Sunday, October 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - A Brutal Moment Forces Candy to Make a Change in Her Life in 'What Kind of Bad?'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 1.05 "What Kind of Bad?"

Looking for a way out of his construction gig, Bobby tries to change Vincent's mind about Rudy's offer. Darlene returns from a trip home with a new girl, disappointing Abby. Roughed up by a john, Candy contemplates a change of careers. After getting busted, Paul explores the underbelly, and the exhilaration, of gay life in the city. With an assist from Alston, Sandra scores a key interview with a pimp.

There's so much tragedy that comes from the understanding that the state of these characters' lives is probably the most exhilarating thing for them. This is such a destructive lifestyle. That is perfectly on display throughout this hour because so many characters are arrested or beat up. They need to make the decision on whether or not they are going to stay in this profession. Sometimes that choice isn't up to them. They don't have the money or experience to make it anywhere else in this world. But this hour highlights that these characters still have choices. They still make the decision to keep living these lives. That's what allows things to be so complex and disturbing. Several of them are given the opportunity to escape this way of life. Others are constantly oppressed simply for chasing their dreams. And others are still getting hit with the reality that things may never ultimately be better than they are right now. All of this is so uncomfortable and complicated. The audience isn't even privy to everything happening in this world either. There's a moment where C.C. is comforting Lori after a traumatizing night. It's a moment that fits in to the overall themes of the hour. But the audience doesn't know what happened to her. This world is full of so many characters. The narrative just weaves in and out of their lives at random. This ensemble just keeps on growing. Some characters are more interesting and central than others. But it's fascinating to see how the show is balancing everything to reveal just how unexpected and bleak this world can still be. The audience will never fully understand what's going on. We are just getting a peak into their lives for a little bit. It's all adding up to a bigger picture of this world and the circumstances that affect all of them. The audience doesn't need to know what happened to Lori specifically. We just know that this is a difficult life for everyone involved.

All of this is so complex to watch as it pertains to Darlene. She actually escaped this lifestyle. This season has shown that she is much more interested in books and movies than trying to please Larry. She is still able to meet her quotas for the night. But she's much more engaged when she's being entertained by a great story. Abby bought her a ticket home. This hour starts with her back there. It opens just like so many of the scenes do in this show with a group of characters just hanging out at a diner. At first, it's a little unclear where the story is. Then, it becomes clear that Darlene is in this environment but can no longer connect with the people who used to be in her life. Of course, she's lying about what she has been doing in New York. It's also apparent that she had no interest in making a genuine go at returning to this life with her family. She just didn't want this but got a free trip out of Abby. She'll return to New York with a new girl to work for Larry. And yet, she messes up in that regard by bringing Bernice, who is underage. It makes it seem like all of this was a waste for Larry. He lost one of his most reliable girls and didn't get anything good in return. Of course, he's still able to turn it around by selling Bernice to Rodney. He's willing to build her from the ground up in this world. He's willing to put in that effort. So, it's still ultimately a good deal for Larry. And yet, it's so destructive that Darlene chose to return to this life and brought someone back with her knowing just how difficult and traumatic it could. That's the cycle she is trapped in. She could escape but lacks the desire to actually give that a try. She doesn't believe that there is anything better waiting out there for her. But that could have cost her a genuine relationship with Abby as well.

Both Abby and Sandra are struggling to understand why these women keep returning to this work and the abuse that they endure. Abby just doesn't understand why Darlene has returned. She's completely surprised by it. It comes after Bernice has been brought to the city and sold to Rodney. It's only after all of that goes done that she learns that it's happened. Meanwhile, Darlene is avoiding her but still shows up at the Hi-Hat after awhile. They can't avoid each other for long. But time does pass and these emotions are allowed to fester. Abby is lashing out at the world more throughout this episode because she doesn't understand it. She believes that she is an independent feminist. And yet, her beliefs are being questioned by the world around her. She's forced to answer if she's really paying for her life or if she has a man - her father or a boyfriend - who is doing it all for her. She wants to connect with this world but can't really seem to find her place. Meanwhile, Sandra wants to write an article that properly covers what's actually going on in this world. But everyone around her is worried that it's going to be a scathing exposé that leads the police to carry out even more raids. Even her editor has doubts because he fears it will just reinforce racial stereotypes that are already prevalent throughout society. She's fighting an uphill battle. And yet, she still gets an interview with Reggie. Alston is able to set up that meeting for her. It's still a mystery as to what will come out of it. Sandra has the freedom to write a longer article and is getting the interviews she needs. But will that allow some grand understanding of what's happening in this world? Or will it just produce more questions and mysteries?

