The Deuce: “What Kind of Bad?” Season 1 Episode 5 Review

From a critical standpoint, The Deuce is becoming a fascinating watch. The show so frequently teases itself getting great, and as a cohesive whole it so far feels great, even if while watching it more hints at it than delivers it. But now, just past the halfway mark of the season, it’s time to wonder if the show will actually ever get great.

“What Kind of Bad?” isn’t so much a bad episode as it is a repetitive one. Candy has been toying with a new career since she first had a camera put in front of her. We didn’t need to see some thug rob her and beat her to justify the transition, no matter how in tune with reality it really is. It takes some verbal harassment form Rodney to send her over the edge, but it seems like she’s finally going to pursue the career she’s recently become enamored with.

But the episode’s repetitiousness is most explored through Darlene and her time back in North Carolina. The episode opens on this venture, and we see Darlene in an element where people see her as the successful girl making it big in New York. So she coerces a young waitress to return to the city with her. How this young woman is treated is nothing new, as the show has delivered plenty of glimpses of prostitutes just hitting the streets. But there’s one moment she has that sticks out, she refuses to get back on the bus and go home. In her mind, no matter what she’s doing in New York, it’s better than what she’d be doing in North Carolina. The city is a drug. That’s why Darlene is back too, the glimmer of hope that maybe one day she’ll actually be a model like she claims to the waitress in the opening scene. Abby’s disappointment upon seeing Darlene is a strong moment that uses the episode’s “been there” quality to its advantage, refreshing one of the show’s sweeter dynamics into something more complicated.

Vincent’s story is a bit of the opposite. This is another episode where he debates with himself and the mob whether he wants to take on another property. Albeit, this new joint, essentially a brothel, will be bigger and require more of his ambition and finesse. Vincent getting in deep is something we all knew had to happen for The Deuce to really keep going, but the season has been constructed in a way that we’re seeing him weigh his options on decisions a bit too similar to each other.

The only character who provides a new avenue for building out the show’s hyper-authentic version of New York is Paul, as he faces a little more discrimination than patron’s lewd comments at the Hi-Hat. Busted simply for being at a theater playing gay porn, we see how the police played their part in pushing down the gay community before things got easier. At least he gets to go dancing at a queer-friendly club later in the episode.

But aside from that, “What Kind of Bad?” feels like its stalling before The Deuce gets to make all the character moves its been building to all season. It’s still a well-made, well-acted hour, but it lacks some of the inventiveness of the first four episodes, or at least the sense of vague, meandering direction. The characters feel more lost than ever here, a fair point to explore, but it already feels like we’ve explored it in past episodes. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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