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The Deuce Conversations, Episode 4

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Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Because you can find recaps elsewhere, and because we long for the watercooler talks of '90s yore, two editors, Geoff Rynex and Sam Eichner, 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

Sam Eichner: Let's start this conversation with an incomplete list of shitty things that happened to Candy this episode:

1) Rain, which forced her to go to the movies.
2) A rat hopped on her head while she was giving head. This is only the second-worst thing to happen to her while she was giving head this week.
3) She drinks vodka-orange juices to excess to settle her nerves on a date with Jack, whose name feels diametrically opposed to "John."
4) A fat man dies while she's giving him a blowjob.
5) She gets a slow clap exit in the diner and the nickname "Mouth of Death."

This episode seemed almost exclusively designed to break Candyto push her to make choices that will lead to her getting off the street and in front (or behind) of the camera. That she shows cracks but does not ultimately collapse or throw some kind of fit is a testament both to her character and Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose performance hinges on a sort of honeyed sadness, an unrelentingly viscous melancholy that manifests itself in her slack expressions and languid movements. She totally embodies Candy. It's tough to watch. Mostly because you want her to snap out of itto take a stand against her own lifedespite the fact that she is, at this point,  incapable of doing so. Still, it only seems like a matter of time. What do you think? 

Geoff Rynex: If this episode was meant to show how Candy reaches her breaking point and decides to get off the street and into porn, is sure was effective, and her redemption, if it comes, will have been earned on screen. We talked about this in our episode 1 recap, but it bears repeating that the pervasive mood of this show is one of exhaustion. At no time has that been more obvious that in the final scene, where Candy looks like she's absolutely sleepwalking out of the diner to the rhythm of those slow claps. The Deuce has been so good at yanking whatever misguided romanticism about “Old New York” viewers ever had, and for all the slobbery dicks, disgusting facial hair and casual stabbings we've seen, I think the site of Candy's blonde wig weighed down by rain was the most visceral example of the griminess we've seen so far. Hopefully this episode was the turning point for Candy, because I'm not sure how much more anyone could take. 

We didn't get much of a look this week into the obscenity laws we've been fascinated thus far, but I am kind of looking forward to digging deeper into Paul's story. The delicate art of navigating New York City as a gay man during this period is, I think, worthy of exploration. On the one hand, Paul and his partner are just two guys having dinner, and it's New York, so no one cares anyway. On the other hand, this other guy—seemingly an upper-middle-level businessman—has to be careful not to be spotted by colleagues. On the other other hand, Vince has clearly become a successful bar manager/owner because he understands that the key to a great New York bar is a wild, radical diversity that includes businessmen, pimps, prostitutes, "normals", transgender patrons, mob guys and anyone else capable of enjoying a first one on the house. I think it'll be interesting to have prominent gay characters in a period piece who are more average joe than prominent activist. 

We've also got Alston testing the limits of the no-go zone along the Deuce, which I think is our big entry into police corruption. I anticipate this being a big theme throughout the series. And Abby has finally got some good screen time, delivering a masterclass on well-meaning condescension in her interactions with Darlene, and finally hooking up with Vincent. How do you feel about her at this point? Also, let's talk about Vincent's golden boy status with Rudy and his big new opportunity. 

Paul Schiraldi/HBO

SE: First off, I'm happy you mentioned Paul. I wasn't sure he was going to get his own storyline, but I'm glad he did. The wide shot of him in his sometimes-boyfriend's luxurious bed was at such odds with the rest of the show's utter drabness—it was kind of jarring. And yet, ultimately hollow. Hi-Hat seems vivacious by comparison.

Another character I thought was gone for the time being was Andrea. I think the scene with her and Vince outside Bobby's house was my favorite in the episode. Zoe Kazan fucking works it. You could really feel her pull; it's pretty easy to see why she would be irresistible to him.

One note on the obscenity laws and I'll get around answering your question. Did you notice the sign in the movie theater, which said something along the lines of "No unattended women allowed"? The irony there is rich. 

Ok, re: Abby. I honestly expected her to hold out on Vince for much longer. But I think the way she navigated the hook up was telling. At first, she says something like "I'm in control in this. Not you." But immediately afterwards, Vince picks her up and mounts her on the pool table. The power shifts. In sum: Abby appears to want to be the type of woman who is in control, but she isn't quite there yet. There's a big difference between the person she thinks she's being—this relates to her, as you put it, "well-meaning condescension" to Darlene, too—versus the person she actually is. Which isn't surprising. Everyone's sort of like that at 19 or 20. All of which is to say, though, that I imagine she's probably overdue for a slight reality check.

