Sunday, October 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - Vincent's Immorality is Exposed Following Tragic Events in 'My Name Is Ruby'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 1.08 "My Name Is Ruby"

Vincent balks at getting in deeper with Rudy, as expansion fever hits Frankie and Bobby. Candy gets a taste of directing, and enjoys the red-carpet perks of a major premiere. Alston finds himself in limbo at his precinct. Abby changes up the Hi-Hat's clientele. Sandra faces editorial and legal hurdles. Barbara and Thunder Thighs connect with the wrong sort of clients. Vincent settles a score. C.C. encourages Ace, a former pimp, to get back in the game.

At the start of this season, Vincent was managing two bars and aspiring to own his own establishment. He quickly got that opportunity. And then, more and more opportunities kept coming his way because Rudy respected the way Vincent conducted his business. The money was good. As long as things kept turning a profit and Vincent was being an honest man, then things would continue to go well for everyone involved. Everyone could afford a wonderful life for themselves. And yet, Vincent has found himself in over his head with the various businesses Rudy has gifted him. He never wanted to be a pimp. He never wanted to be in the sex industry. He wants to just wash his hands of any involvement in that business. He views it as Bobby and Frankie's thing. He feels dirty even taking his cut of the profits. He doesn't care that the business is doing well. It sickens him. He still wants to have some sense of morals. Morals flew out the window a long time ago. This is a guy who started the season abandoning his family because he could no longer put up with his wife. His family has been so inconsequential to the story. But it's important to be reminded of it now. Vincent is the lead character of this show. And yet, he wants absolutely nothing to do with the world of the series. That's a fascinating dichotomy. He believes his success is because he is doing things legitimately. He believes he's doing things the right way. He runs a business that is perfectly legitimate. He pays the cops for protection because it's just the way things are done during this era. He has no problem selling alcohol to whomever walks through the bar's door. And yet, the world is changing around him. He has been a byproduct of that change in the neighborhood. He is successful because Rudy saw an opportunity going into business with him. But he still views himself as a moral superior to the degenerates in this neighborhood. He's better than Bobby who is cheating on his wife. He's better than Frankie who is a compulsive gambler. He's better than every woman except Abby because they are all walking the streets selling their bodies for sex. It's a horrible worldview but it's precisely the headspace Vincent is in right now.

Vincent doesn't want to be in the sex business. He wants to walk away from all of it because he sees it as the first step to becoming a corrosive human being. He sees how Bobby is changing as a person. He never wanted to own the massage parlor until Bobby came to him saying he needed a new job to provide for his family. He didn't want to die within a year still working construction. And now, Bobby has money to treat his wife to whatever she desires. But he is also cheating on her. He is confiding in one of the women who works for him. That's destructive and Vincent doesn't like it. A core theme throughout this finale is Vincent suddenly waking up to what the world has become and being incredibly confused by all of it. He sees the cash the other businesses are bringing in and is shocked. He doesn't want to be a part of it. He barely wants to accept his cut of the profits. He wants to be at the bar running every single detail. But even that space is being invaded. Abby has a band perform live. It's suddenly a foreign environment when Vincent walks in and sees this new crowd enjoying live music. He doesn't understand the music. He's suddenly the old man with a hearing problem and saying inappropriate things. And then, Tommy brings a guy he needs to intimidate for information to the basement of the bar. Vincent is aware of the situation. He doesn't do anything to stop it from happening. But he's distraught throughout that entire sequence because he sees it as the kind of behavior he never wanted in his life. He doesn't want this to become a regular thing at his bar. He doesn't want this bar to be the spot where the mob conducts some of its illegal business.

Of course, there is some change that Vincent has been very receptive to as well. Abby is a significant change to his life. He is happy around her. He feels validated because he has found a woman who is smarter than him who wants to be with him. He's not pressuring her to become an old married couple who resent each other. He just wants to move in and enjoy each other's company. That's all that he is suggesting. Abby has had fun with this arrangement as well. And yet, she's also seen Vincent's refusal to change and accept how the world is evolving. She thinks it's a wise investment to help Paul open his own bar. Vincent scoffs at it immediately because he doesn't want to be associated with a gay bar. He's been more than accommodating to Paul and his friends at the Hi-Hat. But he doesn't want to be a part of that environment at all. He still sees it as something immoral and not quite right. He struggles to understand but has a refusal to actually listen. In contrast, he immediately takes action upon hearing that his ex-wife, Andrea, was beaten up in front of his kids. He hasn't carried about them for so long. He's been out of their lives for awhile. And now, he just decides to be the noble husband defending a woman's honor. He believes that's what's required of him. He doesn't want to be a pimp protecting his women on the streets. But he ultimately carries that same worldview. He still sees Andrea as his responsibility. He feels the need to protect her. He hasn't done that and decides to take out his rage on the guy who hurt her. All of this should be cause for concern for Abby. But she is still with him by the end of this season.

