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Candy's Into Porn

The Deuce Conversations, Episode 2

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Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Because you can find recaps elsewhere, and because we long for the watercooler talks of '90s yore, two editors, Sam Eichner and Geoff Rynex, will be using this space to have a weekly conversation about HBO's The Deuce, David Simon and George Pelecanos's unflinching portrait of the sex industry in 1970s New York. Obviously, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. This week's topic is S01E02, Show and Prove. 

Sunlighting: When a prostitute does porn during her/his daytime off hours. 

Sam Eichner: The opening bits of this episode were some of my favorite thus far, what with Alston and Flanagan corralling the girls in the van, later picking up the two detectives at the bar and ordering everyone Chinese takeout. I found the chumminess between the cops and the hookers charming in a quintessentially New York way. But on a more sincere level, it felt like a clever way to equalize the two groups. There appears to be, at this point, a clear lack of condescension on the part of the cops towards the hookers. Fundamentally, it seems as if everyone has a wary understanding of one another, which boils down to: you gotta get yours. It's a mutual respect delivered from a capitalist ethos. It's oddly democratic, from a showrunner perspective. And it also serves to excuse the moral mess that comes with transactional sex (not to mention, working with a mafioso, à la Vince). What did you think about that scene? Did you have another take on it?

Geoff Rynex: I think beyond the chumminess, that scene shows just how familiar everyone is with each other and how Sisyphean the system that's in place is. The cops and the prostitutes feel more like co-workers than anything else. Everyone knows the program and no one has any real incentive to see it changed. So yeah, basically, like you said, you gotta get yours. I had thought about it in more of a hopeless, "this is why things are fucked and will never change," David Simin kind of way more than a representation of a functioning, free enterprise system, but I guess it's kind of that too. What keeps it from being utterly depressing is the humanity. No one is acting better than anyone else because no one is better, and everyone loves Chinese takeout. Are you too young to have noticed that one of the drunk detectives they picked up in the paddy wagon was Ralph Macchio, the Karate Kid!? 

Speaking of fucked-up systems, we've got Vincent going into business with the mob on a checks-for-cash operation and possibly taking over a Midtown gay bar space for a mid-level mafioso. The mob ran much of the NYC gay bar scene back then, keeping their money hidden and blackmailing prominent customers. Some historians believe the raid that triggered the famous Stonewall Rebellion was actually targeting the mob rather than the clientele. I have no idea whether there's any merit to that, but it's a fascinating, if little-taught, piece of history. 

Finally, we've got Candy/Eileen, who we've learned has a son somewhere in the outer boroughs, getting her first, er, taste of porn. Our main characters' pieces are positioning themselves on the board. Where do you hope to see all this go? 

SE: First of all, no, I did not know that was the Karate Kid. But I think that less a consequence of my age and more so a consequence of the fact that he was not wearing a gi. Second of all, I did not know about the mob-run NYC gay bar scene in the '70s, either. That is fascinating. And again, sort of speaks to a capitalistic urge, pretty much devoid of politics, that is so far the modus operandi for the show.

With regards to Candy's introduction to porn, it seems pretty clear from her fascination with the lights (and the seeming look of pure pleasure during the shoot) that she's taken a liking to it. Earlier in the episode, she also hints at the room there is to profit from these vids—i.e., the performers are getting paid once, but somebody's making money every time the movie's watched. It seems inevitable that Vince and Candy will team up to produce their own porn, with bulk-buys of cold Campbell's potato soup. I also anticipate Abby—the street-smart NYU student—will play an integral role, presaging the porn-as-empowerment stance that would become prominent among third-wave feminists. But that's just a guess.

It does fit nicely, however, with another parallel I noticed—the one between Candy's mother, who makes a pointed jab during an innocent game of Mouse Trap (awful fucking game, by the way) and Abby's mother, who is almost absurdly understanding of her daughter's decision to drop out of college (I mean, she didn't even have a place to live!). I could be getting way ahead of myself here, but it almost seems as if Abby is now where Candy once started out. 

Which brings us to another changing of the guard: Ashley, C.C.'s old "number one," and Lori, his new one. I was thoroughly transfixed, along with Lori, by C.C.'s post-coital speech about how pimps are the loneliest individuals in the world. He clues her in to the "mind games" he has to play to keep his girls in line, while at the same time playing a mind game of a more sophisticated kind. I was ready to buy that it was genuine until, as he was leaving, he turned and asked if she'd ever been to Paris. That's when I realized he'd probably delivered a version of this speech to every one of his girls. I thought it was magnificent—writing, acting, everything. What did you think of that? How do you see their relationship going forward?

Maggie Gyllenhaal with son on The Deuce
Paul Schiraldi/HBO

GR: A gi would help. Maybe a sweep of the leg, too. I hope you're right about Abby's trajectory. In limited screen time, I still don't see any dimensionality to her. Your path for her would definitely be the most interesting. 

