Three episodes in, the loose collection of characters that fills the world of The Deuce are finally brushing up against each other. Abby, who previously languished in college and then in the lowest level of the workforce, starts a waitressing gig at Vincent’s new bar the Hi-Hat. Rudy, the mob boss bankrolling Vincent’s new venture, has been neatly folded in as a new Times Square developer, possibly with the mayor on his side. Pimps like Larry, Rodney, and Gentle Ritchie (who just doesn’t dig hierarchical oppression, man) all convene at the Hi-Hat with their girls. Abby and Darlene talk Dickens. Vincent and Rudy talk business. Cops, drag queens, pimps, and hookers all drink in one spot. It’s the dream of occupational, racial, and sexual diversity, all under one roof.
But while “The Principle Is All” mostly tracks how the Hi-Hat’s opening brings many disparate folks together, there are still other stories occurring in the margins. The two big ones this week involve Candy and Bobby, both of whom slowly realize their own limitations as well as the dangers of their respective environments.
Candy continues to pursue her interest in the nascent world of pornographic film, traveling with fellow prostitute Thunder Thighs to watch a live sex show that’s ostensibly being filmed by Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz), only there’s no camera in the film. In a meeting with Harvey, Candy learns that the obstacles of actually producing and selling pornography aren’t conducive to making a profit. It clearly doesn’t stall Candy’s determination, even when Harvey sheepishly promises her to put her in front of the camera if he gets back into that line of work, but it introduces her to a new world with a new set of difficulties. Candy knows what Harvey can’t understand: If Europe has loosened their morals and allowed for the proliferation of the sex industry, then America can’t be too far behind. Why? “When do we ever leave a fuckin’ dollar for the other guy to pick up?” she smirks.
There are other motivations pushing Candy off the street — for one thing, her mother’s disapproval and guilt, as well as her limited presence in her son’s life — however, the main issue now is the mundane difficulties of hooking as a profession. She shakes her head while listening to messages on her answering machine from regulars, one asking her not to pick up if their wife calls and another telling her she may have the clap. When she’s out on the street, she’s firmly tells a regular that not she nor any of the other girls would be willing to perform anal sex, and just at that moment, a guy gets stabbed five feet away from her. No one looks at him or says anything. “Keep going. Don’t get involved,” a passerby hisses while people scurry away. Candy quietly realizes that it’s not a stable profession, to put it mildly.
Meanwhile, Bobby is hard at work at the construction site, losing his temper and heaving as he climbs up the steps. In the middle of dressing down a college student who’s been stirring the pot about Vietnam on the site, he suffers a heart attack and lands in the hospital. Last week, Bobby was a schemer, setting up his brother-in-law’s mob connect at his site to make it a little easier on him and his family. Now, he’s holed up in a hospital room, asking Vincent for a smoke while he’s got a tube in his nose. Even under the most normal of circumstances, it’s difficult to break out of conditions to which you’ve grown accustomed. All Bobby can do is wish Vincent and Frank good luck on the opening, and all Vincent can do is slip his sister some extra cash.
Yet, The Deuce is not through introducing or expanding on new faces. Sandra Washington, the reporter snooping around the girls, makes another appearance at Leon’s diner, paying a prostitute for her time to discuss the life. Paul Hendricks (Chris Coy) appeared in last week’s episode as the bartender at Penny Lane, the gay bar that Rudy and Vincent took over, and he returns again, now working for Vincent and bringing in some of the old clientele. Finally, there’s Big Mike (Mustafa Shakir), a strange drifter who falls into a muscle gig at Vincent’s new place after he stops a disgruntled bar machine owner from pulling out a gun on opening night. Big Mike might be the clearest microcosm for what Deuce co-creators David Simon and George Pelecanos are attempting with the series: On the surface, he’s mysterious and more than a little frightening (he scares off Candy when she sees him stumbling on a drug trip), but he’s got value and a story just like everyone else. Instead of throwing him out after causing a scene, Vincent invites him back in and gives him a seat at the table.
That seems to be the modus operandi of The Deuce: Everyone deserves a place. It’s why the scenes at the Hi-Hat near the end of the episode are the most exhilarating, because you bear witness to a mix of different personalities all sharing the same bit of real estate. It’s a neat illustration that everyone suffers under similar systems, but it’s through solidarity, even if temporary and lubricated, where people can find relief. There are plenty of horrors on the street, but there are still some safe havens, too, at least for a little while.
Other Tricks and Pricks
• We also catch up with officers Alston and Flanagan, who have been given orders that the areas they patrol are now “no-go zones for purposes of an arrest.” Alston can’t understand who has the pull in those areas to convince anyone downtown to hold off on arrests. Flanagan, on the other hand, is mostly concerned with where they’re eating later. “Remember last time? My goddamn colon was a six-lane Mongolian beef expressway.”
• A great moment in small talk: Candy and Harvey meet a Hasidic-owned restaurant where Harvey orders kishka. Candy asks him what that is and Harvey gives her a wry smile and says, “You don’t wanna know.”
• The best conversation of the episode occurs between Larry and Gentle Ritchie. Larry can’t understand why Ritchie doesn’t keep his one girl in line, but Ritchie insists that she controls the means of production. Larry, dumbfounded, asks Ritchie if he’s talking about her pussy, to which Ritchie replies, calmly, “More than that.”