This The Deuce review contains spoilers.
The Deuce Season 2 Episode 6
“Red Hot” looks like one hell of a movie.
The Deuce has a way of making idealists look like fools. Vincent thought he could take the mob’s money and still be a good guy, yet here he is tearfully confessing the details of his mob arrangement to Abby and all but begging her to take the money from the parlors for her community efforts.
Abby, in turn, at first refuses the money but then seemingly not even a full day later gives the money to Dorothy so she can get a poor girl who has reached her limit off the streets. Bobby thought he could be arrested on television without suffering any repercussions – now his kid has been kicked out of school and Bobby decides his only move is a very awkward “Take Your Kid to Work Day.” Over and over again on this show, characters’ high-minded ideals frequently clash with cold hard reality. Then there’s Eileen a.k.a. Candy: superstar film director.
I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for Candy ever since she first told Harvey she wanted to make a Little Red Riding Hood movie. I though that other shoe dropped when a lecherous studio executive requested a blowjob in return for funding. Still, Candy powered through. I thought the other shoe would drop early this week when the star of her movie, Lance Minx, has a meltdown with the working conditions of Candy’s guerrilla style shoot on the streets of the Deuce and quits.
The ballooning budget of Red Hot has Harvey in a perpetual state of meltdown. It’s a miracle he hasn’t turned back to binge eating. And yet…Candy finds a way to make everything work. When Lance Minx drops out, Candy promotes Larry Brown to the role of the wolf and its seemingly a role he was born to play. Larry is once again all toothy (this time partially fanged) smiles as he tears into the role with relish. Candy allows him to improv and it almost always works. Larry even pays Darlene to help him run his scenes, showing just how committed he is to his new job as an actor.
“It’s pretty simple – you’re the bad guy,” Darlene says.
“No, no that aint right. He’s doing what comes natural. A wolf’s gotta wolf. It’s going after the ones that want it. That’s the change that Candy made to the script right? He aint going after the ones who aint want it. He’s in the big city and he’s looking for the ones who are looking for him.”
Everything goes right for Red Hot. A pair of cops approach the shoot when Candy is filming outside in a parking lot framed by the New York skyline. As it turns out they just want to watch the action. When Candy asks Harvey how far in debt the shoot has them, he grimly tells her the number is now $35,000 as if he’s delivering his own death sentence…and it’s not hard to imagine that it somehow very well could be. Candy barely even hears him, and instead talks about al the exciting things they can still do. She’ll play the grandma (now aunt) of course. Then in one of the final climactic scenes on the Deuce, Larry is struck by a police car, beaten, and arrested. “Once we hit him he’s…uh, he’s gotta go.” one of the cops says, earnestly.
This should all be a disaster. Everything in this world tends to be. Even the recasting of Larry as the wolf shouldn’t work out as naturally CC wouldn’t want his woman sleeping onscreen with another pimp. But….improbably everything works out. CC is seemingly chastened by the beating he delivered to Lori last week or is perhaps suddenly cognizant of how little power he really has. Lori masterfully pitches the concept of working with Larry as an awful chore and CC pretends to buy it.
“Shit, I don’t even care about Larry. He aint even a real pimp anymore.,” CC says, barely convincingly.
Rudy Pipilo witnesses the cops hitting Larry and is delighted with the “special effect.” He gives Frankie $20,000 on the spot to finish the movie.
So Candy finishes her movie. Harvey watches the first cut and whispers, barely able to believe it, “Jesus. You got something here.”
Why? Why has The Deuce let this happen – this accidental happy thing? As anyone who has watched The Wire, Show Me a Hero, or Treme can attest: David Simon is not a loving god. His television creations are rarely allowed to win. That’s the whole point: man vs. machine. The machine is a machine of societal constructions that we’ve all put in place to make sure the trains run on time, the money flows to the top, and that nobody is ever allowed a moment of sincere joy.
Vincent confronts his own relationship with the machine when he tries to give Abby the money.
“I don’t know how to get out. It’s not like it’s going to stop if I leave. It’s a machine,” he says.
Vincent is trapped in the machine, as is Frankie and his newly stolen two-left shows, Bobby and his need to put food on the table, and even Paul, who after successfully launching his restaurant must deal with something even more challenging: running that restaurant.
Why is Candy suddenly immune to the machine? Throughout the episode its as though she’s drank an entire bottle of Felix Felicis. She’s Neo seeing the numbers in The Matrix, and any other dated pop culture reference you can think of. Where does this confidence come from? How is she able to win? Sure, Harvey might be wrong and Candy’s radical finale in which she and Lori essentially dominate the Wolf may turn male audiences off. I doubt it though – Harvey is rarely wrong when it comes to humanity’s baser instincts. We’re all beasts, after all. And should Candy’s movie not prove commercially viable, she has still produced something that she knows in her very bones is good. How did this happen?
It’s the art, stupid. Art is how we all try to break free of our respective machines. Eileen/Candy’s behavior and affect suggests that art is working wonders for me. Mere years ago she was on the streets at the mercy of other people – at the mercy of the machine. Now she gets to take the pictures in her head and place them inside someone else’s. That’s freeing. It’s intoxicating. Of course it also costs a lot of money.
Candy’s non-reaction to hearing that production is $35,000 in the hole was telling. That might as well be Monopoly money. Now, I suspect she’s going to have to confront something far more insidious: the reality of having mob money.
This is probably The Deuce Season 2’s best episode since its premiere. It’s not just because of the infectious sense of happiness and creation for the characters involved – though that’s heavily featured in both episodes. It’s because the characters are finally starting to band together. Common bonds are being forged and various storylines are starting to blend. Even mayor’s man, Gene Goldman, finds his way into a bath house this hour if only to prove that he’s not above all this vice.
It’s understandable why the show usually resists this urge. There is a lot of story to tell here and it’s easier to do when the characters are scattered to the wind to deal with all the various aspects of Deuce-life on their own. Still, thematically the show works better when its able to synthesize the changing moral landscape of ‘70s New York and all the problems therein through its own sexually-oriented lens. Almost everyone is involved with Candy’s Red Hot shoot now in one way or another and its success or failure will inevitably become symbolic of whether the radical changes in The Deuce’s culture prove successful or not.
I have a feeling things will go pretty well for both Red Hot and The Deuce. Though knowing the works of David Simon, I’ll probably be proven wrong.
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