Sunday, September 9, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - A Jump to 1977 Leads to the Rise of Punk and Disco for Everyone in 'Our Raison d’Être'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 2.01 "Our Raison d’Être"

Times Square, 1977. After his early successes, Vincent is now proprietor of Club 366, while Abby has brought the nascent punk-rock culture into the Hi-Hat. Frankie remains a problem, borrowing money from Show Land, the sex emporium he manages, to pay off his debts. Candy is looking to make more artful, ambitious adult films, over Harvey's objections. Paul looks to sever mob ties from his current bar. Alston is approached by Gene Goldman, a civil servant appointed by Mayor Koch to clean up Times Square.

The Deuce jumps ahead a couple of years at the start of its second season. It is now 1977 with disco and punk now invading the club scene. It's almost a complete change in scenery even though so much of it looks familiar as well. So much of this premiere is simply catching up with all of the characters from last season and what their lives are currently like. It's important to note that the lives for some have changed incredibly over the last few years. Meanwhile, others are still basically in the same position. Vincent is now running a completely new club for the mob called Club 366. It's the hot scene that everyone is trying to get into. It's the first major introduction for the season as well. It's such a beautiful shot just watching Candy walk the streets of New York and up the stairs into this club. It's a complete transformation from the outside world into the glitz and glamour of this club. It's a step up for Vincent that shows that the two leads have actually made something of their lives as of late. In fact, Vincent is willing to celebrate Candy's success at the top of the season. She has now established herself as a triple threat with acting, directing and producing pornographic films. She is now essentially an equal partner with Harvey, who has dramatically lost a ton of weight. Meanwhile, Abby and Paul are now the managers of their own bars. Abby has taken over the Hi-Hat and re-established it for a new, younger and more female demographic. And Paul is running a hot gay bar that is protected by the mob so there is no fear of persecution from the outside world. These are all significant changes to the lives of these characters. However, Larry, C.C. and Rodney are still pimps. Lori and Darlene are still working for them. They've just adjusted to the new world order of more opportunities where they are no longer working the street corners. All of this is a terrific setup for the new season. Things have changed but things are still fundamental the same for this expansive look into the world that created pornography.

Of course, the big story of this premiere is that Frankie is still a giant mess who continues struggling to control his various additions. He is still in charge of Show Land. In fact, the business has expanded. There is more staff there working both behind the scenes and to the amusement of the men who pay to see the women perform for them. And yet, Frankie is still running off with the money in the hopes to pay off the debts he has built up over some bad gambling choices. He is the same guy as when the audience first met him at the beginning of the series. But now, Vincent is truly questioning whether or not he should continue to look for his brother and cover for him when he makes these mistakes. Frankie is the mess of the family. However, the brotherly love is still present between them. Vincent spends the entire day on the lookout for Frankie. That affords the show the opportunity to just visit all of these various locations that now house the characters. Vincent stops by the local diner, Candy's porn set, the Hi-Hat and Paul's club in search of his brother. He does so in order to collect the take that needs to be handed over to Rudy and the mob each month. That creates a sense of urgency in finding Frankie because he stole all of the money from Show Land. Instead, the mob doesn't suspect a thing because they have a different solution for why profits have been dipping as of late. They are no longer as profitable as the new business that opened down the street where there is no glass separating the customers from the women performing. That's the solution they are asking the Martino brothers to implement in this business in order to increase the profits. As such, there isn't any reason to fear for Frankie's safety just yet. But he continues to be flailing around just partying and making reckless decisions.

When Frankie finally does resurface, it's with a major life change as well. He has impulsively gotten married to a woman named Christina. They met on Candy's porn set. They ran off together. As such, Candy and Harvey are furious about Christina being a no show and her part needing to get recast. It was a burden on their production. They have been trying to find her just like Vincent is doing with his brother. They want her to know that she messed up and this opportunity isn't going to be available to her again in the future. Of course, Vincent doesn't convey that message when he is finally introduced to Christina. Instead, she is simply the woman on his brother's arm who has happily become his wife. There is no reasonable way that Frankie has spent all of the money that he stole from the business so quickly. It would have to be a huge debt for him to pay off. He would have to make one hefty purchase. And yet, that's exactly what he did. He ran off and bought Christina an impressive wedding ring. It is a symbol for things hopefully turning out better than they have in the past. Vincent still can't stay mad at his brother forever. He thaws over time and is willing to completely forget the debt. He is willing to once again cover for Frankie. That may only be encouraging this behavior though. Vincent seems like the stable one in the family because Frankie and Bobby are basically still stuck in the same positions as they were before. It's just more tragic now because they are older. As such, the consequences waiting for them are bound to play out in unexpected but pivotal fashion this season. Will marriage actually change Frankie this time around? This is a mistake that he has made before without learning anything from it. Will Christina be a good influence in his life? Or is this too the latest tryst that's bound to fade away sooner rather than later?

