The first season of The Deuce has arguably been one of the best debuts in television history. Mixing great storytelling, captivating characters, and a powerful setting, the HBO drama continually impressed. Heading into the season finale, there are numerous storylines that appear to be concluding.
The Story So Far: Since leaving NYU, Abby’s character has demonstrated how important control is to her. Leon confronts Reggie Love after he goes too far. The pimps have mixed feelings about the burgeoning pornography industry. Candy has been getting closer and closer to fulfilling her dream of making porno films. Vincent, Frankie, and Bobby are finding success with their massage parlor while Big Mike proposes an idea that may revolutionize the peep booths. The girls that work the Deuce have almost all been forced off the streets and into the massage parlor. New York City corruption runs rampant up to the highest levels.
This is a combined review for the finale and the entire season.
Episode 8: “My Name is Ruby”: Three major characters saw huge developments in the season finale. Vincent began The Deuce struggling to keep his head above water. He was working two jobs, openly disrespected by almost everyone he talked to, and was trying to fix his twin brother Frankie’s life. Over the course of the season, Vincent left his wife, got involved with the mob, paid off his brother’s debts, and got Frankie and his brother in law Bobby involved in the skin trade. It seemed that Vincent had changed over the season, going from a dedicated family man to someone who was willing to make money however he could. The final episode finds Vincent at a moral crossroads. In a great bit of writing, Vincent shows himself as a conflicted man who was trying to help his family but got too involved. Throughout the season James Franco has been excellent in his dual role as the twins. It’s his strong performance that makes the ethical struggle that Vincent is going through seem believable instead of hypocritical.
Abby has also been interesting to watch. She started the season as a college student who almost seemed too smart for her own good. As her story progressed the viewers learn that while she’s headstrong, she truly believes she knows what’s best for everyone. This has occasionally been a source of frustration, since she’s unable to see when her way is not the best way. Abby has also shown that her being right is more important than what anyone else thinks. In the season finale, she makes the executive decision to make changes to the Hi-Hat. Abby also lets her authoritative demeanor down for a brief moment after Vincent decides to settle a conflict. Margarita Levieva played the role perfectly the entire season. She brings a haughty confidence to the part that is both brave and frustrating – just like Abby.
Candy’s story is simultaneously the most enthralling and trying to watch. When Candy was introduced she was working the Deuce without a pimp. Shown as quick witted, strong, and in control of her life, her life collapsed around her. More than any of the other prostitutes, she seems to see the vast possibilities in pornography. Candy’s ultimate goal is to be behind the camera instead of in front of it though. There are many times that it seems she’s going to succeed only for the opportunity to be snatched from her. The story comes to its natural conclusion during Episode 8. Maggie Gyllenhaal was outstanding during the season. Candy went through a myriad of emotions while dealing with numerous problems. The part required strong performances and Gyllenhaal pulled it off magnificently.
Control and change were the two biggest themes on The Deuce. This is seen most clearly with the pimps. Larry, Rodney, Reggie Love, and C.C employ varying degrees of control over their stables. There is an underlying sense of tension in every interaction between the pimps and their working girls. Many times, this leads to violence. Any time one of the girls seems to get even the tiniest bit of independence, their pimp is quick to do something to show that they are in control. By the season finale, the pimps are the ones living with constant uncertainty. The massage parlor seems to have made them little more than caretakers, while the impending sex movies look like they may make pimps entirely useless. One subtle bit of foreshadowing done the entire season has been the carefree use of various drugs. As sex becomes less of a definite money maker for the pimps, it seems there may be other avenues of opportunity that some may be wiling to take. Undoubtedly, the biggest change has been in the sex industry. Films and peep shows seem to be taking over prostitution as the largest source of income. All the rumors of porno movies come to a head as the season finale ends with the gala premier of Deep Throat.
The Deuce is beautifully shot. The most impressive thing the show does is make 42nd Street a character. The bright lights, run down buildings, and constant honking and shouting blend in seamlessly. The authenticity of the casts’ performances fully form the characters that inhabit this bigger world. The show uses a diegetic score. Music comes from cars, radios, and jukeboxes and other parts of the environment, adding to the show’s realism. It’s the perfect mix of style and substance.
The Deuce ends its first season with one of its strongest episodes. Renewed for a second season, the show has already begun laying the groundwork for future plots. The pornography boom has arrived, Officer Alston looks like he is in for rough times, and a drug war and frightening disease are just around the corner. The large cast and storylines may seem daunting, but the show is arguably the best on television.