The Deuce “What Big Ideas” (S02E04)

the deuce season 2 1 - The Deuce "What Big Ideas" (S02E04)
Eileen/Candy directing her film Photo HBO

The Deuce’s “What Big Ideas” digs deep into the smallness of many character’s dreams. Some learn their expectations of themselves and others lead to success or failure. A tragic death changes Vincent’s family and friends, forever. Larry and Candy learn to accept help from others. The mob war escalates police and the Mayor’s office try to close down sex trade in The Deuce. Frankie changes careers, unable to meet his own expectations as a husband.

Fire destroys

After a rival mob family burns down Bobby’s business, killing a teenager names “Kitty”, Vincent’s family and friends pay the price. The mob war escalates and corrupt police block the Mayor’s efforts to clean up The Deuce. Abby and Ashley are reminded that men don’t respect any woman in The Deuce.

Spoilers below so make sure you have watched “What Big Ideas” before reading further.

Mama says my teeth are my best feature” – Larry


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Larry (Genga Ainnagbe) poses for “headshots” Photo spoiledrottenb2

The cold open is one of the best from season 2, with Larry posing for headshots with a photographer. He still wants to be in porn films instead of running his underpaid women from the sidelines.  Larry still doesn’t understand much about the porn industry so he’s unhappy when told not to smile, to “look menacing” and strip for “headshots”. He paid $59.95 for those new jeans.

He surprises the photographer who finally gets the all-important nude image which will get Larry cast in his first adult film.  Photographer “I’d hate to see that thing be angry'” .


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Larry posing for an impressed photographer. Photo spoiledrottenb2

Candy casts Larry in her own film “Red Hot” per the clapper in the top photo.

Larry wants to be in porn but his inability to read, as Darlene (Dominique Fishback) explains to Candy, makes it impossible to remember his lines. The Deuce has hinted at Larry’s problems reading, if not outright illiteracy, using his malaprops as comic relief in both seasons.  Now, Larry’s constant attacks about books and education to Darlene make sense.

Strange allies, or lovers now?

Larry and Darlene are allies now, and it has been a few episodes since we last saw him criticize her for reading.  In “What Big Ideas”, Darlene interprets porn jargon for Larry and tells Candy about the dialogue issues he has. I’m curious what has shifted in Darlene’s relationship with Larry leading to them as allies rather than combatants?  Has she given up her own dreams of taking a college class?

I’m hope we find out why Larry and Darlene have a new easiness together.  He relies upon her to help him break into porn while laying off criticizing her reading. I’d feel better if I could see her reading another book soon instead of simply meeting Larry’s new needs.

Candy learns to accept help

“What Big Ideas” takes the title from the classic fairy tale Red Hiding Hood, the subject of Candy’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s) adult film Red Hot. Harvey (David Krumholtz)  listens to Candy’s plans for elaborate costumes, a forest filming location, outdoor lighting, quipping “What big ideas”. 

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Candy shares her plans with Harvey. PHoto spoiledrottenb2

Harvey likes to share, whenever possible, his knowledge of pop culture and film.  He mentions  “Bettleheim” so Candy goes out and buys his book dealing with fairy tales. The first phase on inspiration leads Candy to try to do everything herself.  She shows Harvey a Pinterest-worthy scrapbook of designs, fabrics and sketches  for flavor.  When he asks per point-blank if she has a script, she admits it is in her head, not yet on paper. Harvey’s assistant offers to help her with the script, but Candy wants to do it all by herself. She tries hard to break out the film into script, but soon realizes she is not a writer & so hires an outside writer instead.

“So you just get there however the fuck you want”  Candy

Candy uses her newfound self-awareness to coach  Larry through the film by letting him play to his own strengths. Larry the pimp knows exactly how to approach women and what to say in order to get them to work for him.

Red Hot has Larry ‘s character in jail, trying to entice a female cop to unlock his cell and have sex with him.  When he chokes, forgetting his lines, Candy points out his character’s motivations but tells Larry he already knows what to say. “You’ve been in here a long time, you’re lonely, you’re horny, just say whatever you need to say to get her in this door and get her clothes off. ”

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Larry to Heather “We good to fuck now?” Photo spoiledrottenb2

Larry’s goal was small but this triumph and Candy’s ability to meet him where he is makes this a much-needed success for him.  He is trying to find a path with some power and dignity for himself since pimping is passing away. It is easy to cheer for Larry despite his cruelty. As an urban black man with no education and only self-made opportunities, this small win for Larry could lead somewhere better.  Fans of Simon and Pelecanos’ other works make this doubtful but always a possibility.

“Don’t keep her waiting” -Abby

“What Big Ideas” reveals that Abby and Vincent have an open relationship now.

Abby hosts a photography exhibit of her friend Viv’s (Adelind Horan) work at CLub 366. Viv “takes the marginalized people and turns them into art”; a gag has Frankie as the subject of one photograph. Viv hits on Vincent after meeting him; he agrees to walk her home but Abby is angry despite their open relationship.  Just as Vincent and Viv are leaving, Abby sits at the bar, demanding a drink. Vincent admits he was flirting back at Viv and Abby says “Don’t keep her waiting.” Abby’s anger is focused more towards Viv and Vincent. According to the episode breakdown after, Abby is ok with Vincent sleeping with random women but not her friends.


