The one uniting theme throughout this second series of The Deuce – that oh-so Dickensian slice of urban drama from David Simon and George Pelecanos – is the way the characters have been kicking back against the NYC district, only for the pull of the place, the lifestyle and the ingrained DNA to kick back even harder. We’ve seen it all throughout the series – from Vince, Candy and Lori, to Larry, Paul and Ashley. They’ve all wanted to leave, or better themselves, but either the place, someone else or something inside them keeps them there.
As the character with almost the most screen time in a large ensemble cast, Vince has been feeling this push and pull the most in recent episodes. In tonight’s penultimate series installment (or at least I think it is… there seems to be some confusion over whether there are eight or nine episodes in this series), Vince takes matters into his own hands. His mobster bosses – Rudy and Tommy – offer him the chance to manage a new bar that they’ve bought near the UN headquarters, but Vince – tired, tired, tired – will only do it if he can give up the massage parlours. His bosses tell him it’s a “take it or take it” offer and there would be consequences if he didn’t accept.
So he takes off. Takes off with a bag of coke and drives off into the country, into verdant Vermont. Why? It’s never really explained and I don’t think Vince even knew why – he was feeling trapped, at the end of his tether and just wanted to drive… anywhere. Anywhere out of the city.
It was a curious detour. One that shouldn’t have fitted in with the rest of the series, but the lush pastures, the sun and clean fresh air almost had the same effect on us as it had on Vince. And yet the menace of The Deuce still followed him – because of the threats he faced back home, you half expected something to happen or go wrong, even though he was far away from harm. And, of course, he had the time of his life. He fiound himself in a pub in a student town, and then found himself behind the bar helping out the friendly owner. It reminded him what he was good at – mixing drinks, holding court and being a people person. When he stayed over at the barman’s home and met his family, he saw a way out and a life outside of the strife, possibly for the first time.
Back in The Deuce, bad things were still happening. Copper Danny, who had been infatuated with massage parlour worker Anita, did something heinous: after Anita threatened to tell his wife about them unless he left her, he beat her to death in his car and promptly threw her body into the river. There’s that theme again… it’s tough to leave anything in The Deuce. Alston was on the case when Anita’s body was found – after seeing a familiar watch on her person, he knew exactly who perpetrated the crime. Danny pleaded with him to let him tell his wife in person, and then he would turn himself in. Instead, he shot himself in his car. Alston, a likeable realist, used to the Sisyphean grind of policing the district, agreed with his boss that they should give their colleague dignity in death, even though his crime patently didn’t deserve it. They covered it up.
Elsewhere, Abby slept with Dave The Outreach Worker who, later, had a threatening mini-confrontation with CC and a couple of other pimps. It felt like that they were reaching the end of their tether when it came to these new do-gooders on the street – instead of new pimps busting in on their territory, it was people who wanted to take away their business in a different way. Candy, so energised by her directing role, encountered rank sexism during a financing meeting, and Bobby, too, was having problems with his son – both at school and then at the massage parlour (where he thought it’d be a good idea to give him a job to give him a real education).
So things were bubbling away, but really this episode was about Vince and his almost dreamlike tangent into a parallel dimension – like Lori when she visited Los Angeles a few weeks ago, he saw what life could be like. A real life, free of corruption, grime and people trying to make you – even if he had been doing some of the making.
Instead, he returned to The Deuce, where almost immediately Abby cocked a snook at moving out to the country (she came from Connecticut) and then, while driving with Rudy and Tommy to the new bar, encountered a not-so-friendly group of men with guns.
Nothing ever changes.
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