'The Deuce' Review: Episode 5 Asks 'What Kind Of Bad?'

(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?)

A lot of this week's episode of The Deuce is set-up for what's to come later on. Luckily, The Deuce isn't the kind of show for which that's an indictment. We've spent enough time with these characters by now that even set-up is rewarding, and it helps that the cast is dynamite through and through.

This Week’s Best Bet: Bobby

The supporting characters on The Deuce are just as compelling as the leads, and Chris Bauer's performance as Bobby Dwyer is one of the best. When Vincent (James Franco), hot off the success of the Hi Hat, turns down an opportunity to run a new whorehouse for Pipilo (Michael Rispoli), it's Bobby who convinces him to think it through again. It's for self-serving reasons — Bobby's doctor has warned him against returning to his old job, telling him he'll suffer another stroke sooner rather than later, so he needs another line of work — but by the looks of it, he'll be well suited to the new job. When he takes a look at the place Pipilo's bought, he immediately goes about trying to figure out how many bedrooms they'll need to build, what kind of beds they'll need, whether or not the doors will lock, and every other conceivable detail. So, no, he's nothing like the pimps and gangsters we've seen so far, but there's something charming about his attitude about the whole thing, and it'll be interesting to see how he fares once things actually get going.



Meanwhile, Sandra (Natalie Paul) is still trying to get her story. She's hit some roadblocks with her editor, who tells her that the paper doesn't need an exposé on prostitution (as well as the fact that, as a black publication, they don't need to reinforce stereotypes about pimps, prostitutes, and the black community). But she promises fair coverage, and keeps working, eventually getting Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) to hook her up with an interview with Reggie Love (Tariq Trotter).

There's a bit of a back-and-forth this week between Abby (Margarita Levieva) and Darlene (Dominique Fishback) as well. Fishback has consistently proven one of the most magnetic presences on the show, and this week is no exception, as Darlene goes back home with the bus ticket that Abby gave her — and then comes back with a recruit (Andrea Rachel-Parker) in tow. It's fascinating watching her interact with her old friends, as she tells them she's a successful model, and even more so as she expresses zero regret when Abby tries to confront her about coming back. When Abby complains to Ashley (Jamie Neumann), Ashley just laughs. "Maybe she likes her life the way it is," she says. And she's not unjustified in her derision — Abby has never had any occasion to see the world that the rest of the show's female characters do.


The Trouble with Love

Abby's also got a little tension with Vinnie, as she outright tells him that she won't be around later in the night because she's going on a date. The date turns out to be a bust, but it's still enough to raise Vinnie's hackles, as he asks Paul (Chris Coy) if he thinks Abby's date is handsome.

Paul's storyline continues to be something of a mystery. It's been made clear that he's the primary window into exploring queer relationships on the show, as he deals with the fact that his boyfriend, a successful lawyer, is considerably more buttoned-up when it comes to any remotely public displays of affection. This episode sees him locked up as well; the cops nab him outside a porn theater and arrest him for solicitation, though Mike (Mustafa Shakir, in an increasingly interesting performance) arrives with bail soon afterwards. When he goes out clubbing at a place his friend assures him is free of cops and worries, it's one of the more joyous sequences on the show, and it ends better than expected as he brings home a stranger who's more than happy to turn their dalliance into a threesome with Paul's boyfriend.


The Camel’s Back

Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a tough customer, but this week's episode finally sees her break — or at least come close to it. The extended scene in which things all come to a head is incredible, but also difficult to watch, as it comes on the heels of — and with the threat of — the kind of violence that seems to be inescapable for women. After being brutally beaten and robbed by a john, she's confronted by Rodney (Method Man) the next time she goes out. Once again, he's angling to get her to partner with him, telling her that she'll never have to worry about being assaulted again (and it's apparently happened multiple times before, as he starts listing off incidents). He starts off tender, gently dabbing at the make-up that's caked over her bruises, but as she keeps refusing, he quickly turns harsh. He's no different from any of the rest of the men who've treated her poorly over the years. It's a frightening exchange to watch (Method Man's performance is tremendous in how subtly but undeniably he switches from one mode to the other), and Candy is reduced to tears by the end.

She's suffered cut after cut — the assault is one thing, and then there's her relationship with Jack (Will Chase), who she finally sleeps with, only for the whole affair to turn a little sour as he gives her money for her cab fare home. It's a harmless gesture where he's concerned, but for her, it's another reminder of what she's trying to escape. So, finally, she returns to Harvey Wassermann (David Krumholtz), who gives her a little good news: they might finally be in business.