This The Deuce review contains spoilers.
The Deuce Episode 4
As it turns out, your backer being the mob is not like having any other landlord. If you don’t believe me, just ask Bill Schmidt how it feels to attempt to take his money elsewhere. That is if anyone is going to be able to wake him up tonight… and maybe gather a few of his fallen teeth off the ground.
With “I See the Money,” The Deuce did not so much advance its overall narrative as it painted a canvas of financial woes in the big city, and how no one is able to quite get what they need. Narratively it meandered onward with some redundancy, but unlike last week, it also crackled with Midtown energy that proved as irresistible as a larger gentleman asking for a date with cash in hand. You know this isn’t going to be pretty, but dammit if you’re not going to look away.
The one area where the storyline did progress with some titillating possibilities is that of James Franco’s Vincent. While Frankie remains a schmuck who is already in over his head again with gambling debts, Vinnie is handling his business at the Hi-Hat a little too well. Which is bully for us, because what inherent conflict is there of a successful bartender?
As it turns out quite a bit. The most curious element came when it appears that the price for running a seedy but popular hellhole is that you must now also be shaken down once a month by the NYPD. They smash up the Hi-Hat with finesse while making a bust as well as a point. When Vincent can be servicing pimps who will openly tell their ladies to stop sitting and start street-walking, then he knows he’s bringing in a morally dubious clientele. A clientele who could be targeted every night for arrest. So the more success he has with his business, the more he’ll likely end up paying in the direction of both sides of the law.
Meanwhile, his success has earned him the attention of the mafia in good and bad ways. In the immediate latter, his inability to stop the first whiff of labor bargaining at his brother-in-law’s construction company (Bobby’s still laid low by his heart attack) ended with the aforementioned Bill Schmidt kissing cement. As neither the Martino or B. Dwyer able to handle a worker’s dispute, the mob stepped in to settle things as quietly as the echo of a rib shattering. It is worth positing if this is foreshadowing for the inevitable conflict that will occur between prostitutes and pimps when the women jump ship for the burgeoning porno industry, or if this is in fact just the beginning of Vincent’s larger woes?
For now, it is one guy with a big mouth who got stepped on, but the threat of unions and organization drove Bobby into the hospital last week, and tonight it led to a new flash of violence. Perhaps Vince should be wary then once the mob gives him supposedly good news: a new opportunity. Rather cryptically, Rudy Pipilo will not tell Vince what this dump hole of warehousing is going to be once Vincent works his magic, but it’s worth got apparently lucrative potential.
My first guess was that we are perhaps one step closer to the birth of a porn studio. And maybe we are, however that is not Rudy’s intent. This series appears determined to slow-walk its entire purpose from being revealed until the season finale. In the meantime, we are simply witnessing the pieces falling into place. And in this prologue scenario, it seems much more likely that the mob is so impressed with Vinnie’s skills at running a successful dive bar that they want him to run a brothel and casino. At first glance, it could simply be a dice spot, but the brothel angle became transparent in the preview for next week where Vincent shows reservations about becoming a “whore master.”
Presumably any reluctance Vinnie has will either be supplanted by blind ambition or the fact that the trouble at Bobby’s construction company is not going away, and Vincent will need to make himself as valuable to the mob as possible. With cops on the take now, and the need to hire a gunman to perform unofficial security, the Hi-Hat will have to become only one of Vincent’s several businesses. He already seems relatively progressive for 1971, even encouraging that the old clientele for the gay bar that preceded the Hi-Hat should continue showing up at his watering hole—transvestites are welcome!—so he might see running a high class brothel as a worthy cause. And perhaps he’ll be the one to convince Rudy that instead of using it to entice johns, they could use it to entice movie cameras?
Speaking of enticing, Vince is warned by Rodney that Abby will run him ragged. A prospect he is more than happy to pursue. So it is that Abby and Vince consummate their first episode flirtation in a pool table scene that would do Gary Puckett proud. But perhaps more importantly to the narrative thrust of the series is how Abby is becoming entangled in the life stories of the people who have made the Hi-Hat home. As the title of the episode says, “I See the Money” is about money changing hands, and with those passing it along getting little in return. But one notable exception is that Abby and Darlene’s friendship is taking on a dangerous dimension. The former college student has taken a fondness to offering reading material for Darlene. And now that she knows the admittedly nicest pro on the Deuce has an aunt in Charlotte, she goes ahead and buys Larry’s favorite squeeze a one-way ticket to North Carolina.