Relationship cracks widening

The Deuce has shown us cracks throughout the Abby-Vincent relationship in season 2.  Between Vincent’s constant excuses for Frankie and Bobby’s (Chris Bauer) bad choices, the moments he and Abby are in sync emotionally are fewer by the episode. Abby is angry with Bobby for his callous indifference towards Kitty’s death and his utter lack of responsibility about it.  She is angry also with Vincent who defends Bobby over the fire and Bobby’s callous disrespect for all the women he knows. For Vincent, Bobby is family (brother-in-law) and must therefore be defended and not blamed unless he himself does the blaming.  Same with Frankie.

Vincent’s apologies and excuses game

Vincent tries to make up for Bobby’s cruelty by offering to pay for Kitty’s funeral himself “to make sure it gets done right” but that is not enough for Abby or viewers either. Vincent refuses to condemn Bobby for any of it saying “That’s just Bobby”.  They may be family, but Bobby is adding nothing good to anyone’s live these days.

Vincent tries to tell Abby about seeing Tommy murder their competitor but is unable to do so.  Abby wants only to tak about Kitty and cuts off their discussion saying “I’ve got a funeral to plan”, as she turns her back on him.

“You can’t do any better than that Bobby?- Abby

The defining event of the episode is Bobby’s business being burned down by the rival mob family. A 16 year-old sex worker, “Kitty”, dies in the fire.  Her death and what is exposes among Ashley (Jamie Neuman), Abby (Margarita Levieva), Bobby (Chris Bauer) and Vincent (James Franco) changes those relationships. They meet at the Hi-Hat after Kitty’s death to try to find her family.

Ashley and Abby want to locate Kitty’s family to tell them of her death.  Bobby just wants to drink and avoid any responsibility for Kitty’s death.  Vincent falls into his old trap of trying to play peacemaker between both sides before trying to fix it himself.

Ashley and Abby ask who Kitty’s friends are and what she told Bobby about her life before. Bobby claims Kitty had ID giving her age as 19 but admits he knew she was underage.  After Bobby ranted last week about his rivals using underage sex workers, his hypocrisy is staggering. Worse, when Ashley confronts Bobby about his using her for his own benefit, Bobby denies it.  Since he paid her for the sex work she did, he had no other responsibility for Kitty, he claims. Abby asks, “You can’t do any better than that, Bobby?”

Bobby’s pity party

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Vincent, Abby and Bobby (Chris Bauer) meet at the Hi-Hat Photo spoiledrottenb2

Vincent steps into the conversation every time Abby and Ashley hold Bobby responsible.  Bobby is just being Bobby Vincent claims and he uses Bobby’s weak protestations of how tragic it is for Bobby, to heart.  Vincent’s betrayal is a crushing reminder to both women that the men doing the exploiting in The Deuce don’t respect any woman, period. All their hard work, their efforts helping other women are for nothing since the two men care only about how Bobby is feeling. And Bobby is feeling nothing except sorry for Bobby.

Relationships burn away

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A mob-set fire burns Bobby’s business Photo spoiledrottenb2

Ashley grabs a photo of Kitty and heads to a high school where she thinks Kitty lived.  She questions students until Kitty is ID’d as Stephanie Esposito, then informs Kitty’s father. Mr. Esposito is as callous and cruel as Bobby, asking Ashley if she, too, is a whore then going back into his house.  Ashley is devastated by his indifference while his daughter remains as a Jane Doe in the Coroner’s office. Kitty’s fate is one she might have had during her days with C.C.

Bobby breaks  with Vincent, walking out on his brother- in-law and chief defender.


Ashley has moved on from sex work, but her emotional scars on this trip back to The Deuce are agonizing. She and Abbey plan Kitty’s funeral themselves.

The men remain estranged, in stony silence, at Kitty’s funeral.  For Abby and Vincent, Kitty’s death is an earthquake which rocks their now-fragile relationship.

“You have a good life Alma!” –

Frankie has a great episode and once again self-sabotages his chance at a legitimate career on the good side of the law.  His dry cleaning shop, won in a card game from Liam, isn’t going well, mostly due to Frankie himself.  He arrives hours late for opening time, alienates customers and never bothers to learn the names of his employees.  He is defensive, uninspired and unwilling to invest the time and energy into making the place work.

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Frankie (James Franco) alienating customers at his dry cleaning shop Photo spoiledrottenb2

Frankie manages to sell the place back to Liam, although he loses some money, and walks out of the dry cleaners saying “You have a good life Alma” to the alterations lady, whose name is something else, of course.

People don’t change

Frankie meets his wife Christina Fuego (Katrina Cunningham) one night and asks her if she ever thought she’d be married to a dry cleaner.  When he married her in “Our Raison d’Etre” , he waxed eloquent about how she was his inspiration to work hard every day just so he could support her well as regular husbands did their wives.  Three episodes later, Frankie’s goals changed . At least Christina brings home money from her live sex act although the tips aren’t great for the last show.