role in this show. At first, he appears to be an incredibly lucky guy. The universe rewards him just enough so he can continue to build his gambling debts. The machines in the bar have enough coins to make Frankie really appear to be turning his luck around. But Frankie is such a hothead as well. Those same machines are the source of so much friction and drama right now. The guy who owns there is technically a partner in this business. He wants the money inside of them. This is something Vincent didn't know about at all. He believes he's gone into this business with eyes wide open. He's working for the mob to make this a successful business. But it seems like there is something more going on as well. Rudy is a shifty guy who is always working a couple of different angles. He may be able to take care of this problem for Vincent. Vincent believes he does. And yet, Vincent still needs to rely on a random act of fate in order to survive through his grand opening night.

That's such a specific story that truly highlights just how chaotic and random this world can be. The show continues to add to its already expansive cast. Here, the big introduction is Big Mike. He's this big and imposing presence. He's able to intimidate people into giving him drugs for free. He's an alienating presence who keeps popping up throughout this episode. Important scenes with important characters are intercut with this new guy doing something seemingly disconnected. It's a strange way to tell this story. It makes it clear that he's going to have importance somehow somewhere. But he always seems on the fringes of this story. He's close to big defining moments of life or death. But it's never completely clear what actually happened. Candy bumps into him and knows better to engage with him. And then, someone just randomly gets stabbed in the chest on the street. It's an unusual sight. No one immediately goes to help this guy either. They all know that they need to get far away from him as soon as possible. And then, Big Mike shows up at Vincent's bar. He gets into an altercation with the guy demanding to be paid for his machines. A gun suddenly appears and Vincent is so appreciative of what Big Mike does to deal with the situation. All of this basically reveals that he's going to be the bouncer for this bar. It's a way for Vincent to ensure he has his own protection that is loyal to him and no one else. It's a long introduction that takes awhile to reveal itself. And yet, it does a quick and effective job of endearing him to the audience as well.

Other than the gun, the opening night goes well for Vincent too. There's a lot of stress and uncertainty that comes from opening a new business. Vincent just got into this arrangement with Rudy. It's a deal that is already having a traumatizing effect on his family. Bobby suffers a heart attack while still figuring out the specifics of the deal on the work site. He survives and will continue to be able to work. But it's also clear that this is a character the audience should be concerned about. He has a heart attack because of all the added stress in his life. Plus, he immediately needs a cigarette in the hospital. That shows that he's not able to change his behavior at all in the aftermath. That's a threat to be aware of moving forward. But it's largely the only thing that's going wrong at the moment as well. Abby spends the entire episode looking for a place to work. It's inevitable that she's going to work alongside Vincent at the bar. It seems like a job she'd actually be good at. She's not good as a telemarketer at all. This environment is so strange and foreign to her. And yet, it's strange and mystifying to Vincent as well. Abby is surprised to see that Vincent has a twin brother. She's surprised by the characters she runs into during her first shift. But she's able to handle herself well and forms a connection with Darlene because of their shared love of reading. She survives in this environment. The grand opening is a success for Vincent. That's a rewarding moment. This business is off to a great start. That will make it only more tragic once the world shifts because of what Rudy is cooking up downtown.

Vincent and Abby's interactions also force an interesting conversation. Neither of them truly understand the dynamic between pimp and sex worker. It's a relationship that baffles them. Vincent has been a part of this world for a long time. He's hassled his way to where he is now. He has an entrepreneurial spirit that works in this time frame. But he's not an expert in this world or the choices that other people have to make. He's largely a part of his own world and focuses on what he can do differently to make his business better. But it's an interesting question for the series to pose at this stage of things. It would be easy to say that people walk the streets selling their bodies because they desperately need the money and have no where else to turn. But this show wants to delve into the systemic nature of this business and just how difficult it actually is to leave once one has been a part of it for so long. Candy has been working by herself for a long time. She's friends with many people on the streets and knows many of the locals. It's dangerous for her to be working without a pimp. She collects all of the money herself but it comes with the risks of walking around without any protection. Any kind of obstacle she hits she'll have to face by herself. That's why it's a potentially smart move for her to make this transition into the movies. Sure, it's a little delusional to think she could one day get a job at Disney. But she also has the right mindset to be looking at this business as something very lucrative for the future. She sees how well it's doing in secrecy. She doesn't know just how quickly the city is going to change. But it could be an endearing process for her to figure things out in this new world. It would mean she no longer has to sell her body for sex. But to others, it's a comfort to be working with pimp and it's intimidating to be working with a pimp. C.C. and Larry can be both smart businessman and vicious abusers at the same time. They can be very controlling of the women they work with. And yet, they have the ideas for how they can be more successful in this business as well. So, the show is ultimately doing right by these characters by showing just how complex the situation really is.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Principle Is All" was written by David Simon & Richard Price and directed by James Franco.
  • Sandra is actually a reporter trying to write a story about sex workers and the relationships they have with their pimps. It's just a very brief story so far. She starts talking with someone new this week. It still feels very introductory. But it could have a huge impact on this world should she get enough damning evidence to write a serious exposé.
  • Larry is really starting to get annoyed by Darlene. He can't be too angry because of all the money she is making for him. And yet, he sees the excitement she gets from reading and watching films. That represents ambition that could take her far away from this world. So, he needs to keep ahold of her. But that also means crushing her own dreams and making her question if she's doing the right thing.
  • Lori has a scheme to make more money than other girls all while being driven around in a circle so she lands back in the same location. She believes she's being smart but she's really annoying the customers in the end. C.C. knows that that will be very devastating for her in the long run. So, he needs to curb this idea out of her now.
  • Thunder Thighs introduces Candy to a film production where the man in charge is making all of his money by getting people to pay to see the making of a live porno. She sees it as a smart idea but questions why he isn't actually recording any of it on film. She sees how fake all of it is. But it could be even more lucrative if there was a tape at the end to actually sell. Of course, the guy really isn't open to Candy's new way of thinking quite yet.
  • Candy tells her mom that she may be moving to a new job very soon. She's sharing her plans with her even though they are very tentative at this point. Candy can talk a big game about what she wants to do. But she's still on the streets telling a guy no girl wants to do anal and then returning home to a call that says she may have an STD.
  • HBO ordered a second season of The Deuce earlier this week. That's good news as this has been one of the only few new shows this fall that has actually been interesting and compelling to watch. David Simon continues to be a reliable series creator for the premium cable network. The ratings have been fine so far. But I'm mostly just intrigued to see what twists and turns are coming soon in this narrative.