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. Given that the pilot was more than 80 minutes long, there was a lot to discuss...
Sam Eichner: This may not've been the best episode of the series thus far, but it was definitely the most fun--the most joyous--until it wasn't. The tragedy at the end, a murder that was more nonchalant than sudden, sort of jerked us back into the cruel reality of The Deuce, rendering the comedy of most of the previous hour—Alston's doorstep makeout, Ash and Frankie's dalliance, Vince and Abby's sultry dance, Bobby's work wife badinage, Paul's artistic (and sexual) fulfillment, Candy's porn star whispering—as somewhat dreamlike. I loved this episode, though. As we've discussed, I think we were both looking forward to an episode where the characters had some room to breathe. This felt like that. What did you make of it? Also, who do you think Leon called at the end?
Geoff Rynex: I'll start with your last question; fans of The Wire may have had a twinge when Leon picked up the phone and calmly said, “I just shot a n____. Come get him.” That’s exactly the story told about Dennis “Cutty” Wise way back in season four of that show. Cutty shot and killed a man, then called the police and told them to pick him up. I assume then that Leon was calling the police. I was distracted enough by that to where I don't think the darkness of it and its implications for the episode and the world of the show didn't really sink in until this morning. But up to that point, this was definitely the most optimistic (not saying much) episode we've seen so far. Eileen has come a long way. From streetwalking to starring in porn to doing behind-the-camera work to full-on mentor (to Lori) in the span of a single season. Which reminds me, we're now past John Lindsay's failed Florida primary, which means we're at some point in early 1972, and our dour massage parlor scene has had some time to get even dourer, our neighborhood pimps time to get restless. We'll get to our central characters' arcs soon enough, but what impact do you think the current labor force situation will have on the future of the neighborhood/the show?
SE: This may come off as ignorant or oblivious to the plight and preferences of '70s-era prostitutes, but the parlor seems way better for the girls than walking the streets. Right? Still, I can't quite tell whether they prefer it. I think maybe there's a sense that they've had what little autonomy they did have taken away from them. But I could be misreading that.
I wonder if the parlor situation combined with the loosening of restrictions re: dirty movies will turn the pimps more into managers or agents for the porn industry. I have no idea if this is historically accurate but it seems like the logical next step and a good use of their skills (as C.C. so brashly proved in last week's episode). I sort of hope that they'll languish in their newfound existential crisis a little longer, forlornly walking the streets sans girls and dipping into daytime showings of Disney movies. What I wouldn't give for a bottle episode of C.C., Larry and Method Man roaming the streets of New York like mischievous kids on summer break with too much time on their hands...I do think, though, that perhaps the redundancy of the pimp is what the show has been foreshadowing all along, given its protagonist is Candy, a woman already free from the binds of a man and who recognizes, very early on, the value of the dirty movies (particularly for the women starring in them). It's not an unnatural terminus for the first season—particularly with Ashley, who was edged out by Lori in the first episode, leaving it all behind in this week's.
A few questions for you: this was the first episode that really gave us a glimpse into Frankie's life. Were you surprised by his lifestyle? Is there a world where you see the show shifting its focus from Vinnie to Frankie?
And, finally, Harvey asks Candy what must be on every viewer's mind, which is how she got into the business in the first place. Any guesses from her oblique response ("Daddy issues, but not the kind you think...")?
GR: Given Shea's overdose and Bernice's breakdown, it doesn't seem to me that the lack of light and space or the cell-like office situation are doing our erstwhile streetwalkers any favors. And as far as the pimps go, C.C.'s shakedown last week felt more like an act of desperation than any kind of a business plan. The startling murder of Reggie Love doesn't feel like a precursor to good things for the profession either. But I'd watch your spinoff—a Mystery Science Theater with a pimp's perspective.
