Sunday, October 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - The Changing Environment Forces Climatic Moments for Ashley and Reggie in 'Au Reservoir'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 1.07 "Au Reservoir"

C.C., Larry, Rodney and the other pimps worry about becoming obsolete. Candy eyes a different job on Harvey's set. Lori struggles with the demands of porn acting. Ashley hangs out with Frankie and washes up on Abby's door. Bobby is smitten with an employee while dealing with shakedowns, flare-ups and a medical emergency. Frankie is tasked by Rudy to turn a peep-show concept into reality. Alston finds himself singled out by the new captain. Abby asks Vincent to be her escort at her family's lavish party.

This season has proven that The Deuce is fundamentally a story about change. It's change in the neighborhood as well as change in the individual characters. Some of them are able to adapt to their changing circumstances. They find work in different ways but are always able to survive. Some can make peace with that while others are trapped in a vicious cycle of tragedy that they can't seem to escape. A lot has changed over the course of this season. Some characters are more profitable than they were at the start of the season. The show is still revealing new facets to itself and this world of characters. It's able to pull a character from relative obscurity and have her be one of the most tragic and relatable characters of the hour. This ensemble understands so much about each other and the choices they have to make in order to survive. But there's only so much of that that they can accept and understand. The personal identity of so many of these characters is hidden away for only a few people to see a brief glimpse of. Before this episode, Ashley and Reggie weren't all that important as characters. And now, the emotional resonance of this episode is about them and the choices they make that eventually lead to their departures from this world. There's the hopefulness that their actions will lead to better futures. But there is also the understanding that this world will remain brutal and tragic no matter how quickly things are changing. Progress can still be slow moving even when the actions and their consequences are immediate.

C.C. drops Ashley off at Bobby's massage parlor to start her shift. This entire season Ashley has been defined as one of C.C.'s girls who is jealous by all of the attention he is now giving to Lori. She was no longer his star. And now, she's starting to see the tragedy of this life. It doesn't have to be another day another dick for her. That's the mentality Darlene applies to survive this lifestyle. It's how she copes with her choices even when she had the opportunity to leave and didn't stick with it (which in turn ruined Ginger's life). This is the life for her. But it doesn't have to be for Ashley. She's ready to just completely walk away from it. Of course, that just leads her to the Hi-Hat and a chance meeting with Frankie. Now, Frankie hasn't been that important of a character either even though he is also played by James Franco. But here, this episode teases a further glimpse into his life. It shows that his life can be very comedic because everyone is seemingly making jokes at his expense. They know they can't trust him with anything and so they just have a lot of fun with him. To Paul, it's amusing that he brings Frankie and Ashley to the new gay porn movie his friend is starring in. But to Frankie, it's this very disruptive thing where he can't make sense of any of it. To him, life and sex are simple. He can take Ashley to a fancy hotel room and give her the illusion of a better life even though he can't exactly provide that for her. It's a story that reveals Frankie doesn't really belong anywhere. He's always just jumping around from place to place. It's a lifestyle that is freeing for him. But it's not a glimpse of anything better for Ashley.

And so, Ashley is a runaway from her pimp. That's very dangerous in this world. No one is willing to help her and get caught up in all of that drama. There could be severe consequences for anyone caught trying to help her. And yet, Vincent and Abby still feel the appeal to do so. Vincent understands that it needs to happen. But he's not the one who actually gives Ashley support and a place to stay. That burden instead falls on Abby. She's the one who needs to open her apartment up to her. This hour is such a fascinating one for Abby as well. It highlights how everything she is currently doing may just be entirely in defiance to her family. She's actively turning her back on the lifestyle she grew up with. She's bringing Vincent around to show the rougher life she has chosen instead. Her return home for a lavish party is basically just an act of rebellion. It's one that highlights how immature she is capable of being. But the story also focuses on the duality of her nature. She's rebelling within her family but she's very caring to the people around her in New York. She already got burned once by giving Darlene the money to escape this life and start over back home. Now, she's skeptical of doing that again to help Ashley. But in the end, that's exactly what she does. She goes into that decision with her eyes wide open. She gives Ashley money and the opportunity to start over with a family member. There's still the hope that it will lead to a better future for her. That shows that Abby can be selfless and caring. She genuinely wants better for Ashley. It's an action in defiance to her pimp. There could be severe consequences should anyone discover what Abby did. But it's a sweet and genuine action as well. One that hopefully has a better outcome than what happened with Darlene.

