Sunday, November 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Deuce' - Everyone Makes Life-Changing Decisions After Candy's Movie Premiere in 'Inside the Pretend'

HBO's The Deuce - Episode 2.09 "Inside the Pretend"

As "Red Hot" premieres, Candy, Harvey and Frankie get caught between competing investors. Vincent and Abby must deal with an unexpected loss. Lori is afraid to go to L.A. without C.C.'s permission. Paul turns to a familiar source to help finance Todd's dream. Darlene comes clean. Goldman and Alston's plan for cleaning up Times Square hits a roadblock.

Life in the Deuce has changed so much across this season. With the increasing success of the porn world, it seemed like the pimps were growing more and more irrelevant. That quality only continues to develop in this finale. Of course, there are still major instances of abuse with these characters trying to fight against a system that seems destined to keep them down. Many of them saw some broad success this year. And yet, it's also fascinating how many of them end the season in the exact same position as at the start. There are some who continue to move up in the world like Alston and Haddix who get promotions for their actions on the job. Meanwhile, there are others who are killed because they no longer know how to survive in the Deuce. Last week it was C.C. who was killed because he was no longer relevant without Lori. This week Rodney and Dorothy die because they foolishly believed themselves to be invincible in a world where their luck was bound to run out at some point. That is absolutely devastating. And yet, there are plenty of moments where stasis is absolutely destructive for these characters as well. Candy may have a huge hit on her hands with "Red Hot." But she still returns home to a family where her father continues to shun and abuse her. She worked so hard to build that relationship with her son again. And now, it's all taken away. Elsewhere, Frankie isn't able to make a huge profit with the film because of the competing mob interests in it. It turns out that both Rudy and Matty the Horse were offered sizable investments in it - to the point that no one else can ever make any profit on it. That too is so destructive. It also leads to Frankie ending up back at the pimp show with Irene believing it to be a consolation prize even though Irene has seen it as a successful business for her. She is also joined by the return of Shay who decides to crash with her once more following Rodney's death. That shows just how desperate these characters are just to find a way to survive in this world. There is the fear that any decision could be the one that kills them. The audience always has to be aware that these characters may never be able to escape the Deuce. With Alston and Goldman's plans for the neighborhood, that will be incredibly tragic because they will be squeezed out with no where else to go. The future isn't as bright as it is for the porn industry with Harvey being able to talk about the new world of at-home viewing.

C.C.'s death was so pivotal at the end of last week's episode. He was the pimp less willing and able to deal with the changes to his way of life. Instead, he just hitched all of his efforts onto Lori's rising star. That love and attention has seriously altered Lori at her very core. She was so abused by him. He frequently treated her like the whore she was when she first came to the city looking for a pimp. She has greater career aspirations now. But she still finds herself incapable of moving forward without C.C. in her life. She doesn't even know that he's dead for the longest time. She is hoping that one day he will return to her and be able to give her the permission to continue living her life. She doesn't know how to move forward without someone telling her what to do. Kiki is essentially fulfilling that role by saying she is contractually obligated to do west coast press for "Red Hot." And yet, Lori is continuing to spiral in her addiction to cocaine. At first, it seems like she may be pregnant with C.C.'s baby because she's throwing up in the bathroom at the premiere. But then, that ultimately becomes a story about her fears and anxieties of life without C.C. by her side. Larry Brown steps up and is able to slide into that role for her. And yet, he's on a vastly different path as well. He is no longer acting like a pimp. Darlene calls him out on that too. Earlier this season, it seemed like she too would forever be trapped in this cycle. But now, she is able to escape. Even when confronted by Larry, she is able to say that they are going their separate ways and will never see each other again. That's a good thing for both of them. They are both finding legitimate employment elsewhere. They are making this transition to whatever life comes next. Lori is doing that as well. She has such an unexpected reaction to learning about C.C.'s death. She bursts into tears for her lover who has died. But she also has to laugh at the world taking its revenge for all the abuses he did too.

C.C. dying also proves that Dorothy is no longer a part of this world either. When the police find his body, they discover her wallet on him. Bobby and Frankie killing him possibly signaled that Dorothy no longer had someone amongst the pimps looking out for her. But she was doomed long before Bobby stabbed C.C. and rolled him up in a rug. Her death is never seen onscreen. It's told instead through the perspective of her friends finding out what happened to her. They still don't know the truth. They are left without any answers because the police still only see her as Ashley, the woman who worked the streets several years ago. They don't see the giant gap in her arrest record as proof that she escaped from this life. Instead, Loretta receives the shocking news that her friend is now dead. She doesn't know what happened. She can't even provide the police with any clarity. Instead, she just has to go to the Hi-Hat to mourn alongside Abby. They have once again seen the damage this neighborhood can do. Dorothy escaped from this life. She moved up to something better. She was trying to make a difference. She wanted to help the girls to ensure that they weren't abused by the system any more. Her actions may not have always been right. But she didn't deserve to die. Especially a death with so many cryptic details to it as well. And yet, that's how these stories end sometimes. It doesn't make any sense to Abby and Loretta. It only leaves them sure that they have to change their lives somehow. They don't know how to do that either though. Loretta understands that she can no longer be a sex worker. She accepts a job at the Hi-Hat. That's probably better work for her. Meanwhile, Abby is at a complete loss for what to do with all of the money that she was giving to Dorothy to help with her various causes. She is flush with all of this cash because of the success of the bar. She just has to find a new mission and purpose. She is still able to rely on Vincent when the time calls for it. She still loves the bond that they share. But her future is uncertain because she may not have been able to make a difference for very long.

