In last week’s episode, The Deuce chronicled a moment of awareness for many of its characters, that initial realization of people and experiences beyond your own, or, simply, that there are other worlds to explore. “What Kind of Bad?” explores the aftermath of people learning to manage or cope with their new surroundings.
Some characters, like Paul and Bobby, jump right into new frontiers, while others, like Abby and Sandra, push back against the accepted ideas within their unfamiliar environments. Then there are people like Candy, who has seen every side of her world, and finally, finally accepts that there’s nothing left for her there. The Deuce tracks its subjects at different stages in their personal development, learning in fits and starts what they’re willing to endure and what will push them to take a stand.
Candy’s heartbreaking story continues in the vein of “I See Money,” in which she suffers humiliation and violence in the bedroom and on the street. Still shaken by the mid-blow-job death of a john, she understandably becomes more detached in the bedroom. She’s polite enough to a veteran who’s home on leave, but quickly kicks him out of the room because she has no interest in being friendlier than necessary with clients. Her suspicions are proven right when a john beats her up after she refuses to part with her money. The doctor says she’s lucky she won’t need stitches, but director Uta Briesewitz appropriately lingers on her battered face to illustrate the irony.
Candy’s experiences on the street also affect her new relationship with Jack, an otherwise upstanding individual who genuinely wants to get close to her. Their postcoital scene in the motel captures a wide range of emotions, almost all through suggestion. When Jack tells her that he likes that she’s different, she pushes him to explain what he means, but quickly covers it as a joke when he becomes uncomfortable. She brushes off an invitation to a party at Jack’s office, knowing that she might have to work and she won’t fit in at a cocktail function. As she puts on her clothes, Jack proposes that he stay over at her place next time, talking about staying in and breakfast; Candy just smiles about the impossible fantasy. When he offers her cab fare, it still feels like payment. Candy and Jack might be intimate, but they’re constantly having two different conversations. Only Candy can allow Jack the opportunity to speak her language.
Candy’s decisive moment comes on the street when she converses with Rodney (Method Man), the pimp who’s still trying to bring her into his stable. The Deuce has depicted the pimp community with open eyes, showing their cruelty and charm in equal measure, and “What Kind of Bad?” paints them at their worst. Rodney and Larry trade a new girl from the country that came with Darlene like she’s a baseball card. C.C. brushes off concerns about Lori as she’s sobbing in front of him like it’s no big deal.
But Rodney’s conversation with Candy takes the cake: He starts out sympathetic and caring, telling her that it’s a shame about what happened to her face. Soon, however, he pushes the sell, claiming that if you “go it alone, come a dark hour, you are alone” and that the two of them would be “world famous.” You can see Candy almost consider it, but then eventually laugh-cries at his pitch. (Gyllenhaal’s best acting moment of the week is when her shaking and heaving slowly turns into fits of laughter.) It’s here when Rodney unleashes a string of abuse, asking what a “high-class acting, movie-looking individual” was doing on the street at all, calling her a “cream-filled, tiara-wearing, I-shit-beige bitch.” Method and Gyllenhaal are at their best when they’re at each other’s throats; it’s an uncomfortable scene, partially because both adopt the rhythms of a real verbal altercation. They talk over each other while Candy raises her voice and Rodney talks quieter. When he walks away, Candy watches as the other girls awkwardly shuffle along, knowing that she’ll never be one of them even though she never wanted to be. Not long after, she returns to Harvey Wasserman, who’s back to making porn, and takes a new job.
Other characters are also standing up for their beliefs this week, or at least exploring the option to do so. Abby is stuck between the safe world she knew and the new world she doesn’t fully understand, and she’s not comfortable in either. She attends a party with her old college friends, but can’t connect with their ironic army jackets, the drugs, and their general layabout nature typical of college students. However, she’s fed up with the controlling, abusive pimps who frequent the Hi-Hat; she gets into a dispute with Reggie Love and even bristles at Vincent’s suggestion that she has to wear a leotard like the rest of the girls. She’s more disheartened when she sees Darlene back with Larry, but gets a reality check from Ashley, one of C.C.’s girls. “Maybe she likes her life the way it is. You ever think of that?” she tells Abby, before telling her that pimps are upfront about their controlling nature rather than more respectable men who try to hide it. “They love you for who you are, until you try to be someone else.”
Meanwhile, Sandra pushes further on her story about the streets, despite massive pushback from her editor who thinks it will only reinforce stereotypes. Officer Alston, who’s become closer to Sandra in the interim, shows her the lay of the land and helps introduce her to Reggie Love for an interview. As much as Alston charms Sandra, she’s not above asking him about the Knapp Commission, the five-member panel established by Mayor Lindsay to investigate police corruption, and if unethical behavior goes on where he works. Alston quickly clams up and it’s later revealed that he takes a payoff just like everyone else in his precinct, even though he’s clearly not proud of the behavior.
But “What Kind of Bad?” also shows people taking advantage of new opportunities. Bobby accepts that he can’t return to the construction site, since the doctors tell him that he’ll stroke out in a year if he does. Instead, he pushes Vincent to accept Rudy’s pitch to open a massage parlor so he can help run it. Vincent was initially hesitant because he’s no “whore master,” but eventually caves after Bobby makes an emotional appeal. By the end of the episode, they’ve already begun construction on the parlor, and Vincent and his family are in deeper with the mob.
Yet, the most joy in the episode is reserved for Paul, who begins to explore the underground gay life in New York. After getting charged with a bullshit solicitation charge while leaving a queer movie, he attends a secret club with his friend. He takes ecstasy, dances his heart out, and experiences the joy of being in a place that fully accepts him. Later, Paul takes a date back to his apartment, where he, the new guy, and Paul’s straight-laced roommate smoke a joint and hook up. The Deuce paints a bleak portrait at times, but it also includes moments like this one that show people simply being themselves, unencumbered by life, even if it’s just for a moment.
Other Tricks and Pricks
• Though the episode’s story is by Richard Price, the teleplay is credited to Will Ralston and Chris Yakaitis. Fun fact: Ralston was a sound editor on all of Simon’s previous TV projects and has previously written one teleplay on Treme; Yakaitis was a researcher on The Wire, later a script coordinator on Treme and Show Me a Hero, and also has only one Treme teleplay to his name. Love to see Simon promote longtime collaborators.
• One kid at the college party really wants to go see a movie, but can’t decide between Play Misty for Me and Straw Dogs. Eastwood vs. Peckinpah.
• Alston compares being a cop on the street beat to being like Sisyphus and the boulder, but Sandra insightfully counters that Sisyphus didn’t get paid every time he made it up the mountain.
• Big Mike, previously seen finishing the crossword, bails Paul out of jail and takes the opportunity to throw some insults at the police. “No humanity in these motherfuckers. Am I right?”