A subdued episode, “What Big Ideas” highlights the high hopes and limitations of the characters and The Deuce itself.
The Deuce has a short life, it turns out. HBO recently announced that it would renew The Deuce for a third and final season. Critically acclaimed, the ratings indicate that critics are pretty much the bulk of the audience watching. I wondered why it hasn’t caught on–it’s not like HBO doesn’t know how to do sprawling narratives. It certainly isn’t for lack of budget. Maybe the problem with The Deuce is also why some of us tune in week after week. The massive worlds of Game Of Thrones and WestWorld present fantasy tangled with devastating, human stories. In its own way, The Deuce has the same recipe, but instead of dragons or robots, the fantasy is the nostalgia of the 1970s. We have juxtaposed shots of disco nightclubs with girls ODing on a peep show stage. This world isn’t abusing pretty robots or a sisterhood of assassins; it’s abusing real women. Forgotten women who don’t even get dramatic deaths; instead, they are doomed to die in a burning brothel, forgotten. Even the characters like Ashley who get out seem trapped by this world. It’s great storytelling, but the end doesn’t have the potential for much that isn’t bleak. “What Big Ideas” certainly speaks to exactly that.
Larry just wants his big break. Since pimping has become a struggle, his plunge into the world of porn has been tenuous, albeit entertaining. This week the once great exploiter of women found himself ordered around like a piece of meat as he got his, ahem, headshots. Darlene’s amusement as she watches speaks volumes to how far she’s come from season one. That Darlene would never have openly smirked at her pimp. His improvised scene at the end certainly shows he has a knack for life on screen.
In line with Larry’s cold open, the heart of “What Big Ideas” seems to be those who dream bigger than common sense should allow. Paul, for example, with his Italian tile, pursues his supper club dream, without mob help. Brimming with optimism, his fear of the competing mafia’s reach lurks in the shadows, ready to pounce. Likewise, Candy’s hope for a film of her own is tainted by her struggle to raise more money beyond the ten grand she secured in LA. Harvey offers to help her McGyver a film with what they have, but she has big plans for her Little Red Riding Hood. Unfortunately, her writing skills are not what she hoped and she must seek an outside writer, much to Harvey’s dismay. And in the vein of, “But what I really want to do is direct,” C.C. gives some directorial advise on Lori’s latest film before pitching his own life story as a film. This drives Lori further away from him toward real representation.
Meanwhile, Frankie’s finding life as a dry cleaner difficult; it’s amazing how picky customers are outside the sex trade. It’s the other Franco twin, however, who seems more troubled for a change. The death of Kitty due to Bobby’s neglect in that brothel fire indicates a bigger problem with Vincent and his spin on this dark world. Though he doesn’t abuse them, like we’ve seen other men do, his “live and let live” approach is still part of the exploitation machine. How much longer will Abby justify this in her head? If the look she gives Vincent as she stalks away from him at Kitty’s funeral indicates anything, not much longer.
With The Deuce’s days limited, it will be intriguing to watch how our characters develop over the rest of the season.