Sunday, September 23, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - Candy, Lori and Harvey Fly to Hollywood for an Awards Ceremony in 'Seven-Fifty'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 2.03 "Seven-Fifty"

Lori envisions a sunny future in LA after attending the AFFA Erotica Awards with Harvey and Candy, who's looking to connect with producers who are willing to turn her fairy tale into reality. Paul and Kenneth approach Vincent about a loan for a new nightclub, free from mob ties. Ashley pushes her reform agenda on Abby while trying to avoid C.C. Larry and Darlene learn a bitter lesson about supply and demand. Rudy sends a message to his rivals, but invites retaliation.

There was so much uncertainly swirling around Ashley in the first season. She had the desire to escape from the city and the life of a prostitute. C.C.'s grip on her was so controlling and abusive though. It seemed much more likely that she was destined to die than to escape to a potentially better life. And yet, her story had that moment of happiness. She was able to get out. That was such a surprising but earned moment as well. And now, there is so much uncertainty and tension now that she is back in the city. She has returned with a purpose. She is working with an organization that is trying to help the women out on the streets. It's a service that she is getting Abby involved in as well. It's something both of them have seen up close and personally. They know just how abusive this kind of work can be. It's so debilitating. It's these women trapped in a cycle of abuse with no easy way out. This van is simply going around the streets of the city just trying to provide a safe space for these women to go. They aren't pressuring them to escape. They are just supportive of whatever the women on the street want to do. It presents it all as freeing. It all comes out of respect and the understanding that everyone's situation is different. But Abby still has the freedom to get out of the van and talk with the people on the street. Ashley wants to make a difference but is absolutely terrified of running into C.C. The show doesn't take too long before that moment happens either. Ashley came back to the city at the end of last week's episode. And now, she and C.C. sit down at the Hi-Hat once more. It's a moment equal parts empowering and terrifying. She doesn't want C.C. to have this power over her for the rest of her life. She doesn't want to live in perpetual fear that he could still harm her. She wants to make her own strength known to him. He can no longer hurt her. She is asserting herself in order to get him out of the bar. He isn't welcomed here any more. He's only hurting women with his horrific views. But even that moment is scary because Ashley doesn't know what to expect. It's freeing and liberating while also making her presence known to the person who still may want to hurt her.

C.C. is losing control in this world as well. He has latched on completely to Lori as the one talent that is making him the most amount of money. Sure, he has other girls working for him as well. But he makes a point in being with Lori all the time and always negotiating more money for them. She allows it to happen as well. She sees this as a relationship that is beneficial to both of them. And yet, there is the suspicion that she frames the idea of flying to Los Angeles in a way that absolutely terrifies C.C. Sure, it's absolutely hilarious when he doesn't understand time zones. That scares him completely. This is a new experience for him. He would rather just stay behind watching over the empire he has already built for himself. Of course, it's depressing for him to live in that reality with Lori gone. It makes it so that he is immediately belittling to her the moment that she returns from this awards ceremony. He needs to establish his dominance once more. It was always a threat for him to send her away completely unattended. She could do whatever she wanted in Los Angeles. She has a hotel room with a view. She could be lured in by the wonderful and sunny lifestyle of this city. She could honestly believe that she has an opportunity to make the transition to being an actress. She doesn't just have to be a sex performer. She is starting to believe that she is so much more than that. C.C. needs to destroy those dreams. He just does so in a way that could immediately turn her against him. She has been exploring her other options. She hasn't wanted to leave C.C. But she makes her desire known to stop tricking and he immediately rejects that idea. To him, that's the only way that this relationship still works in his favor.

But it's also so freeing to watch Lori in the city of stars getting a level of recognition and fame she never imagined for herself. She doesn't even notice the protestors outside this awards ceremony. Sure, she misses her category being announced. But that doesn't matter. She still wins. She sees this award as confirmation that she is a good actress. Her nomination recognized her talents. And now, she has the proof that she is superior than her competition and deserves to be making a living as an actress. She doesn't have to keep selling her body in order to afford things in her life. She deserves to be in the room with producers trying to make deals happen. She may be able to move to the next stage of her career. Doors have been opened for her. She is being recognized and appreciates that so much. It makes it so that when a connection turns sexual she doesn't see it as being abusive to her. She's not doing it for the money or a potential job she could receive out of it. She's doing it because she is on a high and wants to celebrate in that way. She wants this sexual connection to happen. It brings her pleasure and satisfaction. Of course, the audience should still see it as potentially abusive. This guy presents himself to Lori as a talent scout. He has watched more of her work. It's not just the simple clip shown during this ceremony for her nominated work. He has learned more about her career. He has seen her performances and just how talented she can be. He presents himself as a person who could open even more doors for her. She just has to make the move to Hollywood. If she does that, then he can represent her. As such, he is certainly giving the perception that she has to sleep with him in order for him to help her in this way. That's an aspect of this relationship and something that the audience has to be keenly aware of. It happens elsewhere as well. But the show is also differing how the characters in the moment feel about these decisions they are making.

