Sunday, September 30, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - The Mob War Intensifies and Shakes Up Life for Vincent and Abby in 'What Big Ideas'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 2.04 "What Big Ideas"

Ashley and Abby resolve to track down the identity of a 16-year-old sex worker killed in a recent fire. Vincent is shaken after witnessing the brutal side of Ruby's operation. Frustrated by the progress on her new film, Candy recruits new faces to help with the production. Frankie finds his dry-cleaning business a less-than-perfect fit. Larry shows off his improvisational skills. Lori looks to forge a deal with Kiki while keeping C.C. in the loop.

Who is making a difference in the Deuce? The mobsters were able to completely redesign the neighborhood to advance their own agendas. But now, they are in open war with one another. Rudy and his crew burned down a rival massage parlor. That invited retaliation that led to the death of one of their own underage sex workers. This whole organization has led to the increased depravity of the city. They are fighting against an agenda that is trying to radically change the neighborhood. Goldman is very invested in executing the new mayor's vision for what the Deuce could become. And yet, he is completely oblivious to the fact that many of the officers he invites to a planning meeting are actually on the payroll of the various mobs. Alston is the only one who tells it to him straight. However, he does so with the belief that this neighborhood is never going to change. This is the way it is always going to be. The people downtown in the mayor's office always have these grand ambitions. But no one has been able to effect change - certainly not to the extent that the mobsters did several years ago that opened the gates for prostitution and pornography. Goldman doesn't inspire much hope. And so, Alston would rather just go back to the job he was promoted to do. He's a homicide detective now. He's going to focus his efforts on the new murder case that he has just landed. He is very skeptical and cynical about change in the neighborhood. And yet, it's a fascinating question for the show as well. It's always in a perpetual state of change with the characters questioning if these are the relationships and associations that are actually healthy for them. Some of them are able to see how toxic these bonds have become. And yet, they are incapable of escaping them. Sometimes it's out of fear. But other times it's out of blind love. They can't see the danger that is lurking around the corners. All they have is the optimism that things should become better. There are only a select few trying to make that happen though. Even with them, they are starting to doubt if they are even capable of changing the neighborhood. They don't even know if they can make a difference in one's person's life.

Dorothy finds herself free after confronting C.C. Sure, she should still be afraid about what he is capable of doing to her. But she is able to walk down the streets of the Deuce once more. She is able to reunite with more of her friends. She is also threatened by Rodney. But she embraces Loretta. She sees that not a whole lot has actually changed. She has returned with a renewed sense of energy because she was able to get out of this life. She escaped. And now, she simply wants to start up a place that can offer free medical care to the people on the streets. She wants to help the women just like her who couldn't catch a break in their lives. It's very aspirational but it's very simple as well. It seems like something that should be a part of this world. These women need someone looking out for their health because the pimps don't care. They just want to monetize them as much as possible. They aren't looking at the big picture for how to keep that happpening though. They don't believe healthcare is an important part of this job. They just want the girls out there working the streets or the massage parlors or the porn sets. They need to be making money for them. The pressure of this life is starting to get to Dorothy once more though. She has the confidence to move about this world as her true self. But she also doesn't see how she can make a difference either. She wants Bobby to admit that he is a horrible man for knowing nothing about the young girl who worked for him and died in the fire. But he doesn't care. He is still hit by her death. But he's not putting in the effort to ensure that she gets a proper burial or her family and loved ones are notified about her passing. That's entirely up to Dorothy. She is able to make it happen even though she still ultimately gets a door slammed in her face because of the profession she represents to the world.

All of this creates more tension between Vincent and Abby as well. Abby stands alongside Dorothy. They are two feminists in this world trying to get the men in their lives to take some responsibility for their actions. Vincent is willing to excuse all of Bobby's behavior because he is drunk. He is drinking from the moment he finds out about the fire and Kiddy's death. But that's not a good enough excuse. Bobby has known Kiddy for months. And yet, he barely knows anything about her. He believes he's a good guy because he let her stay at the parlor after she was evicted. To him, that's all that's necessary in order to be seen as a good, nice guy. He didn't have to do that. He is compassionate because he did. But the audience knows better. We have seen him as a distant and disgruntled husband and father. He isn't really good for anyone in his life. Vincent knows enough to tell him to go home before the situation worsens anymore. To Bobby, that just comes across as Vincent agreeing with the two women who are telling him he is just as responsible for Kiddy's death as the person who started the fire. In the end, he isn't even given the opportunity to step up and do the right thing. Dorothy has learned about Kiddy's family and organized a funeral with Abby. They claim the body and are able to hold a service. It isn't well-attended but it's still the right thing to do. Abby demands that Bobby pay for it. It's him continuing to care for his employees. That's the responsibility he must carry in this business. Instead, Vincent pays for all of it. He does so in order to continue protecting those he cares about. But he also does it because it's just easier. It's the same behavior pattern that has allowed Frankie to continually mess up his life but be welcomed back time and time again by his twin brother. Vincent has had a lifetime of being the responsible brother always having to step up and do the right thing. But now, it appears to be a pattern of him trying to keep the peace even though it only supports these addictions and vices for his brothers.

