REVIEW: The Deuce (S2 E2/9)

Brenda Peterson walks down the stairs at Penn Station and arrives in the entrance hall. It’s a teeming pit of people – tourists, commuters and those looking for more than just the daily routine. Brenda is there because she feels her college education isn’t giving her the right kind of education, so she took off for the big city to sample life in all its grimy, kaleidoscopic glory. Like the first episode, one of the people waiting for her in the hall is pimp, Larry Brown. Larry spots wide-eyed NYC newbies like a vulture circling prey, and he puts on the full spiel: how he can help her, and how he can make her dreams come true. Just as it looks like Brenda might be falling into the same trap so many before her have fallen, she pulls out a flyer advertising for porn actresses and, just like that, Larry Brown’s power and control that once was wielded so mercilessly and with so much success is shot down in pieces. Because Larry Brown doesn’t matter any more.

In last week’s series opener, I mentioned that this second run of The Deuce is charting a world that is constantly changing. The pimps on the streets still exist and are eeking out a living – still exploiting, still manipulating, still forcing – but their power is waning. Instead, sex workers have seen that they can make their money in peep shows, in massage parlours and in front of the camera. Safer environments. Controlled environment, but not control like the pimps.

Change. It comes to us all.

It’s coming to CC, too. Despite desperate attempts to legitimise himself and his business dealings, his ‘client’ (ie cash cow) Lori is starting to turn the other way. Now a porn star, she’s delighted to learn that she’s been nominated for an adult award. With recognition comes attention, and she’s soon being chatted up by a top agent, who tells her that CC is out of his depth and will only stall her career.

Change is good, change is growth, change is exciting; but change also leaves people behind.

There’s a nice extended sequence in tonight’s episode when Vincent takes Abby on a date to Coney Island and the seaside to visit some of his childhood haunts. He’s mesmerised by her, opening himself up and showing her his emotions. Abby on the other hand… the world is changing back in The Deuce and despite loving Vincent you do get the impression that she wants more, and that she wants to make a difference. By the end of the episode, she’s blowing off a dinner date with Vincent and attending a street worker outreach meeting. I’ve always thought that Vincent and Abby were an odd couple, and I fear that they might just drift apart.

(It should also be noted  that while Vince and Abby were away, Big Mike took over the bar and, wouldn’t you know it, Andy Warhol walked in and quietly took his place in a secluded corner.)

Elsewhere, change seems to be coming for Frankie and Bobby, too, as when they find out that a new peep show business is opening up next door, and Paul, too, experiences the full force of homophobia outside his successful gay bar.

For the likes of Larry, CC, Vince, Frankie and Bobby, change is something they don’t want: the want to retain control and they want the old ways to continue. For Candy, change is something she desperately wants. She wants to make artful sex films and fights hard to achieve it, always bashing up against a male-dominated brick wall. She meets with a respected female director who gives her a few pointers and tidbits of advice, Candy nodding furiously in agreement with all the things her dinner date proclaims. Until she tells Candy to stop hiring whores, because they are dead behind the eyes. You could see this comment stinging Candy to core, arrowing her in her Achilles heel – Candy, the aspiring director, trying (trying so hard) to gain respect and quench her need for artistic expression, was, for that moment, back on the streets again.

Earlier, there was one telling scene between Candy and Larry Brown that perfectly encapsulated the themes The Deuce is trying to explore. Larry had come by the set to see what all the fuss about. He lamented the fact that the men who appeared in these films weren’t real men, and that the way they had sex was not the way real men had sex.

“See that’s the thing,” Candy tells him. “Guys like you are all about control. That shit don’t play here. You gotta give all of that up. Show your ass – do what you’re told. Think you can do that, Larry?”

“I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

“You can’t bitch slap a camera.”

Change doesn’t suit everyone, and in The Deuce the world is shifting all the time. Whether people like it or not.

Paul Hirons


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