'The Deuce' Review: 'The Principle Is All' Sees The Series Finding Its Groove

(We're going to kickstart our weekly discussion of HBO's The Deuce by answering one simple question: who or what is the "best bet" in this week's episode?)

In its third episode, The Deuce feels like it's starting to settle into a rhythm. This episode is slow — there's no rush to get anywhere now that all the pieces and players have been set into motion — but at the risk of getting into innuendos, it's a good time. The pleasure is in seeing how these pieces come together, not how quickly it happens.

This Week’s Best Bet: Candy

As we saw last week, Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has started to figure out that she might be able to make porn work for her; she even goes so far as to tell her mother that she's about to make a career change. After seeing a "shoot" in action, she approaches pornographer Harvey Wassermann (David Krumholtz) to seek advice. Unfortunately, all he's got for her is bad news: it's not a profitable industry. At least, not yet. Candy's undeterred — she's got plenty of reason to try to make this work, not least to spend more time with her son as well as how unreliable prostitution is on the whole. As she goes through voicemails from her regulars, she gets one call that says not to pick up any calls from his wife, and another warning her about STDs, and when she goes out, it's only to bear witness to a stabbing that the bystanders do next to nothing about. Needless to say, it's far from ideal.


On the Ropes

Lori (Emily Meade) isn't having that smooth of a time either. After her near-kidnapping last week, she's been playing it too safe for C.C.'s (Gary Carr) tastes. He's obviously not happy with the work that she's been doing, offering blowjobs to drivers, and takes her aside to tell her that she's got potential, and that she should be using it to build up a regular customer base. He knows she's rattled, sure, but that doesn't mean she can't work.

Darlene (Dominique Fishback), meanwhile, has been having a little bit of a rough night as well. After accidentally falling asleep at the apartment of her cinephile john, she rushes back to Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and apologizes. She also makes it a little harder for him to punish her for it because she takes the prerogative, telling him first to "get it over it" by hitting her for her tardiness, and then telling him she'll work extra hours to earn back the money she would have earned in the time she was sleeping. He seems stunned by her matter of fact-ness (or maybe it's her lack of fear), though he later seems appeased by the cash she's earned in her overtime. But that uncertainty returns when they go to Vincent's (James Franco) bar, and he sees her reading A Tale of Two Cities and striking up conversation with (ex-)college girl Abby (Margarita Leveiva), who recommends Bleak House and Little Dorrit as well. Darlene's a smart cookie, as we've already seen, and it'll be a point of interest to see if Larry takes her skills in stride, or seek to stamp them out.



As part of the "bad luck" running theme, Vincent's going through some ups and downs, too. There's a rough patch in the opening of his new bar, as Irish mobsters show up with some grievances — exacerbated by Frank's cavalier attitude as he smashes the jukebox and pool table in retaliation. Unsurprisingly, despite the stakes, Frank is still Frank. He's still gambling and racking up debts (which is what leads the mobsters to come around in the first place, as he breaks open some of the bar accoutrements to get the quarters to gamble with), and everybody knows it. It's just that Vincent continues to cover for him.

Luckily, Rudy (Michael Rispoli) is on hand to help smooth things out, but that's a temporary reprieve. Bobby (Chris Bauer) suffers a heart attack while dressing down one of his construction site employees for running his mouth about the Vietnam War, and ends up in the hospital. This doesn't look good for the deal Vincent had ironed out for Michael, though the fallout has yet to take effect. Even when the bar opens to a resounding success, Vincent can't completely escape trouble. A fight breaks out, though it's quickly broken up by Big Mike (Mustafa Shakir), who Vincent is quick to hire as muscle for his trouble. Of note: Abby is the other new hire at the bar. After quitting her telemarketing job and being scammed by a charming co-worker, she seeks Vincent out, and makes herself a part of the crew. As such the bar's opening is one of the biggest scenes of the series thus far, as it brings together almost all of the characters we've been introduced to and lets us simply watch them interact for a little while.

Rudy's luck, for whatever it's worth, seem to be holding up the best. He meets with his lawyer in a bid to lock in some real estate development in Hell's Kitchen. It's part of a bigger scheme: the mayor's running for president, and cleaning up Times Square is the kind of feat that could really send him through. It's that thought that's at the root of the new directive for the cops that that very neighborhood is off limits for arrests. The goal here, as Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) works out, is to drive people out of Times Square and into the neighborhoods with no influence. It'll be good for the mayor, and it may be good for the mobsters, too.