Transfixing is a great way to describe C.C.'s speech, which is impressive considering that if you read it aloud yourself, deadpan, it's pretty trite. C.C., or Gary Carr—I can't tell which—is just so smooth and intense that everything he says gives an impression of profundity. Profundity or terror. I still get the feeling that one of C.C. or Lori ends up killing the other by the end of the series. If I were Lori, I'd try to get out before I fell too hard for him. Along with a silver tongue and a coke spoon, he's got a hair-trigger temper and, as some fucked-up would-be kidnapper/biology teacher from Great Neck (or was it Scarsdale?) found out, mad knife skills. C.C. has this feline quality about him that makes me terrified of him at all times. 

I found myself trying to figure out the obscenity laws while watching this episode. There's basically no limit to what you can find or where you can find it, in terms of sexual entertainment these days, but the show takes place in a world where porn shops could be raided by teams of police for showing penetration, and the owners have to cut the loops. I also found it kind of amusing that all the hard stuff they were selling was made by the prostitutes working within a five-block radius. Was porn the first commodity in the locally-sourced movement? 

One other thing I want to talk about: the humor. I promise I'll stop making Vinyl comparisons soon (a promise I may break), but the writers of The Deuce are once again zagging, with laughs, where Vinyl simply plowed on with numbing self-seriousness. The novelty of watching James Franco have a conversation with himself has not worn off three hours into the show. I'd watch Vincent and Frankie argue about Dick Van Dyke getting a slice at Di Fara as a standalone show. "Looked like he was about to start singing Chim Chiminy any fuckin’ second.” Priceless. Second, Maggie Gyllenhaal's delivery when asking if the porno was going to be nine hours long made LOL IRL. It's so easy and expected to make a prostitute character ditzy and naive. I love that The Deuce writers did it here, not to establish her as some archetypal hooker, but as a stand-in for the audience, because, who the hell would believe that a nine-hour, no-budget porn shoot would culminate in an eight-minute movie? 

James Franco as Vincent and Frankie Talking on The Deuce
Paul Schiraldi/HBO

SE: It's interesting that you use "trite" to describe C.C.'s speech (on the page). The speech is trite, certainly, but perhaps that's how it should be. After all, C.C. is performing (and Carr is, to his credit, theatrical). His monologue is an act, a mind game. And yet, like an actor, C.C. appears to draw on a well of real loneliness and desperation to make his act ring true. Not to belabor the point too early on, but I think C.C. and his girls are more alike than he thinks. I do agree though, that Lori and C.C.'s fates are intertwined. As cliché as it sounds, I think she's smarter than she looks. 

I also found the obscenity laws murky. So dudes can get BJs while watching softcore porn in a public theater and the video stores are getting raided? Seems like the police need to get their priorities straight. But while we're on the subject, I have to say that that E.J. Carrol as Fat Mooney, the store's clerk, is absolutely perfect. He's such a fucking sleazeball. I love it.

And I'm with you on the humor. I could watch Franco and Franco go at it for an entire hour. I also pretty much refuse to watch any drama that is relentlessly dark, or without levity. Life is too short, and there's way too much else on TV. 

Where do we stand this week, in terms of our Vincent-Frankie power rankings? I'm going with Vince over Frankie this week. He's really got his shit together, and is taking charge of his life. I'm happy for him, the way I'd be happy for my own brother. And what are you looking forward to next week?

Darlene at the porn shop on The Deuce HBO
Paul Schiraldi/HBO

GR: Yeah, it's hard to say someone was born to play a 1970s Times Square porn shop owner and make it sound like a compliment, but you're right, and I'm sure he's making a decent paycheck off it, so good for Carrol. I'm with you on Vince over Frankie. Putting down that much debt that quickly and turning the whole situation into a profit and possible bar ownership qualifies as a red-letter day. He's also got the fact that he's the one who paid Frankie's debt to hold over our favorite Triple-A washout-cum-degenerate gambler.

I'm hoping next week we see some more of the journalist who was asking Darlene questions at Kim's before being chased away by Larry. Not because I think it'll necessarily be a great storyline, but because journalism is one of the world's Simon likes to layer onto his stories in order to build out his universe (and the one he came from before TV). We've got the cops, the bar owners, the pimps, the prosts, the local business owners, and now, hopefully, the press. I was looking forward to Abby getting a meatier episode and coming into the fold a little bit more but she's nowhere to be found in the preview for next week, but I'm very excited to see Candy/Eileen skipping right over the porn acting phase and gunning for a director's role. How about you?

SE: Good point re: the journalist. I hadn't thought of that one but that would/will be super interesting.

I'd like a meatier Abby episode, too. Also, I'm wondering: what does Frankie do all day? Gamble? Go to the batting cages? Hang out with the Van Dykes? Seduce older women in swanky hotel bars? Whatever he's up to, I want to be there. And if all else fails, it's never too soon for a Fat Mooney bottle episode. 

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