Sunday, September 16, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - A World Full of Changes Embraces for More as Abby Meets an Old Friend in 'There's an Art to This'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 2.02 "There's an Art to This"

Confronted with the changing realities of prostitution and porn, C.C. doubles down on his assets, while Larry eyes a new opportunity. Growing creatively frustrated, Candy turns to Genevieve Furie, a onetime porn director who's graduated to slasher films, for advice. Following a nostalgic road trip to Coney Island with Vincent, Abby attends a meeting of activists, and recognizes a familiar face from Times Square.

The opening scene of "There's an Art to This" really articulates how much things have changed throughout the last few years. In the first season, all of the pimps were hanging out at the airports ready to pounce whenever a wide-eyed girl from the Midwest got off hoping to make her dreams come true in the big city. It's what C.C. did with Lori. He lured her in and he is still acting as her pimp. She is no longer selling her body on the street. Instead, she has a thriving career in porn. One that even leads to a nomination at a very specific awards ceremony. And yet, she is still reliant on C.C. to negotiate everything even though it isn't always in her best interest. She may be too dependent on him. That was her plan when she came to the city as well. She was hopeful that someone would pick her up because she had no other plans for life in the city. Brenda Johnson isn't the same though. At first, it seems like Larry is following the exact same script as before. He is stalking out the airport on the search for a specific girl to be his. He wants to attach himself to new talent as a pimp. He forms an immediate connection with her. They are able to share their feelings about college being a wasted opportunity. He is able to detail everything about her life and the thought process leading up to this change. And yet, she's not some innocent girl not knowing what to expect. Instead, she came to the city with a plan. She has a place to stay and is acting in a porn film later that day. As such, the necessity of a pimp is becoming irrelevant. Larry has his small handful of girls and that's it. Meanwhile, all of them seem to be expanding their horizons thanks to the porn work. That means that this doesn't seem like a viable business for them for too much longer. The tides were shifting at the end of the first season. That descent is still being felt in the new episodes. And yet, it's also clear that they still have power as well. They are still putting on their performances and adapting as best they can to the changing worlds. They just may not be as adept at it as they would like to believe.

When this latest opportunity doesn't amount to anything, Larry even approaches Candy with the desire to be one of the talents in front of the screen. He is pitching himself to her in order to offer something different in the films. He rightfully points out that there is no diversity amongst the talent. It's just a bunch of white guys he doesn't believe look like real men. Of course, all of this continues to highlight Larry's horrifying views on gender power dynamics. Candy is right to call him out for his past behavior. When he is acting in one of her films, he needs to just be the talent. He has to relinquish the control he has always had in his life. He has to give it over to the director. The person behind the camera is the one calling all of the shots. Candy is the one in charge on set telling people how to act and look. She has the power in this situation. He is desperate and she knows better than to hire him for this position. All of this also coincides with Lori's own questions about her future with C.C. She saw just how demanding and controlling he can be. She is presented with an offer to get a legitimate agent. One that actually represents her talents on the screen. She appears here and is immediately able to convince Lori that she is a genuine actress. She represents herself as the future while C.C. is the past. He will always act as a pimp. He will always be pimping her out to too many individuals just because he wants her to earn as much money as possible. He relies on her for all of his money in this world. She is his greatest talent. She is going places. She is willing to take him with her. She wants to go to Hollywood for this awards ceremony together. And yet, that may not be the best thing because he won't be so welcoming to the meetings she wants to have with more famous directors.

Candy aspires for more in her directing career as well. She wants to be making more artful films. That was already on display in the premiere. She has learned so much in between seasons. She has the respect of Harvey and the other people on set. They listen when she has something to say. Of course, she may be challenging the people to do the work that they aren't willing to do. Sure, Harvey doesn't believe he needs to expand and do something more imaginative and creative. He gets a nomination at these awards as well. He does so even though he is asking Candy to make another porn film with a Catholic nun premise. That's his idea of being groundbreaking. Candy sees it as derivative and not the kind of quality she wants to be associated with anymore. When someone who has moved up in the world of directing happens to be on set though, she critiques how little command Candy actually has in this environment. Candy believes she's on her way up in life. She will soon be able to afford an apartment and be a family with her son. Right now, all she has with him are these meals together whenever they both have some free time. He is asking for advice about asking a girl out on a date without hurting an important friendship of his. Candy offers her best advice. It's also clear that both of them want to spend more time together. And yet, Candy's instincts as a director are immediately called into question. When she goes out to lunch with this success story, she points out all the things this company is doing wrong. Candy needs to have a cameraman actually willing to listen to her instead of trying to direct himself. But more importantly, she needs to stop hiring prostitutes. They simply can't convey the emotions required for the scene. That may be difficult to hear because Candy has had so much success offering a new way for Lori and Darlene to make money that doesn't involve them selling their bodies to several men a night on the street. She came out of that world and she still has that spark in her eye that will lead to a brighter future. But right now, all she can hope for is finding some inspiration in the past from great literary works of art. That's the next step of her career.