This must come to a head next week when Larry finds out that Darlene might even have a ticket, much less if she considers using it. While I think Abby is right to encourage Darlene to get out of this lifestyle—as the entire series has done nothing but remind us how awful living like this is—the ticket is a bold move that might be the first instigator of major tension between labor and management.
We certainly see those lines drawn in crimson during the best scenes of the episode, which involve Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Eileen. Admittedly The Deuce is still somewhat treading water in the sense that we have had three hours in a row of Candy’s life going to Hell and her job becoming unbearable. However, “I See the Money” would appear to suggest that she has hit a nadir that will hopefully galvanize her to make bold moves. And unlike last week’s hour, the actualization of her misery is absolutely repellent tonight… and fairly creative.
This is obvious in the episode’s first scene. With rain scaring away the johns, Candy makes the unglamorous choice to service movie theater patrons at a porno house for $10 a go. But unsurprisingly, these kind of theaters do not have the best upkeep, and so a rat is thrown in for free. Yet, miraculously, this indignity is somehow surpassed by the sizable husky man who asks for “a date” at Hi-Hat with all the charm of a bowl of hamburger helper. And then once inside of her crappy motel room, he has the audacity to die on her mid-job.
It is a surreal moment that is neither quite funny—although it is darkly humorous—nor fully horrifying given how absurd the moment is. Candy must force herself to tell a cop about her dead john, earning yet one more reason to not want to be in this profession. Not that she needed the reminder since she has been doing it so long that she can barely break the cycle long enough to go on a real date. In fact, once she sobers up, there’s a good chance she won’t remember how badly she tripped in her first step at romance as simply Eileen.
Still her misery offers the best scene of the night when Candy goes to visit Ruby in her apartment. Ruby is one of the savviest prostitutes on the Deuce, proving to also believe in the bond of professional courtesy (and sisterhood) when she saves another hooker from incurring Larry’s wrath by bringing up the mental image of a yeast infection. It’s unsurprising, but nevertheless ludicrous, that pimps who make sex their work and trade still cannot stand to sit for a moment next to a woman discussing a vagina or any of those other “icky” things.
And sitting next to Candy, Ruby is able to reminisce about a fellow lady of the night who is no longer with them. Did this courtesan quit the job? Find something better to do? Or was she retired by her “daddy” for being a bad girl? I dread to think it was the latter, but all of them are as depressing as the quiet unspoken sense of loss and disappointment that breaks bread with these two women. Theirs is a journey that grows only darker and there is no conceivable light at the end of the tunnel in this field. Indeed, each’s favorite suede coat might end up being the lonely memento they too could someday leave behind.
It’s an ugly business. And we’re reminded of that one more time when all the pimps—plus that asshat Frankie—mock Candy in the morning when they’re off of work. Calling her “Lips of Death,” it’s clear that the unflattering nickname is going to stick as a group of men pat themselves on the back while humiliating the one woman who is trying to make it in this line of work on their own. They’re all pieces of work, and Candy is going to need to get her own back at them and beat them at their own game.
… And that’s going to happen. This season. I think. Maybe.
The Deuce is currently taking its sweet methodical time in building a world of bribery and corruption, crooked cops and cunning mobsters. In the midst of it are a group of men whose only shot at rising up are career paths in vice and other assorted illegalities… and the women they still in turn oppress into doing all the work and reaping little of the reward. The show has shrewdly and rather brilliantly at times revitalized this image of 1970s New York and timeless urban sleaze. It has also strongly gotten viewers on the side of characters like Vince, Darlene, Abby, and especially Eileen/Candy. With any luck though, David Simon will take stock in the fact that he’s reached the halfway point of his season. The stage is set, and it’s closing on a stronger note than last week.
It might be time for the curtain to rise before the rest of the season wraps.