Moreover, Vincent is starting to question his own place in this business with the mob. He is more than comfortable loaning Paul the money to open his new club with no ties to the mob whatsoever. He will still deliver threats on their behalf because of the ongoing war between the two mobs. Paul's new spot may be safe because everyone knows his other bar is protected by Rudy. He may not be safe though as soon as word gets out if and when something happens there. Construction isn't done and the mob is still making its move. They are so impulsive. They want to regain their control over the area because they are the ones who started up this lucrative business. And now, newcomers are coming in and exploiting it for themselves. At times, they are able to run things better. That's what makes it so precarious when Vincent wants to separate himself from the massage parlors. He doesn't want to be the guy picking up the money from these various businesses. He's not even the guy running things. He is just doing that with the club. He has no problem going to the peep show or the Hi-Hat or Paul's. He has no problem with those individuals. Right now, this decision mostly comes out of his fraught relationship with Bobby. And yet, it comes from tension with Abby as well. His fear of the mob now makes him terrified to tell her everything that he has seen on the streets of the Deuce. Before, they were free because they loved and supported each other in ways that neither had experienced before. But now, Vincent seems to be enabling some horrifying behavior and not taking Abby seriously when she points out how wrong it is. He is listening. But that only leads to him being in a car with Black Frankie and Tommy when a rival gangster is gunned down on the street. That's not what he signed up for. Him being oblivious to that aspect of the business for so long is deafening though. He knew that it took place. But now, he's actually witnessing the monstrosity. He's just unable to share it with Abby. He's internalizing it which is bound to only lead to further disarray.

Elsewhere, Candy is also led to belief that she is capable of making a difference. She believes she has this genius idea to reimagine Little Red Riding Hood in a way that no one else has thought to do. She is pitching Harvey on the idea. He wants to see a script while also noting all of the difficulties of trying to film it outside in the forests. Candy isn't dissuaded though. She is still passionate about this project. She is just realizing that she has to relinquish some of the control. She has a potential partner on set who is willing to help her write. Instead, she outsources the job by bringing in someone new who doesn't even know it's still going to be a porn film. That's an expense that Harvey wasn't expecting. Moreover, Candy finds herself having to rewrite on the fly when Larry is brought in for his first porn shoot. When he made these intentions known, Candy wanted to know if he was capable of following directions and just being used for his body. And now, this episode opens with him seeming very uncomfortable with this life. He doesn't want to get naked with the photographer. But that's the life that he is signing up for. He doesn't like surprises. But he still has Darlene who is willing to explain everything to him and ease the tension. It's a responsibility she shouldn't have to carry. She understands that he has difficulty reading. That's a problem he doesn't think to mention to anyone on set. It's only with that knowledge that Candy is able to get a compelling performance out of him though. To everyone involved, it's less about the fucking and more about the emotional connection. They want to make it believable even though it's still all building to two people having sex with each other. That's the easy part of this business. It's everything else that could point to future aspirations amongst the stars and crew. They want this to work out and be profitable for their lives. They want to make a change. But that's also proving more difficult than anyone thought. But when a good idea is found, it can still be absolutely magical.

Some more thoughts:
  • "What Big Ideas" was written by Anya Epstein and directed by Uta Briesewitz.
  • Candy's son has no idea what she does for a living. He only knows that she is working hard to afford an apartment they can both live in one day. She is happy to come by for visits and listen to him talk about The Love Boat. However, Candy's mother is worried that he is starting to become sexually curious. That could one day lead to him seeing his mother in some pictures or a video. She thinks Candy should tell him before that kind of embarrassing moment can occur.
  • Irene and Big Mike are moving the cash from the vault at the peep show before Frankie comes into work and steals it all. It's when doing so that they find Shay passed out from an apparent drug overdose. That's a scary moment. She eventually wakes up. She just does so in rehab. It's her latest stint in there. Irene has paid for a month. She obviously does so because she has a crush on Shay and wants to make sure she's okay.
  • Frankie won this laundromat in a game of power just a week ago. It always seemed doubtful that he would be able to successfully run it. And now, that prediction comes true. He is a complete disaster. He has no idea how to actually work for a living. He doesn't know how to be considerate and timely for the customer. He is happy to hand it over to the previous manager after just a little while trying to run it.
  • C.C.'s presence has always been unnecessary on the porn sets. He's there largely because he's overprotective of Lori. He is continuing to exploit her. She is more than capable of handling herself in this environment. She can speak up when there's a problem. She is just becoming more envious of having Kiki as her agent instead. She just doesn't want to break the news to C.C. At least Kiki is understanding of that and comes up with a solution. But even that threatens to box C.C. out very quickly.
  • Construction has only just begun on Paul's new bar. He has immediately run into problems as well. His foreman is telling him about the lack of a water line exactly where he wants to put the bathrooms. As such, it's still going to take a couple of months before this place opens. So, will all of the work be done by the end of the season? Will we see this business in operation? Or is something bound to happen that could destroy this dream for Paul?