A review of tonight’s The Deuce coming up just as soon as I’m traded like a ballplayer…
“Someone gonna sell the pussy, someone gonna buy the pussy. We just layin’ in the cut, man.” –Black Frankie
“What Kind of Bad?” opens in unfamiliar territory. We’re at a diner this time, but somewhere out in the country, as we see Darlene in civilian clothes, going by her real name (Donna), telling her old friends about her glamorous, wholly fabricated life as a model in the big city. She has literally been given a ticket(*) out of the life, and she is using it not to escape, but to recruit a new girl for Larry to run — only Bernice (quickly renamed Ginger) doesn’t even wind up staying in Larry’s stable, as she’s quickly traded to Rodney for $2500 (rather than Rodney’s initial offer of two grand and “a player to be named later”).
(*) I missed this on first viewing of last week’s episode, but Abby slipped a bus ticket inside the paperback copy of Travels With My Aunt she gave Darlene.
Darlene, like Lori, has always been presented as being far more comfortable with her trade than Candy is, or than Vinnie is to be asked to get more directly involved in it. But “What Kind of Bad?” — in addition to kicking off the season’s second half, and thus the familiar Simon/Pelecanos gradual acceleration of the plot — begins making the divisions starker between those who are okay with being prostitutes, or pimps, and those who would rather be doing almost anything else.
Abby’s ongoing puzzlement with the world of sex work only grows when she sees Darlene has used the bus ticket for a purpose for which it wasn’t intended, but we also see in Ginger that there’s a draw to this world even for those who didn’t expect to be a part of it. She was not happy being Bernice in the country. She’s not being pressed into slavery here — Larry even orders Darlene to put her back on the bus once he sees how young and frightened the girl is — but just has no interest in going home to however small and/or abusive her life there was. There are warning signs everywhere in her early days in the big city — not only does she get her own name taken away, but learns that Rodney has long since forgotten that Thunder Thighs is really Ruby, and she and Darlene sit near a very old and worn out prostitute (a sort of Hooker of Christmas Future) while eating at Leon’s — and yet somehow this is preferable for her, and for Darlene. As an irritated Ashley puts it to Abby after the latest question about why Darlene came back, “Maybe she likes her life the way it is. You ever think of that?”