Warning, spoilers for The Deuce ahead!
After only two episodes, The Deuce is one of the better new television shows of the year. Great writing and characters are driving a dark and gritty show. It isn’t feel-good TV, but it definitely needs to be seen. Were the first two episodes outliers, or is The Deuce establishing itself as HBO’s new crown jewel?
The Story so Far: Vincent Martino (James Franco) has opened his new bar with help from mob boss Rudy Pipilo. Frankie doesn’t know how deep his brother’s involvement with the mob goes. Meanwhile, Abby (Margarita Levieva) has failed out of NYU and has told her mom she wants to see what the world has to offer. Darlene (Dominque Fishback) has been introduced to movies and books by a regular client. This new interest does not sit well with her pimp Larry Brown (Gbenga Akinnagbe). Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) attempts to break into the new filmmaking business that seems to be catching on. Finally, someone has been seen around the Deuce asking too many questions.
Episode 3 “The Principle is All”: The directing and acting continue to be stellar for The Deuce. It’s fair to say that any acting or directing missteps at this point will be the exception to the rule. The Deuce and its surrounding areas continue to be played up as characters and not just settings. The general atmosphere of the show continues to develop. Watching the show is akin to being given a backstage pass to a concert. For better and worse (usually it’s the latter), we are getting a sneak peak into these characters lives. And unlike the bright lights of Times Square, what we are witnessing here isn’t glamorous.
The beginning of the hardcore pornography business is just around the corner. As the show has progressed, there has been more talk of these new films that men are interested in. All of the prostitutes are intrigued by this idea of filming one movie that can be seen by many. Some are excited by the financial and marketing opportunities they may present, using them to potentially bring in more customers. Others are upset by the loss of income, as actresses are paid a one-time fee, regardless of the film’s success. Candy in particular is fascinated with possibilities this burgeoning fad seems to offer. She has bigger plans than acting in the films, however. This also leads to one of the best scenes in the episode. Candy’s interaction with a man who makes porno films is funny and sad, and Gyllenhaal puts on a great performance. She comes off very naturally and her reaction at the end is a wonderful bit of underacting that has to be seen to be appreciated.
The impending pornography boom may be the most interesting part of this season. In 2017, pornography and the internet go hand in glove. There is no medium that embraces modern technology more than porn. Watching with current eyes, it is fascinating and humorous to look back on a time when pornography was seen as unrealistic. The films that were gaining popularity were just a passing fancy, almost like talkies back in the silent movie era. For the most part, the ladies working the Deuce doubt that a client would just watch a film when they can have the real thing.
Though it has been lightly touched on and will definitely be explored more as the season progresses, it appears obvious that the pimps know how much of a threat the burgeoning industry can be to them. C.C (Gary Carr) has started talking to Lori (Emily Meade) about taking care of herself and playing the “long game.” Larry has let a client film at least one of his prostitutes. There are changes coming to the Deuce and it will be interesting to see where they lead.
The birth of the pornography business is not the only change. The mob has taken an interest in the 42nd Street area. Rudy has already started talking to Vincent about cleaning up the area. Rudy wants to bring more clientele into the area. What Rudy has not told Vincent is that he is working with the mayor in order to fix the neighborhood.
The other big story of the show is the Martino twins. What began as a basic business deal between Vincent and the mob has evolved into something much more. Vincent has a bar that is serves as a mob front. He is also skimming off the top of a construction company. Business as usual. The real issue is that the mob has explicitly told Vincent that Frankie is to be left in the dark as to what they are doing. It appears that Frankie’s devil-may-care attitude will lead to problems for Vincent sooner than later.
Another aspect of the brothers that has been fun to watch is the near role reversal they have in regards to their mob dealings. The usually cautious Vincent has no problems working for the mob. He almost seems to revel in it. Initially, Vincent was trying to pay off his brother’s debts. Now he is a bar owner. Frankie, meanwhile, is skeptical, wondering why his brother would choose to work with the type of men neither of them respect. It will be interesting to see where this story line is headed.
The Deuce continues to impress. It deals with unsettling subject matter and neither glamorizes nor objectifies. Other shows and movies have covered the pornography industry in the 1970s, but none have done so as well as The Deuce.