This The Deuce review contains spoilers.
The Deuce Season 2 Episode 8
The best show to ever air on HBO (and probably anywhere else for that matter) is The Sopranos. Some of you will undoubtedly argue for The Wire and that’s fine. Just know that you’re wrong. The Sopranos was a lot of things. It was a crime drama that examined the mob through a modern lens. It was surprising, thrilling, and occasionally very, very funny.
The most prominent theme in The Sopranos from my perspective, however, was an exploration of endings. In the show’s first episode Tony tells his new therapist Dr. Melfi that “sometimes I think I came in at the end of all of this.” He’s referring to the mafia, of course, which was on its last legs back in 1999 and is all but an afterthought now. He’s also unknowingly referring to…well, everything else. The Sopranos is W.B. Yeats “The Second Coming” writ-large. It’s about people who feel in their bones that some sort of grand ending is around the corner and can come at any moment. That’s what makesThe Sopranos “non-ending” so powerful. Tony Soprano and the rest of us sit on the edge of the infinite, knowing that some grand reckoning is surely around the corner but never getting to see it.
The Deuce, on the other hand, has ostensibly always been about beginnings. Creators David Simon and George Pelecanos sought out to examine the beginnings of both the mainstream pornography industry and a kinder, more cuddly, less vice-y Times Square. Despite their divergent examinations of endings and beginnings, respectively, The Deuce and The Sopranos have a lot in common – particularly in season two’s penultimate episode, “Nobody Has to Get Hurt.” That’s because, as modern philosophers Supersonic once pointed out: “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
For the second to last episode in a second to last season, “Nobody Has to Get Hurt” feels not only like conclusion but also about conclusions. This is a dark episode. Arguably one of its most cheerful moments is its beginning, which happens to involve the near murder of another human being.
Following last week’s attempt on Rudy’s life, Rudy, Tommy, Vince, and Black Frankie kidnap rival mobster Marty at gunpoint and drag him to an abandoned warehouse to interrogate him.
“Don’t embarrass yourself, Marty. Sit there. Act like a man,” Rudy says before promising to kill him quickly and quietly. Rudy doesn’t kill him though. Vincent argues that scaring him is enough so Rudy lets Marty live. And that’s about as nice as things will go for anyone in “Nobody Has to Get Hurt.”
The mob isn’t the source of any meaningful trouble, trauma, or pain in “Nobody Has to Get Hurt.” In fact they’re almost more of a stabilizing presence. When Rudy discovers who was really behind the attempt on his life, Matty “The Horse”, the two quickly make peace over their shared financial investment in Candy’s Red Hot film. In fact, they choose to deepen their bond by “acquiring” Lori from CC. They don’t even kill CC to do it. They just give him $15,000. Rudy seems delighted that they don’t have to resort to violence.
“This is fun. Nobody has to get hurt. Just people fucking on film and we can take it all the way to the bank,” he says.
Save for a gunfight and murdered rival here or there, the mob has mostly operated peacefully for the majority of The Deuce’s run (much more peacefully than The Sopranos at least). That’s because Rudy and Horseface’s forces represent the status quo. And regardless of how much the status quo may suck for some people (in this instance it involves close to literal sexual slavery), it also represents perhaps the most important thing for most people: stability.
The battle here isn’t between good guys and bad guys. It’s between order and chaos. The problem has become that the current order has become untenable and needs to change. The process of change though is going to be so volatile that it feels like chaos. A lot of things and a lot of people are going to end.
Take Dorothy for instance. Abby and Dave attempt to have a little intervention for the woman formerly known as Ashley. She can’t keep buying tickets out of town for girls. Daves says they have to focus on the bigger picture. They’re trying to make things better for everyone, not just a few. Dorothy wants more change, she wants more chaos. She’s lived a life on the streets and knows that a lot of these girls don’t have the time to wait for politicians to get this shit together. No, you can’t throw all the clams back into the ocean but at least you can get a few.
Dave is so frustrated with her seemingly small-minded thinking that he removes her from the project. She and Abby are on their own now. The chaos has become too much for Dave. Sometimes the scariest thing for reformers is actual reform.
The status quo matters a lot to the Martino brothers whether they know it or not. If Vince learned nothing else from his Vermont trip last week it’s that he can never truly leave New York. Abby has Vince trying to read the works of Kant so he can be a better person or at least better prepare for the changing world to come. He can’t find himself to finish it. Abby assures him that he couldn’t get through it either.
“Difference is you wanted to. I couldn’t give two shits,” he tells her.
And Frankie? Forget it. Frankie meets a beautiful older British lady at Vince’s bar one night and in no time he has charmed her enough to receive an invite back to his place….in the morning of course, while her husband is away. The experience is fun but empty.
“What’s gonna happen to you when you get old?” she asks him after their tryst.
“Frankie Martino old? Can’t picture it,” he says.
Frankie’s forboding comments are just another bit of evidence that a story about beginnings is suddenly a story about endings. The time we spend with the pimps in “Nobody Has to Get Hurt” hammers that home more than ever.
It’s legitimately shocking just how quickly the end has come for the pimps. It’s all happened right after our noses too. In The Deuce’s second episode of the year, we saw Larry, CC, and Rodney comprehend that an end to their way of life is coming soon. But now it’s all but here and it happened so realistically – so sneakily.
At one point near the end of “Nobody Has to Get Hurt,” CC, Rodney, and another pimp are sitting around taking “stock” of their remaining girls. CC just has the one girl left; Rodney has Shae; Larry has Darlene and Dorothy’s helper but he’s barely a factor on the streets anymore, given his acting career.
The scene would have a twinge of nostalgia and sad poignance if it weren’t for the ugly nature of what they are talking about. CC has gone off the deep end. He commits his most horrific act by far in this episode with an unambiguous rape of Lori after he is forced to give her up to the mob. CC has become the bad guy that we always knew he could be and it’s almost as though he’s as prepared for the role as much as Larry was for his as the Big Bad Wolf.
CC probably knew he wasn’t going to leave Bobby’s parlor alive. Why else would he go there to demand a relative pittance right after receiving an influx of $15,000 (which he lies about to his peers, saying it was $50,000). CC refuses to stop playing with his Zippo and insults Bobby’s wife so Bobby plunges some sheers into his chest. CC gets up and tries to choke Bobby and Frankie strikes him in the back of the head, killing him.
“Damn. Y’all murdered the shit out of that motherfucker,” Black Frankie says upon taking in the scene.
He’s not wrong. They really did murder the shit out of CC. It would be sad if it weren’t for the monstrous act CC committed moments earlier. In a way it still kind of is. This was a person who became a monster to operate within the ugly rules of the world he lived in. Then the rules changed. Suddenly it is no country for ugly men.
Soon all the ugly men will be gone…or at least moved off the streets and into nice retail shops that dot the Deuce. That’s Gene Goldman’s plan as he reveals here. Gene knows a little more than most about keeping unsavory activities indoors. “I’m a husband and a father. I don’t have to be one thing,” Gene tells a “friend of Dorothy” after a brief, bittersweet one-night stand.
Times are changing and soon no one will have to just be one thing anymore. Paul’s actor friend and Rock Hudson might not have to live in a box anymore. But the beginning of something always means the ending of something else. That’s what The Deuce Season 2 is communicating in this elegiac penultimate episode.
Or as some other pop culture scholars once said, “the beginning is the end is the beginning.”
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