REVIEW: The Deuce (S2 E4/9)

We’re almost half-way through series two of The Deuce and it remains drama out of the top drawer. Throughout this run, we’ve seen the push and the pull of The Deuce – an area that people are desperate to leave but when they do they find that it has a hold on them, whether they like it or not.

Episode three was a brilliant piece of television, suggesting all the way that this pull and push – this psycho-geographic tension; a movement of the district’s tectonic plates – was about to come to a head. Mobsters were preparing for war, relationships between lead characters were edging towards if not a confrontation a parting of the ways, and the lawlessness and frontier mentality of a lot of our neighbourhood entrepreneurs was being squeezed and squashed.

For the time being, life in The Deuce continued: Abby put on an exhibition of photographs at The Hi-Hat (Vincent slept with the photographer); Larry Brown had decided to enter the porn movie business for himself and undertook his first acting gigs in front of the camera, while behind it, Candy was making progress on her adult version of Little Red Riding Hood; Frankie was trying to get to grips with his new dry-cleaning business; and Lori was becoming bored and disenchanted with the amateurism shown by both CC and the New York film crews. She desperately wanted to break free and get back to LA and earn the big bucks and the plaudits.

After episode three, most dramas would have taken the easy option and blow the whole thing up – mobsters engaging in open warfare on the streets, guns popping all over the place, cops chasing people down alleyways, and people getting killed here there and everywhere. But this is The Deuce, and that would be too easy, too sensationalist. Instead, this episode examined the human cost of living and working in the area. Yes, the mob war escalated but not in a way anyone might have imagined. Bobby’s peep show joint was burned down in retaliation by the rival mob gang, but we didn’t see any flames or charred bodies. We found out that a young woman had perished through conversation.

Outreach worker Ashley was on it like a shot, expressing anger and disbelief at Bobby and, to some extent, Vincent. She argued that because they owned the place they were both culpable and made it clear that this young woman was more than just a piece of flesh.

Ever since Ashley came back to The Deuce, she has been the show’s moral conscience. While the likes of Vincent, Bobby, Frankie, the mob, whoever, have ridden roughshod over everyone in their relentless pursuit of money (often by exploitation), Ashley has returned and given names, faces and personalities to the ones who have been exploited. Even though the young fire victim was initially a Jane Doe, Ashley travelled to upstate New York and successfully found out who she was. You put a name and a face to a victim of exploitation and the exploiters feel something they haven’t felt in a long time: guilt.

Again, being a David Simon and George Pelecanos drama, there is a 360° approach to storytelling. We are told the story from all angles – from those who are looking to make it, those who have tried and failed and those who are trying but failing, as well as the exploiters and the exploited. But the layers of exploitation and the layers of socio-political and economic oppression are also examined. We again got to see the inner workings and motivations of the police force tonight – with real upstate money ready to be poured into The Deuce, and an idealistic plan in place to shut down all the massage parlours and gentrify the whole district, we got to understand why police often do what they do. As ever, the sanguine Chris Alston looked on in disbelief at yet another wave of idealism and economic cleansing.

But the conveyor belt is still churning. The dream is dying for some, while, for others like Larry (who wowed with his, ahem, acting skills), it’s only just beginning.

Paul Hirons


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