Warning, spoilers for The Deuce ahead!
The first episode of David Simon’s new show The Deuce got the show off to a great start. Characters were introduced, storylines began their development, and the tone for the season was set. Does the second episode live up the first’s lofty standards or does the show already start to slump?
The story so far: Vinnie and Frankie Martino (James Franco) are twin brothers who are going through difficult times. Vinnie’s home and work life are falling apart, while Frankie has a large gambling debt. Vinnie decides to make some drastic changes to his life and to help pay his brother’s debts. Meanwhile, Lori (Emily Meade) is a young Minnesotan who is new to New York City. She is quickly recruited by C. C. (Gary Carr) to his stable of prostitutes. Among the other pimps and prostitutes working The Deuce (42nd Street) is Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a pro without a pimp, and Abby (Margarita Levieva), a NYU student who is ready to experience life.
Episode 2 Show and Prove: This second episode of takes on a much darker tone than its premier. The introduction of C.C., Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe), Rodney, and the other pimps introduced in Episode One are light hearted and almost comical. The exchanges they have with each other and the prostitutes are funny, while the frequent insults are more about posturing and saving face than genuine mean spiritedness. As the episode progressed, this perception begins to slowly crack, until the shocking and violent ending.
The second episode delves further into the lives of the pimps. C.C. in particular is given ample screen time. He quickly alternates between being reflective and regretting his decisions, to forcing a prostitute into a decisions she’ll soon regret. The duality and instability is frightening to watch. Carr plays the role excellently, making C.C. seem manipulative and possessive. It is just as believable when C.C. talks about how lonely his life is as it is when he subtly threatens one of his prostitutes. Other actors may try to inject some sympathy for the villain. Carr’s portrayal makes his portrayal clear: C.C is not a good man.
The character of Larry Brown is also explored more this episode. The first touched on his insecurities, aggressive manner, and how possessive he was. Larry’s issues are on full display in the second. He is more physical with Darlene, a prostitute from his stable, and he threatens another woman he catches talking to his girls. Any façade of the pimps being funny men whose job happens to be illegal is erased by the end of the second episode.
Gyllenhall continues to play Candy as smart and no nonsense, but also as someone who does not expect or want anyone’s sympathy. Her storyline continues to develop as she does a favor for a friend, which starts revealing her motivations. Candy does a movie scene for the first time ever, and it is obvious that she has plans to do more work — just not in the role that she would be expected to.
The dark tone of the episode continues with Vinnie Martino. It has quickly become clear that he will be unable to pay his brother’s numerous debts. The best course of action for him, then, is to make a deal with the mob. Though the conversation is cordial on the surface, the general feeling is one of impending doom and distrust. Mob boss Rudy Pipilo tells Vinnie how he can help, but is also quick to let Vinnie know that no mistakes will be tolerated. More importantly, the mob wants nothing to do with Frankie, sowing seeds for a future rift between the twins.
The lightning and camera work is exceptional in the episode. Many parts take place at night or in bars. These scenes are dimly lit and have a gritty feel to them. The main source of light seems to come from the lights of 42nd Street or from patrolling police cars. Even outdoor scenes seem as if they were shot on cloudy days, further adding to the darker direction the show is heading in.
The writing continues to be the bright spot of The Deuce. Storylines advance at a rapid pace while still giving the audience enough time to process them. The theme for the show is definitely “change.” There are a number of storylines to follow and all of them revolve around some sort of change. For this to work, the writing has to allow for the characters to develop. Thankfully, the character growth is especially strong. Every scene develops some aspect of the character(s) involved. No character is a background player in the show. Near perfect writing keeps the audience engaged.
Music also continues to be steady on the show. Aside from the opening and closing credits, The Deuce does not have a traditional score. Like The Wire, another David Simon show, The Deuce has a diegetic soundtrack, with songs playing from passing cars, jukeboxes, and radios. The music blends into the show smoothly, without overlapping scenes or dialogue. It’s an effect that really adds to the realism.
One thing lacking from the second episode was James Franco’s dual performance of the Martino brothers. Both brothers are in the episode, but Frankie is in for only a few scenes. This does not take away from the episode itself, but one of the highlights of the first episode was Franco’s dual performances.
The Deuce continues to impress after two episodes. After setting the groundwork in the first episode, the second episode begins the gipping story of these engaging characters in earnest. Despite dealing with disturbing subject matter, HBO’s newest show is must-see television.