This The Deuce review contains spoilers.
The Deuce Season 2 Episode 7
Horror experts often say that the first scene of a horror film should be akin to cocking back a gun while the rest of the movie is the bullet’s trajectory. Or at least that’s what I remember M. Night Shyamalan saying in a Sixth Sense DVD extra about the opening scene with Donnie Wahlberg.
Whether anyone has ever actually said this or not, it feels like a solid truism and it’s one that I recalled during the first scene of The Deuce Season 2’s seventh episode, “The Feminism Part.” Make no mistake: this is a horror movie. The Deuce has gotten into the spirit of the October season and crafted an hour of television that is dripping with tension, foreboding, and eventually – terrifying release.
Take “The Feminism Part’s” opening scene – verily the equivalent of Bruce Willis coming home to see an emaciated Donnie Wahlberg holding a gun. At first, things are as bright and cheery as we remember them. It’s a fun night at Vince’s club once again – just like every other night. Attractive New Yorkers are dancing, doing drugs, and gawking at one another. Then Vince is invited to a back table meeting with Rudy and Tommy.
Rudy is opening another club and he wants Vince to run it. Vince sees this as an opportunity to get out of the parlor and quarter-joint game.
“I’m drowning here. Why don’t you get me out of your parlor thing? You get me out of that and I’ll run all your bars,” Vince says.
Rudy exchanges a look with Tommy
“Vince, let’s take a walk,” Tommy says.
Vince isn’t getting out of this. The commitment he made to the Pipilo family was a forever commitment whether he realized it or not. If he doesn’t want to take on the other club, that’s fine. But he’s going to oversee the parlors and the quarter joints forever. The mob doesn’t trust Irene or Bobby like they trust Vince. It’s yet another price to pay for competence.
“What happens if I refuse?” Vincent asks.
“They find you somewhere,” Tommy says deadpan.
Rudy and Tommy probably wouldn’t kill Vince if he left. They have too much respect for him for that. They would, however, ruin him as Tommy says. He’ll immediately lose all his jobs. So will all the people close to him. Then they’ll have a devil of a time finding work anywhere in the Deuce. The stakes aren’t life and death…but they might as well be.
“The Feminism Part’s” opening beautifully sets up what is to come. This is a quiet, subtle episode of The Deuce (yes, even mores than this already pretty subtle show). The episode is noticeably well directed (longtime journeyman TV director, Tricia Brock, makes her Deuce debut here and does so wonderfully) and well edited. Quiet moment segues into quiet moment and cuts frequently – never letting the audience feel like it has a full handle on where things are going. That, combined, with wide-open, almost empty frames akin to The Shining, make for a rather disquieting viewing experience.
Take the episode’s zippy middle section for instance. When The Deuce gets into the real meat of the Vince in Vermont plot, it does so in the tiniest possible chunks so that we can never fully catch our bearings. Vince is coked out and getting a rental car. Then suddenly we’re back at the Hi-Hat, listening to Larry admit to falling in love with acting.
“I like acting. I think I like it more than anything I’ve ever done before,” he says sweetly.
Then before we know it we’re back with Vince in the car as he passes into Vermont state lines. As longtime viewers of prestige television, this is foreboding enough. We’re well conditioned to be fearful of major characters heading into Northern New England. Vito and Walter White’s respective New Hampshire trips didn’t go so well. More than that, however, is the crushing silence of it all. We’re not used to not seeing Vince talk. That’s what the Martino brothers do. But Vince has a ways to go before he talks.
We see Vince sleep in his car and then throw on a very ‘70s New York City shirt. We see him leave his car in the morning and immediately head into a family restaurant where he observes families silently. It’s not until Vince ends up at a small college bar that he once again opens up. He’s the Vincent Martino of old. We see what Vince means when he told Tommy “All I ever wanted was a night club, Tommy! That’s the best of me.” This is the best of him. He convinces the precocious college students to adopt more discerning palettes and also begins the process of setting a couple up. By the end of the night, he has made three Vermont friends and is invited back to the home of the kindly bartender.
Throughout all of this the cuts come so quickly and so seemingly randomly. At one point all we are allowed to see is Vince walking up to the bar, and opening the door. Then the episode cuts to Candy struggling with the early Red Hot investors.
The effect of all this makes every scene just seem….well, scarier. It’s awful to witness Candy being shut out of the decision-making of her own film by some mobbed-up meatheads. It’s also awful to learn that Candy’s project has been mobbed up well before Pipilo even joined in. Somehow it’s even more awful than it would naturally knowing that Vince is out there in Vermont with unclear motives and an unfinished story.
Ultimately, things end up going just fine for Vince and maybe even Candy. Vince has a pleasant vacation and little more. Despite what he tells Abby about finding the perfect spot for them to settle down, they both know that he can’t leave the Deuce. He can’t leave because of his mob ties, and he can’t leave because…well, he can’t leave. He’s alive at the bar. The homemade orange juice and ready-made guest room are nice but at some point he and Abby would both get sick of serving college students Long Island iced teas or God knows what other abominations.
Vince’s uneasy journey into the unknown gives The Deuce its horror aesthetic. It’s everywhere else that the horror movie sensation really shines through. Almost every storyline has its own gun cocking back horror movie beginning. When Irene tells Shay that she can’t leave the apartment, lest Rodney find her, it’s clear that she will do exactly that. Sure enough, Shay leaves the apartment and heads back to the streets where Rodney supplies her with drugs.
When Paul decides to sleep with his old actor friend, it’s clear that a moment of truth with Kenneth is coming.
“This isn’t gonna work out, is it?” Kenneth says.
“We got so busy with this place…” Paul says.
“That we forgot to break up.”
Then there’s Danny Flanagan. In last year’s 8-episode first season, “The Feminism Part” would have been the penultimate episode, which is typically the most consequential and paradigm-shifting episode in David Simon shows. Even though this season has nine episodes, this has a penultimate level of action thanks to one Danny Flanagan. When Danny gets drunker and drunker and cruder and cruder at his bowling date with Chris and their respective significant others, it’s clear that something dark is on the horizon for Danny. The darkness comes quickly and tucked into one of the episode’s many quick cuts.
Danny accidentally kills his hooker girlfriend, Anita, during a brief shoving match in his car. Alston is called in the next day to look into a body fished out of the Hudson. Anita is still holding Danny’s watch in her hand. That’s a hell of an oversight, Officer Flanagan.
Hours later Danny will be dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and his girlfriend’s murder will be ruled an accident by the NYPD. No pension for anyone.
Through two season of The Deuce, the only two major(ish) characters to die have both been female sex workers. That feels brutally honest in a way this show needs to be. The horror of “The Feminism Part” comes to a head for everyone. Vince ends the episode receiving a new car and getting shot at for his troubles. Still the main victims here, in true horror movie fashion, are the women who have sex.
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