Elsewhere, the show continues to be embracing its feminist themes. That is especially more true now because the show has journeyed into the late seventies and the rise of feminism. Abby has gotten rid of the leotards that the employees had to wear at the Hi-Hat. In fact, she is more than willing to hire someone after learning that she staged a protest in support of better conditions for exotic dancers. That's empowering to her. She is proud of the work that she is doing and the new life afforded to her by this success. It's going to be fascinating to see how far she goes in advancing these themes and support for women against a corrupt and abusive system. Lori also sees herself under the full weight of a man's control. She came to the city looking for a pimp because she needed that reliable sense of someone looking out for her. She has trusted her relationship with C.C. for a long time. But now, he is becoming disruptive on the porn set. He is demanding more money in order to better capitalize on his own investment with Lori. She is becoming so popular in the porn world. She is recognized on the streets. But that only creates more incentive for C.C. to profit off of her. That's alienating because she has entered a world where she no longer needs him in order to keep her safe. Elsewhere, Darlene has gotten her GED. She is moving forward with a plan to take night classes in pursuit of something more in her life. She's still working for Larry and bringing in an impressive amount of money for him. But her ambitions are bound to take her far beyond him. He is starting to notice that as well because she is more into the book she is reading than listening to what he has to say. That too could end in tragedy at any given moment.

Finally, Candy's mind is bursting with creative ideas about how to direct these porn films. Harvey is constantly having to reign her back in with what's the primary objective of these movies. The sex and the people masturbating to them is really what's going on. Candy wants to aspire to more artistry. She wants to push the boundaries of what is sex and what is art. She loves the idea of framing an entire film from the female perspective and how things escalate and intensify as she gets closer to climax. Candy is so proud of the rough cut she has made. Harvey is completely confessed by it. And yet, it's also clear that this is a good working relationship because he has notes for how to improve it and she is willing to recut things in the hopes of making it even better. In the end, she's beaming with pride as she explores the ways in which this sex is beautiful while still being about the art. She is excited because she's doing so much more than simply selling her body to strangers. She is still starring in porn films. That's still an aspect of her career. She's not just a director on the set. But when she is laying down in preparation for the scene that is about to be shot, her mind is already going about all of the other things that they could be doing with this time together. Sure, the ideas may not be completely relevant or possible. But the spark of creativity has fully ignited within her. She is so enraptured by this profession and the idea that it could build into something more exciting. She's putting so much of her hard work into making this a successful business. Vincent refers to her as a celebrity now. But her aspirations are bound to take her further than what she previously could have imagined while working the street corners. Now, there is the potential of her being able to live comfortably and support her family even if they may not be proud of what she is continuing to do.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Our Raison d’Être" was written by David Simon & George Pelecanos and directed by Alex Hall.
  • Alston has been promoted to a homicide detective. His career has advanced significantly over the years. His latest case brings him back to his old neighborhood though. He is investigating a man who was seemingly a tourist to the town but who got stabbed. He is already sensing that things aren't completely adding up. And yet, it's completely unclear if he will be able to count on the support of his fellow officers in order to explore this case fully and get to the truth.
  • Alston is also approached by a representative from the incoming Ed Koch mayoral administration. Gene Goldman presents himself as someone eager to get a jumpstart on revitalizing The Deuce in the hopes of completely turning the neighborhood around. Alston is completely skeptical though because none of the previous mayors have been able to follow through on that exact same promise. Luke Kirby being a series regular would suggest this will be a major story though.
  • Paul and Kenneth have enough money now where they could relax comfortably and actually enjoy their lives. However, Paul still hasn't achieved his dream. He has opened and is running his own gay bar - with its own sexual shenanigans going on in the back room. But he also wants to do it completely by himself without support from the mob. Him believing that the protection isn't really doing another is bound to come back to hurt him eventually though.
  • It's definitely strange watching actors like Ralph Macchio and Mustafa Shakir appear in very small roles on this show after having some breakout years elsewhere. But again, that's the nature of this show which has such an expansive ensemble that is spread out all across The Deuce. There are a number of newcomers introduced here as well that will probably play a significant role in the stories that happen this season.
  • Leon shooting Reggie was a huge moment that occurred last season. And now, Leon is being released from jail already and the diner is collecting tips to give to him. Rodney has an amusing reaction to that given that he killed a friend of his. But everyone else is more than willing to hand over a couple of cents in order to help the worthy cause. And yet, will Leon be able to fit back into this world after what happened?