A review of this week’s The Deuce, coming up just as soon as I take my mom to see Oh! Calcutta!…
“Maybe the next one.” -Candy
This episode, “The Feminism Part,” concludes with someone shooting at Vince while he’s out for a drive. Given this season’s Mob wars, it seems at first like the target must be Rudy or Tommy, who are proudly showing Vince this new Cadillac as a way to ease his recent qualms about the business. But Tommy is seasoned enough at gunplay to recognize that the shots were meant for Vince. “Who the fuck did you piss off?” he asks.
We’ll have to wait at least til the next episode to find out which of Vince’s many jobs nearly resulted in his death. But the hour is filled with stories of characters whose work has consumed the rest of their lives until they have nothing left but the work itself. And unless they’re one of the guys at the top of the different food chains, the money’s not nearly good enough to make up for the emotional cost.
Vince spends much of the episode outside New York altogether (albeit flying the colors in a version of the “New York City” T-shirt John Lennon made famous) after Tommy explains that he’ll never be able to disentangle his work from the Gambinos if he wants to stay. So he fuels up on cocaine, hops in a mid-sized rental car and heads north in search of… something. He finds it in a bar in a quiet yet fairly cosmopolitan town in Vermont. He’s able to rediscover his love of mixing drinks and bringing people together without all the headaches and violence that have come from getting involved with Rudy. And he sees enough of the diversity he so enjoys in the city (a gay couple peacefully enjoying their breakfast a few tables away from him, for instance) for it to feel like home.
That life is a fantasy, though, and Abby‘s not even curious to hear more about it when he tries telling her upon his return that he plans to move there and bartend. Instead, they get to talking about her fling with Dave the lawyer, and the risk of Abby hooking up with a guy that the pimps would prefer to kill. And when he returns to work at 366, the wiseguys hand him the keys to the Cadillac, as the gentlest possible way to keep him in line. Then the shots start flying. Vince is stuck in the middle of all this, whether he likes it or not.
The Vermont scenes aren’t The Deuce at its most dynamic, unfortunately. Vince’s primary value to the series is the way he connects so many disparate groups of characters. Send him off on a solo adventure far away and he begins to feel like an unnecessary diversion from the more compelling figures who are back in the Big Apple. Fortunately, we get a fair amount of that anyway, with stories working in parallel: As everybody else begins to recognize how much their current gigs have taken from them, they start looking for the next thing too.
In meeting with some of the other wiseguys who have invested in Big Red, Candy realizes that the movie could make a celebrity of her. This would have professional advantages but would also result in Adam and everyone else in her life as Eileen finding out how she really makes a living. Harvey suggests she get out in front of it and invite the kid to the set, so she does — on a day off from production. Candy does her best during Adam’s tour to make the studio sound like any other workplace that has lots of people doing lots of specialized jobs. But when he asks if he can come back on a day she’ll actually be working — erasing any doubt about what kind of movies get made here — Candy balks. She has done all this work in part so that she can finally live with her son, but when he and the rest of the world learn her secret, that may become more difficult.
Darlene, meanwhile, is eager to avoid motherhood altogether — especially if Larry might be the father. Once upon a time, she was so in love with him and/or the life that she came back to the Deuce even after Abby got her a bus ticket out of town. Now, though, she’s engaged enough in her studies to see other possibilities for herself. Any baby would derail her plans — and her pimp’s baby really makes a mess of things. So she goes with Loretta to have an abortion. Shay‘s decision to go back to Rodney is an echo of what Darlene did last season, but with complicating pressures. She’s an addict and, even detoxed, still feels the pull of the life where she got high. More pressingly, though, is the fact that Irene isn’t allowing her to have a life at all. Afraid of Shay falling back into old habits and Rodney’s attentions, or simply afraid of losing the woman she’s fallen for, Irene keeps Shay a virtual prisoner in her small apartment. At a certain point, Shay seems to decide that if she’s going to be in servitude to someone, it might as well be the guy who lets her go outside.
The split between Paul and Kenneth is far more amicable, but very illustrative of the problems everyone’s having with work/home life balance. Paul has invested so much of his heart into opening the club that he has nothing left for Kenneth, who isn’t so much mad at Paul for sleeping around as he is amused that the two of them have been so busy that they forgot to break up. Paul can have the club and he can have sex, but he can’t have both of those and a meaningful relationship too. So he loses Kenneth as both a romantic and financial partner.
CC remains consumed with the fear of his own obsolescence. He takes Lori out for a fancy dinner to try to impress her but screws up the ordering and gets angry at the waiter for trying to save him from his own mistake. Lori’s film career is on the ascent, with Kiki looking to get her a multi-picture deal. CC no longer has anything she needs, and the disconnect between them is palpable and uncomfortable. The activism of Dave and Dorothy only enrages him further because, as CC loudly points out about the idea of decriminalization, “If this shit is legal, what the fuck do anyone need a pimp for?”
Two characters literally lose their lives this week: Anita, the French Parlor worker who’s been dating Danny Flanagan, and Flanagan himself. He’s been drinking too much all season, and when they have yet another argument about when or if he’ll leave his wife, he loses his temper and slams her head against the car window, killing her. It’s too ugly for even Chris Alston to cover it up — at least not until Flanagan does everyone the favor of killing himself, which makes Alston and McDonagh feel comfortable enough leaving Anita’s murder unsolved. Flanagan’s suicide was inevitable from the moment he asked Chris for permission to go home on his own to tell his wife.
In neither case does death exactly come from their work — any drunken, adulterous man could have had a similarly ugly fight with his mistress, regardless of either one’s profession. But Anita’s death, like Kitty’s in the fire earlier this season, is mostly treated as something to be shrugged off, especially once there’s no longer a killer to be punished. Haddix gives Bobby an envelope of cash to forget that Anita ever worked there, and another girl will be in her place very soon.
It’s like Vince recently said: This thing is a machine. It uses you up and spits you out, and whenever you stop being useful to it, it swaps in a new part.
Some other thoughts:
* Bobby discovers that one of the many downsides of being a pimp who brings his son to work is that the son can get involved with one of the prostitutes. Joey falls hard for Rachel, and Bobby has to brutally tough-love the kid out of the relationship. Cruel in the short term but probably saved him a lot more heartache down the road.
* Candy’s other investors include Matty the Horse and Marty Hodas, both members of the Genovese family, and uneasy allies at best with Rudy and the Gambinos. I wonder if this will lead Red Hot to become collateral damage in this ongoing beef between the families.
* Hey, it’s Patch Darragh, the sweet and sad principal from Netflix’s short-lived Everything Sucks! as Vince’s new Vermont bartender pal.
* Music this week: “Dusic” by Brick (Rudy and Tommy visit the 366), Denise LaSalle’s “Share Your Man With Me” (Vince drives), “Time To Be Happy” by Michigan & Smiley (Larry’s crew is at the Hi-Hat), Boney M’s “Rivers of Bablyon” (Vince drives some more), Langston & French’s “Tumbling Down” (Leon remembers Dorothy’s order), Little Feat’s “Easy To Slip” (Vincent at the Vermont coffee shop), Barry Thomas Goldberg’s “Say Your Name Out Loud” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Chameleon” (Vince at the Vermont bar), “Use Ta Be My Girl” by The O’Jays (pimps at the shoeshine stand), “Born To Be Bad” by The Runaways (Abby and Dave at the Hi-Hat) and T Rex’s “Rapids” (Vincent preps the 366).
What did everybody else think?