Meanwhile, Vincent desperately wants to believe that he is a good guy. He's the guy who will rush to his girlfriend to comfort her after she gets tragic news. He will sit with her for as long as it takes for her to get up and live her life once more. Of course, he has other responsibilities as well. This season made several references to the family that he gave up in order to start his relationship with both Abby and the mob. And now, Andrea and the kids return. That's surprising. It shows that he is capable of having a good relationship with them. They still recognize him and welcome him into their lives. As such, he may not be as neglectful a father as he has always seemed. He still aspires to have a house and family. Those plans don't line up with what Abby wants in her life though. He knows how much their relationship has changed over time. He is still looking out for her though. Moreover, she has actually pointed out his flaws and gotten him to step up and do the right thing. It took convincing by Abby in order for him and Bobby to take responsibility over the death of one of the sex workers. And now, Vincent goes back to the cemetery and learns that the burial doesn't have a proper head stone. As such, he informs Bobby of the situation. He reaches out to his brother-in-law because he still believes in their genuine ability to be good. And yet, Vincent is a little delusional in that way as well because Bobby has been such a neglectful husband and father. He's also a killer now as well. Vincent doesn't know that. He doesn't know what his brothers did to C.C. But he sees this family benefitting from their mob connections. He no longer feels safe in that world. He sees the inevitability of him eventually become a liability to Rudy. He doesn't want that to happen to anyone in his family. He will continue to fight for Bobby, Frankie, Abby and Paul. But they are moving on in their lives as well in ways that don't always line up with what Vincent believes. Paul gets back into bed with the mob because he has to pay Kenneth out of his partnership agreement while financing Todd's new dream. Meanwhile, Vincent ends the season back at his club with nothing but remorse instead of the celebration of all of his dreams coming true. Now, he realizes that he wants something completely different.

And finally, Candy wants to live in the celebration of her first movie. She is proud of what she accomplished with "Red Hot." It doesn't matter that it's not going to make any money for her or Harvey. She is happy with this partnership. Plus, she sees it as all the proof necessary that this is the career for her. She is no longer the woman being arrested on the street. However, the perception around her is still the same as always. Her new boyfriend and the editor of the film still boasts to his friends about getting to have sex with a porn star. That's so horrible for her to hear. It puts an immediate end to their relationship. Then, she's proud to have a shot at legitimacy by being welcomed onto a late night talk show to discuss her film. While there though, she is only made the butt of the joke for trying to make this film more than just about the sex. And then, she doesn't stress out like Harvey does when he is articulating all of the ways that they won't get paid for all of their success. Candy has the optimism that comes from the future being more welcoming and profitable for the work she wants to do. And yet, all of this comes crushing down when she returns home hoping to give her son the beach vacation that she has always wanted. Instead, she is confronted by her father who still only wishes to see her as a sex worker. They have long been estranged. According to him, she has never been able to provide for her family. He only sees the damage being done in suburbia because of what she has done with her life. He points to Adam having a brutal black eye as the cost of Candy chasing her dreams. Of course, Candy doesn't see that. She just yearns for being able to provide for her family and give Adam the life he deserves. Adam yearns for his mother as well. But he's not at the window to greet her and leave things open for the future. Instead, it seems like all Candy has is her career. That's so destructive because she was doing all of this to build something. She found a way out of the Deuce. And now, she may find a new way to be stuck there forever.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Inside the Pretend" was written by David Simon and directed by Minkie Spiro.
  • Melissa's fate seemed very precarious following C.C.'s death. The pimps are right to avoid taking her on because they see her as a curse that will lead to their deaths. She was with Reggie when he died. And now, she's with C.C. when he dies. There was the hope that she would be able to escape and recapture her love with Barbara. But instead, she forms a new connection with Joey thinking he can be helpful in some way.
  • Todd's big idea is to stage iconic plays with gay twists on the main stories and characters. He sees it as this imaginative idea. He is able to make it happen as well thanks to the support from Paul and the mob. It just may be ominous because Paul doesn't run that through him before making that financial commitment. Moreover, Paul just can't get out of that relationship after a short period of time either.
  • Things were always destined to go wrong when Rodney plotted to steal from a pharmacy. He and Shay were getting high instead of trying to make money as a sex worker and her pimp. He believed he found a new opportunity for an even better drug. Instead, he foolishly doesn't know how to operate his gun. He gets gunned down by Haddix, who didn't even want to do it but is more upset about spilling his beer in the process.
  • Black Frankie has increasingly proven that he is loyal to his mob bosses above Vincent and Bobby. He is still willing to work for them and protect them in their various businesses. But he will go running whenever Tommy comes to him with a new job that needs to get done immediately. That's what leads to Bobby and Vincent worrying about their futures in this business. But both of them still survive everything that happens here. Plus, they still have Big Mike's support. 
  • Larry and Darlene both succeed in getting out of the sex work business. It's the outcome that always seemed inevitable because of her classes and his interest in acting. And now, she is actually going out on dates with the potential of starting a life outside of the Deuce. Meanwhile, he is going out on auditions for parts that may have no connection whatsoever to porn. He is the pimp who has made the most successful transition in this world.
  • HBO has already renewed The Deuce for a third and final season. That was the game plan David Simon and George Pelecanos camp up with when they first pitched the show. As such, it's so beneficial that they get to execute their specific vision. The third season will once again jump ahead in time. This time it will be this life in the 1980s. That should be very fascinating to see who can deal with the transition and who can't.