So, contrary to what we were led to believe in the pilot, Vincent’s deep dive into the dirty intricacies of the mob business is far from over. After slick-haired, sharp-dressed mob capo Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) cordially invites him into a profitable business venture requiring the efforts of brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer), the fair-mannered Martino brother starts to see the bigger picture behind his recent success story down by the “wrong side of the river”. Rudy wins him over by metaphorically splashing said big picture right in his face during a walk down The Deuce. “Human garbage”, as Rudy so plainly calls it, is everywhere, along with a dreary lack of progress and livelihood; their walk about town manifests into a grand tour of all these things, thanks to Ernest Dickerson’s carefully structured, widely-framed directing. With some time and an increased assortment of resources, Vinnie could very well be on the cusp of something greater than pulling $700 a week at a restaurant he doesn’t even own.
That sort of broad sell is the driving force behind what keeps the cast of The Deucestanding afloat amidst the intangible, stagnant pool of water that pollutes its crowded setting; it’s also the thesis to this week’s episode. In “Show and Prove” the exposition means nothing if the sell carries no weight. Vincent’s won over because Rudy’s artificial sentiment jives with the feeling of stagnation and scumminess he’s just recently escaped from (which, in a way, is one half logical and one half ironic, considering the new set of circumstances he finds himself in). Although we as viewers can already dissect the illegitimacy of Rudy’s stern remarks on West 42nd, Vinnie’s trending upward as a manager seeking opportunities to garner a position worthy of his capabilities. Eventually, you’d imagine that he’ll come to his senses, but for right now he’s got Bobby working the construction chain like a fiddle, and the money’s good.
Others like Ashley are literally selling their bodies to achieve their own desired levels of personal gain. A somewhat heartbreaking arc in the pilot episode, her ambitious attempts to satisfy both herself and C.C. spills over into a network of multiple storylines here. After bearing it all for potential film suitors to see in a provocative photoshoot (one that Shay suggests she shouldn’t have paid for in the first place), she returns to both Shay and Darlene about it, which prompts Darlene to confront Fat Mooney at his bookshop over rightful compensation. Right in line with that sense of worth she was looking for with Louis last week, she (literally) gets her money‘s worth at Fat Mooney’s, confiscating the remaining tapes of her video “sex”capade and later reporting them to Larry.
Ashley’s preferred solution is so simple it’s not even glanced at for the remainder of the episode; those chomping at the bit to find out if Bernie Wolf’s underground film producers are interested in her will have to wait patiently until at least next weekend. Darlene’s situation, however, goes beyond what Larry wants and what Darlene needs to keep him happy. Their exchange at the diner once again highlights the leverage and the power represented in the pimps that run The Deuce, and unfortunately for Darlene Larry’s vigorous clutch on her self-worth means her frustration-fueled search for satisfaction won’t get any answers anytime soon.
There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel for her in “Show and Prove”, when she ventures off to the library to read and check out books. Later on, we see her distance herself from the busy trappings of the bar she’s in, taking a break from whetting the sexual appetites of empty suits with every flip of the page from whatever novel she picked out. Obviously, Larry could give less of a shit, and it’s difficult to imagine that his aggressiveness towards Darlene has ceased to intensify. We continue to watch her try to learn and grow for her own benefit, but what sucks for her so far is that she’s trapped in a relationship designed to dumb her down to a dispensable commodity.
Eileen’s self-worth is also without question, but unlike Darlene it’s also without restraint; far be it for any one of those pimps down at the diner to try and scoop her up. As a result, her arc goes in a completely different direction. Eager to demonstrate a progressive display of independence, she considers Fat Mooney’s monetary exploitation on a trip to the Bronx, filling in for a fellow prostitute on the set of a homemade porno. Her fascination at the shrewd set design and film antics (the Campbell’s soup trick at the end of the production is as interesting as it is hilarious) prompts her to steal some of the pornographers’ work – she’s on to something here.
Before we get there, though, we are once again reminded of the family dynamic she’s involved with back home: an honest one that paints an arresting picture of the type of relationship a woman in her position would have with an exuberant, miss-informed son and a loving – albeit disapproving – mother. And again, Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredible throughout. As the daughter seeking a stable source of contribution for her family, she exhibits an enthusiastic drive that makes me root for her even despite the knowledge that she’s simply going back out to fuck for cash. At the porno scene up in the Bronx, she gives us a calculating, analytic version of Eileen that practically transports us into her thoughts. Without saying a word, she tells us everything she’s thinking when she glances away to the side after being showered with fake jizz; an instance that transitions into a healthy dose of inquisitiveness when Naomi provides her with a clearer understanding of all the materials on set.
The most enthralling half of “Show and Prove”, however, is the one that illustrates the day-to-day workings of the average escort. Police officers Flanagan and Alston from the pilot return to inject more of that nonchalant communal interaction from last week, cheating a street-cleaning system within their precinct by shuttling prostitutes and raiding bookshops with hidden porn tapes. While the latter is relatively straightforward, the true nuance of their excursions this week lie within the former. By treating the ladies they rack up on street corners to Chinese food and harmless conversation (and then later sending them right back out when the coast is clear from fellow lieutenants), they collect a better understanding of the personnel they’re exploiting – while also covering the fact that homicides are occurring at a rapid rate elsewhere. I liked that we got to see Alston sympathize for them and even try to talk some sense into Loretta, and the overall procedure of it all is intriguing in the sense that the police back then seem to have exerted their creativity in all the wrong places.