Candy also went to the awards in Los Angeles hoping to make connections that can help her finance her next film. She is just there to support her friends. She's not nominated. Lori and Harvey both win though. They make sure to thank and appreciate her too. Harvey even says he would never have gotten this recognition without her support. She did so much more than shoot one scene in the movie he won for as best director. She is the inspiration for so much of this business that has flourished over the years. But it's so absolutely heartbreaking to see Candy pushed right back to the life she started from in order to make it in the world. It was so defeating watching her in the first season treating her life on the street as a simple job that had many horrible consequences to it. She only got the spark back in her life because she found this passion behind the camera. She wants to establish herself as a director that people can count on. She believes her presence as director is enough to raise the money necessary for this fairy tale-themed film. Like Paul, she doesn't want to be indebted to the mobs of New York. She wants to partner with people who are all about the creativity and financial performance of these films. She wants to be in business with them. That's the work she wants to do. She is pointed in the direction of an executive who can make all of her dreams come true. Instead, he demands her to also star in the movie and give him a blowjob in order to get a small fraction of what the costs will be. In that moment, Candy has to make that decision. Is this still something she is willing to do? The answer is yes. It's heartbreaking and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays that moment so perfectly as the look of concern and dread washes over her face. Candy can't believe she has to stoop to this again. She is once again serving a man who feels entitled to have her because of the business she is in. And yet, she still gets that check with the hope of more to come. It too could just come with strings attached.

Of course, Candy and Paul are right to be afraid of mob money as well. Sure, Rudy can offer protection. But it's still all about an investment and trying to own complete neighborhoods of the city. Rudy has his territory and is trying to push out any of the invaders who are now trying to copy his businesses. The massage parlor and peep show are facing some uncertain times because they have more competition now. New businesses have popped up promoting themselves as being able to do more for less money. It's cut into the profits for Rudy and his partners. And in the end, he just decides to retaliate by setting one of the new parlors on fire. He is dealing with so many personal fires as the people running these businesses all have different ideas of trying to expand their horizons and rely less on the mob for their future endeavors. Paul wants more and Frankie continues to steal. Frankie may have gotten a good hand at poker for once. And yet, he's also bound to blow through that money quickly as well. That's simply who he is. So, the mob is right to cut him off because he has screwed up one too many times. Vincent takes on the responsibility of telling him that news. However, he too could fall back into the false hope that this is the good luck Frankie has always needed to turn his life around. Instead, he is simply going to remain the guy who believes he deserves things because his younger brother has already accomplished so much and has a good standing with the mob. But the conclusion of this episode proves just how ruthless these individuals are capable of being as soon as things start to take a turn for the worse for them. The city continues to be changing and there is even more of that on the horizon with the election of a new mayor. These changes are radical and likely to stir up even more destruction and uncertainty for everyone in the ensemble.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Seven-Fifty" was written by Chris Yakaitis and directed by Steph Green.
  • Darlene and Larry are appalled by the racism on the porn set. Of course, Larry is dismayed because he is trying to get into the business as well. He believes he offers a perspective that is more real and desirable. Instead, he is met with skepticism because the director only wishes to serve white audiences. It again showcases the entitled arrogance of people in this world even though Larry is also a horrible man who only continues to hurt Darlene as well.
  • Alston has made a career for himself away from the Deuce. He has no desire to return to that beat to serve for the mayor's plans to reinvent the neighborhood. And yet, the show has been very careful in showing his perspective of the story. He is still connected to this corner of the world. He is still eating at the same diner as every other major player. And so, he is bound to still be relevant in this world.
  • Paul and Kenneth go to Vincent for help in paying for their new lease. They have such grand ambitions about opening this new club that will offer a new environment for the gay scene. The mob sees the value in a place like it. Of course, Paul and Kenneth want it to be their own thing. They don't want to be indebted to shady individuals. They are happy when they get the lease. And yet, they could very well get caught in the crosshairs with this brewing conflict between the mobs of the city.
  • Frankie doesn't know how to run a business. It seems like he is stealing money from the peep show every single day. The other employees know that it is happening too. They are powerless to stop him. And yet, his fortune begins to turn around because he picks up another business in this poker game. It just seems likely that he won't know how to run a laundromat either. It doesn't present as all that exciting either. However, it could provide some surprising twists in the future as well.
  • HBO renewed the show for a third and final season this past week. Series creators David Simon and George Pelecanos always talked about having a three season plan for the series with each season focusing on a different time period for the evolution of this profession and neighborhood. As such, it's very fortunate that HBO is giving them the opportunity to tell their complete story. It again shows the trust between the creative team and network executives.