And in the end, Vincent articulates all of this perfectly well in saying that he has love for women but hatred for The Deuce. He hates what this neighborhood is. He hates what people become in this place. He doesn't connect with it. But he does profit from it. That's its own version of corruption and immorality. He fails to empathize and care about the world that surrounds him. He's just with Abby because she's not a whore. She's beautiful and smart. But he's only able to see that because she had the status not to sink to what he views as the lowest form of humanity. He caters to the sex workers of the neighborhood. He is more than willing to take money from the pimps and their girls. But when tragedy strikes just outside his front door, all he cares about is how it disrupts his business. This finale being called "My Name Is Ruby" basically signaled that something significant was about to happen to Ruby. There was the fear that death was about to strike one of the sex workers in last week's episode when Ashley decided to leave C.C. and this life behind. But that had the unexpected turn of being an optimistic story. This one does end in tragedy and is so completely unexpected as well. Ruby has been completely comfortable in her own skin. Yes, she's a bigger woman but she uses that to her advantage. She has had no trouble making money in the past. But the move to parlors and porn has kicked her out of this industry. There is no longer a place for her. So, she's right back to being on the streets selling her body. She's the only girl out there like that. She still has Rodney as a pimp. But in the end, he isn't there to protect her from being pushed out of a window. He's barely there in the aftermath. He just walks away from it. C.C. is the one who actually gets a beating because of it. That feels justified but it's misplaced as well. And all of this only further highlights how this neighborhood tries to remove the humanity from people. In death, Vincent doesn't really care about Ruby or try to understand what happened to her. To him, it was just the inevitable outcome for someone who sold her body. It just has the potential of affecting his insurance rates.

All of this is so tragic because the audience has seen the humanity and personality of this world in a way that Vincent refuses to. We have experienced all of these characters. We've seen how some are disgusting and immortal. We've seen how others strive to have better lives. We've seen some evolve and move up in the world while others are in the same position in life. Bobby and Frankie are making a profit with the parlors. They have a success with the new peep shows as well. They are the ones swimming in cash now. But it's the same work for the girls inside the rooms. They are still there having sex for money. The job hasn't changed for them. It's still their entire lives with no optimism. This isn't all that better than their lives on the streets despite the promises that were made to them. It's profit for those at the top and not the bottom. So, it's tragic to see that final shot of the women still trapped in this vicious cycle who could be eliminated at any moment just because they don't happen to be the right type. Even the women who've moved over to the glitz and glamor of the movies may not have demonstrably better lives. Lori is still right alongside C.C. That's not an enviable position. Melissa certainly doesn't see it as such. Darlene has made the transition but is still terrified about being recognized by someone who knows her. The only person whose life is drastic improved because of the movies is Candy. She's taken ahold of this opportunity. It's her way out of a bad situation. She has pulled herself up. But she has only been able to do so because Harvey likes her. He sees talent in her. It's talent on the screen as well as talent behind the camera. She has a vision that is desirable. He wants to be in business with that. But that's just building to that devastating moment where Candy is all dressed up for the red carpet premiere of a movie and yells out the window of her cab at Ruby who is in the same position she used to be. She hasn't forgotten about the woman she used to know on the streets. She is a very compassionate person. But she's also hopeful that the world is changing. She believes the future is better for the sex workers who work in the movies. She believes the future is better for gay people in society. And yet, she's in for a rude awakening. Her brother will still be shamed if he lives as a gay man while Ruby dies doing the only thing she could do to survive. Candy is lucky. Many horrible things happened to her this season. She's gotten stronger because of them. But the world isn't changing as quickly as she wants. There's sadness in that irony while understanding the appeal of trying to believe that the world is better than it actually is.

Some more thoughts:
  • "My Name Is Ruby" was written by David Simon & George Pelecanos and directed by Michelle MacLaren.
  • Sandra is able to publish her story. She has made her case to her editor because of how well written her draft is. And yet, the article has a destructive edit because of the lawyers. She has put in all of this work. She has developed her sources and learned about the corruption of the neighborhood. And in the end, it means nothing. All it does is destroy her relationship with Alston. It's nothing more than a puff piece for a corner of the world that is seemingly disappearing on the streets.
  • Alston really struggles with whether or not he should be a named source in Sandra's article. He continues to provide her with the evidence she needs to write a damning expos√©. And yet, she keeps asking for more. Her editors are demanding it. But it creates so much inner turmoil for Alston. He still sees a bright future for him on the force. And yet, he also has the awareness that his fellow officers know that he was talking about the corruption and are isolating him for it.
  • The pimps are still desperately trying to hold onto their way of life. They believe they are still needed to hold onto their girls' money. They see their importance despite Reggie's death. But Larry is at least thinking about more out of life. However, he sends Barbara into a hotel room to make a drug deal for him only for her to get arrested. It's federal officers as well. The charges are more severe and Larry proves that he still can't be trusted with actually caring for his girls.
  • Furthermore, C.C. is trying to convince his mentor that it's still a great time to be a pimp. It's an amusing scene because his mentor is played by Clarke Peters, who has worked with David Simon in the past as well. And yet, it's mostly C.C. trying to convince himself that there is still money to be made in this business. He doesn't see the writing on the wall that he needs to get out. And yet, his influence is fading. He can't get into the VIP room at the movie premiere. But he does get a punch in the stomach.
  • Of course, it's also a twisted joke where none of the people attending the movie premiere know if all the rave reviews are legitimate or not. And then, the film is revealed to be Deep Throat which turned out to be a significant turning point for pornographic movies. It's debut happening at the end of the first season reveals that there is still so much story left to tell in this world. Plus, it's funny that C.C. doesn't want to see it at all after believing he was disrespected.
  • HBO renewed the show for a second season a few weeks ago. That's great. I'm intrigued to see more of this world and these characters. Again, this first season will probably rank highly on my year-end list of the best in television. However, I'm not sure it will have much of an impact with awards recognition. It should for the writing, directing and performances (especially James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal). But David Simon doesn't have a strong track record with those sorts of things. Nor does it seem like the show HBO will make a serious push with despite supporting full-heartedly.