Furthermore, the new status quo already seems to be destructing pretty quickly. The first season was all about the transition of this world. It went from prostitution on street corners to the parlors and film sets. The porn world still seems to be thriving. The other ventures all seem to be in danger because the changing rules of the world are making it more difficult for them to succeed. Frankie believes that he is this excellent manager who has come up with a new idea to increase the profits for the girls working for him. Of course, it's amusing how the world around him has no time to tolerate his ideas. He wasn't even the one who came up with this solution to keep the business operational. He is still stealing from the vault as well. He is still using this as an opportunity to keep his various addictions and vices going. When things take an unfortunate turn, he really doesn't know how to alleviate the situation. He makes it worse before coming back with a wise remark to ensure that it doesn't lead to any more legal ramifications. But his solution only fixes the short term problem. It does nothing to ensure that his girls remain safe. It's just a business venture that is leading to destruction. Meanwhile, Bobby finds himself increasingly becoming a depraved individual. He was a guy who entered this business reluctantly because he had to quit his job as a construction foreman. And now, he is trying to present himself as the guy with a heart of gold. He's a hopeless romantic who needs to help any woman he meets. It just makes him negligent on the responsibilities he already has. He has two families now and he isn't happy or loving to either of them. And finally, Paul is starting to question the benefits of paying for mob protection when his customers are still being harassed and assaulted as soon as they exit his bar. As such, all of this is a time of turmoil for the businesses as they aren't adapting to the times very well.

Meanwhile, Vincent is just living it large. He believes he can take Abby on a tour down memory lane. He can walk away from his businesses for a night and just be able to enjoy the spoils of his new life. He's the man in charge whom the mob trusts to keep all of these businesses in line. The premiere highlighted how difficult that can be. But now, he has this life. He is willing to share it with Abby. Of course, it also highlights how he still doesn't seem to be interested in being a father. His kids haven't been mentioned in so long that it's easy to forget that he had a family before all of this started. He has grown away from them. And now, Abby seems like she is doing the exact same thing. The spark was ignited in the first season. They are now the steady couple. She runs the Hi-Hat for him. Meanwhile, he trusts Mike to run the new club while he goes on this adventure. He has a big couple of days planned with Abby. Instead, their time together is cut short because she has obligations she wants to keep. So, that means he's standing outside of the bar with the rest of the pimps while the girls inside have a baby shower. It's a celebration Abby is very passionate about. She wants to uphold tradition and make this feel like a community of women who love and support one another. The men are terrified that they are conspiring against them. However, that is actually happening in a meeting across town. Abby gets a phone call and bails on her dinner with Vincent. Instead, she visits an old friend. It turns out to be Ashley, who has returned to the city. She managed to get out of this life. And now, she's leading this meeting where women are discussing how to attack the massage parlors and pimps. As such, it represents a key threat to everything that has been established. It's also empowering because it's fighting against a city that has allowed this corruption to erupt in the first place.

Some more thoughts:
  • "There's an Art to This" was written by Richard Price and directed by Alex Hall.
  • Alston has already solved the murder he was assigned in the premiere. He has discovered that the tourist victim was assaulting a young man who acted out of self-defense. Of course, that's the narrative that Alston is framing for the official report. It goes against what the rest of the department would like though. It's him continuing to do his own thing by doing strong police work. Him solving it already though leaves his future a little up in the air.
  • Bobby is at least willing to help out with one of his families. The newborn baby has been crying all day long and he is curious about what his mother has done while also taking him off of her hands. When he returns home to his previous family, he simply has no time for them even though he's skipping his responsibility of taking his son to the dentist. He just doesn't care about them at all even though they are Vincent and Frankie's family too.
  • Lori is aware of how the world is changing. She's actually a little resentful of how Brenda is able to get off a plane and immediately be in a porn film. She has a chip on her shoulder because she believes girls have to get this job the same way that she did. The world is making it easier and more accessible for porn. Lori has the praise and attention already. But she still revers the way that she got her start as well. She still wants C.C. in her life.
  • Paul and Kenneth have already found the place for their new bar. They want it to be a more intimate setting. They want it to be a place where light music is played and conversations can happen. They see it as a mirror of some already successful establishes for a straight audience. They want to offer the same experience to their people as well. It's very ambitious especially in a time where Paul believes he may need mob money to protect his patrons. Otherwise, he's powerless to stand up against bullies.
  • It's very dangerous for Ashley to be back in the city. It's a twist the audience probably saw coming because Jamie Neumann is now a series regular in the opening credits. But it's still meaningful because she managed to escape this life. She left for something better because of Abby. And now, she's back in the city where the pimps remember her and the way that she left. As such, she has to be careful in taking them on.