Of course, the power of the pimps in this environment is dwindling as well. Right now, they feel like they are nothing more than drivers. They pick the girls up and drop them off at either the massage parlors or the porn sets. They no longer need to be on the ground watching them every night to serve as protection if a john does something wrong with them. That responsibility now falls on the owners of the massage parlors and porn sets. As such, it makes C.C., Larry and Rodney feel like they no longer have a purpose. They've been hit personally by the police lately. This move has been necessary to keep their businesses afloat. But now, they no longer need to do things the same way they have always done. They now have some freedom to do whatever. C.C. and Rodney can bond over both having the opportunity to see Fantasia. They can discuss movies now. They can have lives outside of this work. It's a world they've never known before. As such, it's startling and unpredictable for them. It's important to then see the pressure on these new businesses to keep everyone happy. Bobby is still figuring his way through all of this. It's rough on him. He wants to do right by the girls. But he's also showing favoritism and not being well equipped to handle things once tragedy occurs. A girl overdoses on his watch. She doesn't die from it. But it's enough to put things in perspective. Bobby is now the one in control of this business. It's a surprising position to find himself in. He didn't seem like this guy at the start of the season. Neither did Vincent. Vincent doesn't want anything to do with this business. But it's still a life the two of them find themselves actively engaged with now.

And so, Bobby and Vincent need to face off with Reggie who has some serious complaints about how his girl was treated leading up to her overdose. He believes it constitutes a refund because of the newfound expenses he'll have to deal with. He voices these concerns to Vincent but gets no where in coming to an understanding. Throughout this episode, Reggie seems separated from the rest of the pimps. C.C., Larry and Rodney are hurdled together lamenting about the changing world and how to best adapt to it. Meanwhile, Reggie is still being aggressive with his girls. He's asserting his control now more than ever before. That proves to be a fatal error for him. It's a seemingly random story that one of his girls never gets to eat her meal at Leon's diner because Reggie always comes in saying she's late for work. It's a story that starts off as nothing special. It's just another component of this vicious world. But then, it escalates into something physical. Reggie beats his girl because she gets banned from Bobby's massage parlor for running a scam on the johns where another girl steals money from their wallets. After that, he's even harder on her. He comes in to take her away from her meal once more and Leon decides to shoot him. It's such a sudden and jarring moment between minor characters. And yet, it's not unexpected either. It feels so commonplace as well. Afterwards, the narrative lingers as it features Leon calling the police and confessing to the crime while the girl decides to leave instead of finishing her meal. Reggie's death could prove both to be a pivotal turning point for the show. It's one less pimp to worry about. But it also highlights the death of people like him in this world. He fought to keep control but still lost in the end.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Au Reservoir" was directed by James Franco with story by David Simon & Megan Abbott and teleplay by Megan Abbott.
  • Candy proves to be an even better director on the porn set than Harvey. She understands the direction that the actors need in order to perform. She also sees what will pop onscreen and the demands of this business. She knows the actors need to be fed and well taken care of. She doesn't know what an art director is before this episode. But now, her aspirations for more in this business are even more abundant than before.
  • Of course, there's still the tragedy of Candy still needing to fuck men in order to make a living. Now, she's just more of a high-end call girl. She's working for a service where wealthy men pay for her individually. There's the appearance of it being better than before because these men have the opportunities to treat the girls better. But the show still highlights that it's still all about the sex with the act itself not being that special or great. Here, the guy throws up while having sex with her.
  • Harvey continues to see the greatness that is Candy. He wants to know more about her story. He likes having her on his set. He wants to find a more permanent job for her. But right now, it's still just a monthly gig. He appreciates her talents. But he still sends her away to have sex with strangers to pay her bills. No amount of understanding can come close to a genuine friendship with her right now.
  • Sandra and Alston officially cross the line and become romantically involved. He continues to operate as a source for her story. He's telling her about the rise of massage parlors and how the system was set up to send the businesses indoors. But at the end of the day, she still chooses to kiss him and go up to his apartment. So, the lines have been blurred with their relationship.
  • Alston is also tasked with showing the new captain of the precinct around their district. He was chosen because he's a high-ranking, veteran officer who happens to be black. His new captain sees him as someone who would deliver his honest opinion because he should have been promoted by now. Of course, the story doesn't really reveal how much Alston comfortably tells his new boss.
  • Lori wanted to be in the sex business. She wanted to be picked up by a pimp as soon as she arrived in the city. It's been a hard life for her. C.C. has offered some protection but he's also terrorized her as well. So, it's so moving to see her be comforted by Candy and then be so happy once she sees herself on film. That's a moment of levity that's also strangely empowering for her.