With each passing episode of The Deuce it becomes clearer the road to pornography is not a smooth or steady one, rather a road filled with bumps and forks. Indeed, as ‘I See Money’ explores, the road itself isn’t even clear at this point. Porn remains a possibility, currently the province of low-rent smut-peddlers in flea pits with as much actual prostitution as sex on screen, with nothing in the way of skill or production value.
Luckless hooker Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal) continues her rather desperate, tragic route to what could end up being a morally dubious victory for the American Dream, but its hard to imagine how much lower she could sink than some of the sexual encounters she suffers through here. A grim, sometimes hopeless pallor clouds this midpoint episode for the first season.
Everyone involved seems to be struggling, in their own way. Vinny (James Franco) has both the Mob to appease and an ex-wife (played with a nice level of white trash honesty by Zoe Kazan) to avoid, given she comes sniffing around once again now Vinny has started making his bar a success. The bar, central as it is to the growing development of the deuce itself, continues to remain a haven for many of our disparate characters immersed in the world of early 70’s New York City vice, but there’s a sense Vinny is going to find twin brother Frankie (also played by James Franco) will bring deeper trouble to his door as the season progresses. Right now, Vinny has the problem of appealing to Rudy (Michael Rispoli) and facing the threat of unionisation.
The Deuce at times peels away the underbelly of the dark world its characters inhabit in greater fashion than the general sense of hopelessness the show drips itself in, and we see that in just how Rudy and his boys treat construction worker Bill Schmidt when he essentially leads a unionised insurrection when it comes to protecting money made on the job. David Simon’s show is good at exposing these moments of violence or horror (the best one here being the rat which climbs onto Candy while she’s sucking a guy off in the flea-pit cinema) while on the surface maintaining that immersion into 70’s culture and the fake glamour of a society falling into its own cess pool.
Once again, it all comes down to money, whether its the pimps extorting cash from their tricksters on the street even at the expense of their physical exhaustion (though the dynamic between pimp Larry and hooker with a brain Darlene continues to be interesting), to the Mob ensuring the honest working men don’t make more of a buck than they should, through to the corrupt cop who begins ‘protecting’ Vinny’s bar so it can remain a haven for hookers, pimps and indeed the gay community, who begin to be represented through good time guy Paul (Chris Coy), himself in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with a City guy who can never own up to who he truly is. Money talks, money dominates, and money will lie at the heart of their salvation.
That’s what The Deuce hints at come the end, not just with Candy’s increased push towards a point of oblivion with the trade she’s in, but also what Rudy is setting up Vinny with – something that looks awfully like a porn studio right in the heart of the deuce. We could now begin to see a move beyond the intricate scene-setting and skilled characterisation Simon’s show has so far delivered to a true progression into the establishment of the nascent American pornography scene.
That is, unless, a few more forks in the road aren’t ahead.
The Deuce airs every Tuesday in the UK on Sky. Let us know what you think of the season.