This The Deuce review contains spoilers.
The Deuce Episode 6
As we enter the final stretch of David Simon’s The Deuce things are heating up, and not just because the fuzz is turning up the gas on the pimps and their ladies. Indeed, the intriguing freshman HBO effort has had a circuitous pace in reaching its goal, but apparently, so too was the direction of the sex industry in 1970s New York. After decades of warring with smut pushers about what is “obscene” and what is “pornographic,” the local courts threw up their hands and said, “Have fun.”
And now, frankly, The Deuce really is doing just that. By dividing its hour into the evolution of two distinct alternatives to walking the streets of Times Square and risking getting a beating from an ugly john, “Why Me?” sets up two narrative threads away from the Hi-Hat. And strangely, both are at their strongest when the secondary meaning of the title—two James Francos for the price of one—took a backseat in favor of the wheeling and dealing, and lots and lots of screwing.
On the pornography side, Eileen finally got her wish to make pornos as opposed to having knives pointed at her by scummy, violent thieves. And in contrast to the weeks of episodes devoted to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s pragmatic character taking a black eye or worse, this is a relief. It’s quite the narrative hat trick when porn is treated as an upgrade for a woman’s health. The irony is also not lost on The Deuce, as the series makes it apparent that it is even more unglamorous and unsexy than it might appear on an assembly line cut. As Eileen helpfully tells a fellow up-and-comer later in the hour, “The camera’s the john.” In this case, that means the pleasure is for a lens, not her man. How could it be when he is obviously imagining she’s a man?
Also the conflict I initially thought the whole season would be about cropped its first and perhaps only fleeting moment of the year here. Realizing they need another brunette to contrast Eileen’s blonde wig, the girl who never wants to be called Candy again winds up recruiting Lori for the shoot. The suggestion that Lori might end up in porn, as opposed to on the street, felt like the inevitable moment of major conflict for her character arc, which has strangely been left underserviced in recent weeks. C.C. is obsessive and possessive of all his ladies, and Lori is obviously the new apple of his eye. And to his small credit, when he bursts onto the porno set, he is right to assume Lori didn’t go looking for him that aggressively.
Thus C.C. exerts his dominance by shaking down Harvey and his crew when they’re in a pinch for both Lori’s time and her sexual services. They pay him for this particular confrontation, and he walks away feeling authoritatively settled, but how long until Lori realizes there is no reason for C.C. to get a cut of that money? She didn’t need him to facilitate the job, nor would she in the future. And further, as she will be dealing with fellow “actors,” she really doesn’t need a pimp to make sure the customer pays up or doesn’t get too rough. It’s only a matter of time before they realize pimping actually is a little too easy on a film set.
Until that moment, however, Eileen is just pleased to be off the street and is thinking of getting babysitters and living in a house. Then again, it’s curious that Eileen runs away on Christmas Day from the sound of her brother pulling up to her mother’s drive way. Apparently she has not spoken with her sibling in years, and it seems highly plausible that some of his actions toward his sister in the past has some heinous relation to why a fairly smart woman ended up in a fairly unwise career. Although Eileen is convinced she’s ready for a change, at long last.
Alas then that it’s a bit too early, at least per Harvey, who seems to let her down easy by offering her escort work over the phone, as opposed to another film. It beats having another john dying on her, but there is something underhanded about Harvey’s reluctance to want to teach Eileen the trade of their business. She is right to be upset, as there is obviously no future in her current career, and getting behind the camera is her way out. I also imagine the other girls might be looking to follow in Candy’s footsteps given their other choice…
That other big subplot of the night involved Vincent and the mob’s “massage parlor” opening up. And the politics of how its doors flew open are more interesting than the actual operation itself. Vinnie opens the hour by going to the pimps and asking them to pay him for the pleasure of using his massage parlor facilities. There is some real chutzpah on this guy, especially since he already revealed to have terrible choice in music given the shade he threw at Motown.
But the pimps do not really have the option of being discerning since they are being squeezed by the police one side and the mob on the other, all pushing them into Vinnie’s new business. Without ever witnessing a scene of money changing hands or graft being spread, it’s remarkable how cynical and minimalist The Deuce can be by implying rampant corruption. Just as easily as the popo turned a blind eye in the 14th precinct toward the prostitution when it was convenient for the mob’s interests, they now suddenly are taking down everyone based on some undisclosed amount of money. Not only are all the prostitutes going to spend their holidays with a very Blue Christmas, but they’re even taking the pimps’ cars. Their cars!
On some level, it’s a beautiful case study in how shit rolls downhill. Because of the needs to further enrich organized vice, the police are leaning on enterprising black men, who are in turn lean hard on desperate women walking the street. But those getting thrown in paddy wagons are not going to have any money for the holidays while all the others just watch and scheme.
Faced with heat from cops they dare not hit back, the pimps are squirreling away their women either in the pornography business—which Darlene and many others still are suspicious about—or they’re coming to Vinnie’s massage parlor. It’s actually a decent deal. They rent the room for a flat rate every night, and then can use it to charge johns as much as they wish. On the surface, it looks like everyone should be happy, at least for a time. Even the cops who are also double dipping by charging Vince $1,000 a month to operate in Midtown.
It’s such a sweet deal—complete with possible peep show booths on the side—that Vince is feeling incredibly lucky in this smutty lifestyle. He asks Rudy again why he’s been gifted with such a peach of a setup, and Rudy says what he apparently really means: in the world of crime and vice, Vince is an altar boy. He’s a straight shooter. However, this likely means he can be shot straight to hell pretty easily if/when things go sideways.
Tellingly, Darlene and Larry reluctantly choose the massage parlor / whorehouse over porn… for now. But they may have to reevaluate their options, because Officers Flanagan and Alston saw Sweeney shake down the massage parlor. And, perhaps unfortunately for Vince, Chris Alston likes Sandra Washington, the hungry reporter looking to blow this smut story wide open.
Like her, Chris is sickened by the corruption on the Deuce, but unlike her he is really digging the jazz combo he’s taken her to uptown. Yet when that fails to impress, the implication that he is about to drop some dirt on the little ol’ whorehouse in Midtown seems almost inevitable. Granted as everyone knows Chris is interested in this journalist, I’m not sure how this won’t blow back on him.
But if I had to wager how the final two episodes of The Deuce this season will play out, I imagine that an exposé on the massage parlor might make things not so warm and chummy between Vince and Rudy. But as it so happens, in some of the most intriguing scenes of the night, Rudy is starting to eye the appeal of pornography as local courts have decided to wash their hands of ruling how much pubic hair is obscene. This is good news for Harvey, and if a newspaper report puts Vince in hot water, it might be good for him and Rudy to consider changing the use of that house into a different kind of studio space altogether.
How ever it might play out, it’s nice to see that The Deuce is finally operating with a full deck in all its business opportunities.