Speaking of Ashley, this felt like her episode more than anyone else's, and I appreciated how subtly it was told and how she so seamlessly served to reveal a little more about some of our other characters. I don't know if Frankie will command more focus than Vinnie going forward, but he's definitely the twin who's making himself at home in the lifestyle being created on the Deuce and it was good to see him fleshed out a little more as a guy who can be a good sport and more or less roll with it when Paul semi-tricks he and Ashley into the gay porn theater experience. I can see Vinnie being more marginalized by the business interests going forward—the guy who never skims and runs his business legitimately always seems to be the one who can't make his payments to the cops and the Rudy Pipolos of the world in these cinematic situations—but I think he'll maintain the show's interest regardless.
Before I address the Candy/Eileen question, let me just express how delighted I was that this episode included the shot from the series trailer where Emily Meade's Lori is gazing with wonder and mischief at herself through the viewfinder of the peep show. That shot sent those "Oh shit I can't wait to watch this" chills through me when I saw it in the trailer, and it was no less effective in context. I feel like it encapsulated every bit of hope our characters are cobbling together for a better future.
Now, onto Eileen, which is how I'll be referring to her from now on now that she appears to have a path to full-time porn legitimacy. It's been a theme for me watching this show that, as complex and lived-in as the characters are in The Deuce, I don't feel a need for their backstories. It's enough for me that Eileen's past life led her to the place where I know her. Same with Vinnie and his family. Same with Darlene. Etc. Which is to say, with one episode left in the season and maybe in this decade, I hope the finale doesn't spend time on flashbacks or longwinded speeches answer the question of how Eileen got into "the life." I want to look forward. So here's the million dollar question: with Frankie winning the battle of the Martinos for maybe the first time in "Au Revoir," and Eileen demonstrating not just a desire to direct porn but a real flair for it, where will our ostensible main characters stand at the end of next week's finale?
SE: I agree with you on the Lori gazing shot. Very emblematic of the show as a whole. I don't necessarily agree with you with regards to Eileen's backstory. I don't need a full-fledged flashback, but I am interested in the circumstances that led to where she is today. I think the showrunners have been smart so far about how much backstory to dole out—I expect they will continue to be smart about it. Part of Eileen's mystique is her mysterious origin. I don't want the whole picture. I just want a glimpse.
A few predictions for next week...
-Abby and Vinnie will end things on the rocks. I just feel like this has been going too well for too long now. Something's gotta give. Probably on Abby's part.
-I expect C.C. to make a big move next episode. Not sure what form that will take. Maybe he decides to make good on his empty promise to Lori to take her to Paris. Regardless, he can't go on being idle.
-Frankie. Man, Frankie. Somehow, he's gonna fuck up this jerk-off booth situation.
-I think Alston ends up taking charge. Maybe he uses Reggie's murder as a means of really cleaning up the Deuce.
-Say goodbye to Paul. Dude's striking out on his own.
-Bobby is for sure going to cheat on his wife with his favorite prostitute, and then stress-eat a shit-ton of lo mein.
What do you got?
-I agree on Abby and Vinnie. If I were Vinnie, I'd have a bad taste in my mouth about being kind of a pawn in Abby's own Daddy issues. And for what it's worth, her dad didn't seem like the arch oppressor we would have expected.
-If C.C. gets heavily involved next week, I see it being in a violent way. Lori could be on her way to being a star, which leaves him pretty much nowhere now that Ashley's out of pocket too. Jealousy and desperation don't mix well.
-My future predictions are cloudy for Frankie because this whole time I've been fixated on the idea that he'll get out of this season on a high note and then be dead (gambling debt) by the time next season takes place.
-Vinnie: you should have taken on some responsibility at the parlors.
-Paul will be back, somehow.
-Bobby getting high on his own supply isn't good for anyone. Maybe it'll be him that gets in the most trouble by season's end.
-I expect Eileen to be as well-positioned as she has been all season by the end, but there's a whole lot more work to do. I'm trying to keep my expectations for satisfaction low. This is David Simon. No one's going to have a clean resolution.