THE DEUCE: EPISODE 4: I SEE MONEY
Don’t ask too many questions, Jack. – Eileen/Candy
I do like movies, but I’m not sure I appreciate them quite as much today, after that cold open. If there’s one emotion I left “I See Money” holding, it’s one of constant psychological trauma. Whether or not you believe prostitution should be legalized is irrelevant to the concepts George Pelecanos and Lisa Lutz laid out in their script last night.
What was uniform about the pleasure industry as The Deuce depicted it on Sunday, and honestly if you go back to the very beginning of the series, it’s been true throughout, is that this life is the worst example of The Neverending Story. It does not conclude, at least until one takes him or herself out of the world permanently.
Ashley earned, and she was tired, needing some rest, and even though Lori agreed to take her shift, C.C. was having none of it. Candy was able to go out on a real date with Jack, but then had to slink into her apartment, wait for him to leave, dress for the street, and then head out to turn tricks. Even as Darlene tries to read Dickens (and perhaps now Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt thanks to Abby), she’s defensive when asked why she does it.
Candy also found herself servicing men in a XXX theater due to rain. This life does not stop, and if there was ever an occupation that needed decompression (perhaps 24/7, 365), it’s this one. The Deuce isn’t a glorification show, so don’t expect much relaxation. In fact, it’s the opposite. This is not a good binge watch, by any means. It’s very much a show that begs to be consumed in small doses, because we need to process what’s shown and then mentally accept and appreciate each episode.
You just can’t take too much of The Deuce at once. The material is so gritty and so tough. The tapestry’s potential richness would be largely destroyed without a condition of patience and maturity in the audience.
The most depressing portion of the episode wasn’t the death scene or any of the more prurient content, but it did involve Candy. When she and Ruby were discussing their friend, using the context of her suede jacket, we saw true humanity and vulnerability from these two women of the night. They talked of her, and not only did we recognize they loved her, but we realized that the two of them were the brand of friends we all need in our lives. They confided in each other, reminisced, and both laughed and fought back tears.
We mustn’t forget that all of these prostitutes, pimps, bartenders, mob bosses, and construction workers are all human beings. Regardless of the choices they’ve made in their lives, they’re still people with feelings, dreams, and they experience joy and pain. That’s where The Deuce gets everything so tragically right. We like some of them more than others, but we feel real sympathy for virtually everyone on this show.
Even as Larry Brown tells one of his girls that while she’s going through her time of the month, she needs to “double up on the sucks” to keep the money train rolling, we’ve seen moments where he could have done reprehensible things and hasn’t. What I look for when I watch each episode, as dreary and difficult a viewing voyage as the series often becomes, is the points of redemption and genuine humanity in a relatively evil locale.
Sometimes, it’s easier to spot these flashes of light than others, although as we watch Candy listen and re-listen to Jack’s messages, we can tell she’s trying to convince herself she’s worthy of that style of life. She looks in the mirror, and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s face gives off an impression that says, “I’m a whore. This guy wants to take me out as Eileen, not as Candy. Do I deserve this? Does he?”
She goes to dinner with him, but is reticent to answer any of his questions as to what she does for a living, and when he admits he cheated on his former wife, he’s afraid he’s lost character points with his date for the evening. Little does he know, he probably earned points by being honest, even so far as to say he told his ex that the affair wasn’t about love.
Candy cuts through the clutter, which is why she avoids representation on the street. Jack doesn’t know she’s a hooker, but he’s still willing to tell her the tough stuff before the main course arrives. It’s almost impressive, although the adultery sort of harms his argument.
Vincent Martino is starting to comprehend the full scope of being in business with Rudy Pipolo and the Gambino crime family. When Bill Schmidt ends up unconscious and beaten with an inch of his life for daring to say he’d rather wait a few days and cash his paycheck at the bank, thereby unintentionally thwarting the skimming scheme, it’s impossible not to understand what kind of people we’re dealing with at this stage of the show.
Though Vinny is by no means perfect, having issues with the mother of his children during this very episode, he’s as close to a moral compass as we’ve seen from anyone not named Officer Chris Alston. The pickens are awfully slim.
As he attempts to help cover his brother’s debt, he’s already reached a point of no return. Is there any reason to believe he could actually get out from underneath his predicament even with Frankie free and clear of obligation?
Of course not.
Yet again, the concept of consistent pain emerges from a main character. All the prostitutes, the tortured pimps who have to rationalize what they’re doing, and here’s our bartender, the protagonist of the series, caught in a place none of us would ever envy. He does end up sleeping with Abby, if you want to call sex on a billiard table “sleeping.” It’s still the one relationship we’re supposed to care about, with all due respect to Alston and Sandra “I’ll eat some fries” Washington.
Bobby Dwyer is upset with Vinny, but he’d better be careful. Chris Bauer excels at the grumpy acting, and he had a chance to be both ticked off and unreasonable within the confines of the hour. Dwyer and the construction scam is step one, with step two being the building Rudy and Longo take Vinny to at the end of the episode. We’ll have to find out what the big opportunity is, but my guess would be there will be no choice as to whether he accepts it or not.
Finally we have Paul, who is presented in his element, first at dinner with another man that isn’t willing to be open about his sexuality in the same way. We then find out Paul wants to get back downtown, and though he likes Vincent, his time at The Hi-Hat may well be limited.
Vinny tells him he’s good at the job, brings in a different clientele, and is extremely valuable, but it seems clear Paul’s role is going to be usher in the homosexual and transgender lifestyle into the show. Maybe he won’t leave, but even if he does, the cameras will follow him. The 1970s was a time of sexual experimentation, expansion, and awakening, especially in the New York club scene, and it’s Paul that will be the gateway for David Simon and George Pelecanos to tell those stories.
What stood out in “I See Money” was the relentless lack of fun that accompanies this life. Without reiterating in full what I’ve written in previous reviews about The Deuce, this is a hellscape with no finish line. The victories are brief, as although Candy went on a real date, she also accidentally killed a john while engaging in oral sex. Vinny’s bar is doing well, but he ends up having to hire “Black Frankie” (Thaddeus Street) in addition to Big Mike.
It was amusing to watch him almost buy a women’s Smith and Wesson, however. As for the other “light” moment, I will avoid speaking about Ruby and the sponge discussion, because just like Larry Brown, I want to eat at some point before I die. Also, Black Frankie is going to be a great character. Mark my words. He made a stellar first impression.
The show has become its own universe. The larger lessons shouldn’t be lost, nor will they, but these are characters that are interacting in a world that we are now invested in as a viewing audience. Four episodes in and we feel like we’re there. We have favorites, we have a hero or two, some antiheroes, some pure villains, and plenty of shades of grey. But we also have a damn good television series.
Thank goodness we can watch from a distance, however.
I’m @JMartOutkick. If elected, I’ll serve.