Of course, things take their most tragic turn in Candy's story. Things seemed a little uplifting last week with her getting this genuine love interest, Jack, who didn't know about what she does for a living. And now, things take such a destructive turn. So much of the story this season has concerned Candy working the streets by herself with no pimp. She's gotten so many offers. Rodney is constantly offering his services to her and gets shot down every single time. And now, the worst happens. Candy is beaten up by a john. It's the risk that comes from this business. She's doing her best just to survive in this crazy world. And now, someone has taken advantage of her. She wants to believe that she is ready for when a tragedy like this occurs. She has the tools to defend herself in this situation. But even that isn't good enough. The doctors say that she is lucky because nothing was broken. But this is an eye-opening experience as well. It is for Candy as well as the audience. This isn't the first time this has happened to Candy. Rodney is able to list all of the times that it has happened previously. He knows that things have been worse before. He knows that it's only a matter of time before this happens again. At first, he's very genuine in his concern. He's nurturing and making an impassioned plea for her to work for him. He truly believes they could be a great partnership. But it's a conversation that quickly turns toxic. This is an emotional time for Candy. And yet, she still needs to get back out on the street and try to recoup what she lost. And now, she's being berated by Rodney. At first, he's nice. And then, he turns against her. He's being cruel in the hopes that it will convince her to work for him. He's calling her out for her elitist views and looking down on everyone else in this profession. She's working just as hard if not harder than everyone else. She's doing it by herself. That's empowering to her while destructive to this environment. And in the end, Candy does make a change. She decides to take Harvey up on his offer to appear in front of the camera for his movies. He foresees a change coming in the law soon. This could be a huge partnership. Hopefully, things will improve for Candy because of this new relationship. But it also wouldn't be surprising if it was just as destructive. She's just working for someone who hasn't been harassing her for years.

And finally, Vincent really doesn't want to get into another business with Rudy. Rudy made him that offer last week. And now, it's revealed to be a massage parlor. This entire season Vincent only wanted to manage a bar. It was his dream to own his own place. He's achieved that dream with the Hi-Hat. It's still quite popular with all of the familiar faces of this world. But he doesn't want this new business with Rudy because he has no idea how to run it. Rudy keeps talking about the financial goldmine waiting for him in this business. Vincent has been referred to as a pimp who's not actually running women for sex. He could succeed in that business if he wanted to. He just doesn't have that desire. He's completely fine with turning Rudy down. He still wants to be able to decline an offer from the mob. That may make him foolish. Sometimes he seems aware of what the people he's in business with are capable of doing. And sometimes he's completely oblivious. This could be one of those situations. It's just not clear if it is or not because Vincent reverses his decision because of a plea from Bobby. This isn't a business that Bobby wants to be running either. But he needs the work. He needs to make money in order to afford the life he has with his wife and kids. He can't return to the construction site because that could kill him in the span of a year. This job could potentially prolong his life. And yet, the show also makes sure to highlight the fact that Vincent is the owner of this business. The final image of the hour is of him standing over the construction of the place. He's the one standing behind the desk looking out at what's being built and the future of this business. Bobby is the one who has made all of the decisions and hopes that he'll treat the girls better than the other pimps typically do. But this is a story that introduces Vincent into this world much more so than he's been up to this point. He's just been a bartender. But now, he's making his entry into the sex trade as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "What Kind of Bad?" was directed by Uta Briesewitz with story by Richard Price and teleplay by Will Ralston & Chris Yakaitis.
  • The way that Candy's assault is shot and edited is very smart. It's an event that would have been common in this story and time period. But it also reinforces a ton of harmful images of violence against women. The show doesn't shy away from the brutality of the moment. It's a horror movie as Candy fails to escape in time. But it also lingers on the hotel room door to let our own minds imagine what's going on without needing to actually see it.
  • There's a difference between Candy's relationship with Jack and the other men she is sleeping with. This hour highlights that. When she's being paid for sex, it's her job and she kicks the men out of the bed as soon as possible with the money she is owed. With Jack, she's annoyed that she doesn't get to finish while intimate with him. It's the difference between sex and intimacy. And yet, there's still the tragic moment where Jack gives Candy money. To him, it's an innocent gesture that shows he's a good and caring guy. But for her and the audience, it just continues to blur the line of what's pleasure and what's work.
  • Alston has been very helpful with Sandra's reporting on what's going on in Times Square with these women and their pimps. He's been able to introduce her to this world with a full understanding of what's happening. And yet, he's still keeping information from her. He's not opening up about the various corruption happening in the police department even though she asks about that as well.
  • Paul is also arrested for soliciting sex. He's targeted because of his sexual identity. That's a brutal moment. None of the other main characters can really relate to his struggle either. Frankie treats it as a joke while Vincent is annoyed he's not at work to help on time. But it's also freeing to see Paul later on have that fun night out that ends in a threesome. It shows that this world can still provide some happiness for him despite how scandalous it can be perceived.
  • Many of these new business relationships are being produced in the hopes that the laws are being changed downtown so that they can benefit their various businesses. Rudy is hopeful about the massage parlor because he's trying to restructure the city and get the sex trade off the streets. Meanwhile, Harvey is informed by his lawyer that things could be more profitable for him shortly as well.