And with regards to Vince's new opportunity...It's clear, after Rudy and co. beat up one of Bobby's construction workers, that he's wary of getting so in deep with the mob. That tension—between his growing ambition and growing unease with his nefarious partners—will obviously play a big role as the show progresses.

What do you think of the burgeoning relationship between Sandra Washington—a name which just screams "investigative journalist"—and Alston? Also, what do you make of this lesbian dalliance between two hookers (their names escape me)?  

GR: And yet, Vince does resist Andrea. For all his virtues, he is pretty casually a deadbeat dad, right down to the half-hearted promise to take the kids out for ice cream. I can't tell if the perfunctory way the writers deal with this is meant to be a comment on the era or if it's just them papering over the issue since it's not important to the story. Jack's ready admission of his infidelity to his wife on his date with Candy suggests it's the former. I didn't notice the sign in the theater, but, ha!, and I did notice that when Jack (he of the space-aged denim western shirt) reaches out to Candy at the music shop, David Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World is playing, and I have to think that doesn't bode well for what he might become. 

I was kind of amused by the Alston-Washington non-romantic, single burger stakeout date, but, like you last week, I'm already starting to lose interest in the journalism angle here. Alston, on the other hand, is becoming one of my favorite characters, and his wily test-arrest of the low-level heroin dealer in the no-go zone made me think of that hallowed distinction bestowed upon a select few law enforcers back on The Wire—natural police. I think the sapphic hooker romance is kind of a well-worn trope, but probably common enough to warrant having some ancillary characters engage. I see some nifty grifting of johns in their future, but I don't think we'll be getting any kind of Thelma & Louise arc at any point. 

As for Abby, I guess everyone is like that at 20, and I guess that's why so many 20-year-olds are insufferable. Maybe the show is doing a better job with her character than I've given them credit for. That said, I'm not giving up any testicles to keep her around. I'd rather have a shiny new Rolek. 

I thought Franco continued to be a rock, acting-wise, in this episode, to the degree that I'm ready to stop commenting on it and just accept that he's going to be really good for the duration of this show. Who you got in this week's Martino Bros. power rankings? 

Paul Schiraldi/HBO

SE: This is the closest the Martino Bros. power rankings have been thus far. Frankie had a nice hot streak. But Vince fucked Abby on the pool table. He's hooking up with his scantily-clad employees at an impressive rate (what must our favorite redhead seductress think about this?), so I have go give him the slight edge here.

I also feel like we should take stock of the series thus far, now that we've officially reached the halfway point. Has the show met your expectations? Exceeded them?

GR: I'll agree with you on Vince. Frankie was cut down to size when he had to give all of his winnings straight to Tommy Longo (after Vince called him to collect, no less). 

At the halfway point, I'd say the show has met my expectations, which were high. The acting has been superb, top to bottom. The atmosphere they've created has felt incredibly real, and they've kept the focus narrow enough to get us interested in the characters, while still effectively using them as a conduit to comment on the larger goings on of the world they're living in. Staying at street level has really worked for The Deuce, and it hasn't made it any less layered. Knowing that there are only four episodes left in this season, and that next season will take place something like ten years after this one, I'm already dreading losing these characters in their current state. 

SE: I agree with you on pretty much all of that. My one concern, though, is that the time devoted to exposition and plot here, of which there is perhaps too much, won't pay off in the end, given a) there are only four more episodes; and b) that there will be such a big leap forward next season. Some of the finest moments of the season have been those unrelated to the plot—the jumble of shots of Candy changing in her apartment before her date on last night's episode, of Candy simply being, comes to mind—and I would hope we'd be getting more of that, not less. Part of what makes this show great thus far is that so much has happened, and so much is happening—which contributes, in a meta way, to the aura of fatigue it exudes—but with only four episodes to go, I wonder if it will slow down enough to amount to something truly and profoundly moving. Does that make sense?

GR: It does. So much is expressed through quotidian actions and quiet moments of the characters, that it's hard not to try to classify it as a "character-driven" show. But I'm not expecting any kind of resolution or closure from this season, for anyone. I'm expecting the characters to act in service of a wider look at the "system," as it were, of legal pornography, police corruption, zoning laws, et al. They've executed everything in such a way that we don't need the mayor as a character, or some kind of Ron Jeremy figure to explain everything for us, but I don't think any one character is ever going to be above the needs of the series as a whole. 

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